Last year I wrote a blog on some of my favorite classical Christmas music. I got a great response in the comments section, and several people recommended some other excellent Holiday-inspired classical pieces. This year, I decided to make a new list of some of the great Christmas music I discovered this year, thanks in part to people's comments!
1. Benjamin Britten's "A Ceremony of Carols"
After someone recommended this piece in my comments, I decided to listen to it. Britten wrote "A Ceremony of Carols" for soprano choir (my version used a boys' choir) and harp. The music is ethereal and otherworldly. In a time when Christmas often feels hectic and commercialized, this music captured the spiritual and peaceful side of the holiday well. Britten combined ancient carols with his modern musical language, making the music sound timeless and profound. For modern music, it's highly approachable, even for novice listeners. What's more, my version included his "Hymn to St. Cecilia" and "Missa Brevis," which are both gorgeous pieces as well.
2. David Lovrien's Minor Alterations 1&2
I learned Minor Alterations 2 for a recent Christmas concert with a local symphony. It's a fun and fascinating piece that reinvents traditional Christmas carols in an exciting way. Lovrien changes all the carols into a minor key, then rewrites them in the style of famous classical (or even non-classical) pieces. Have you ever felt that Christmas carols should sound more like the theme song from the original "Star Trek"? Or perhaps the idea of a mash-up of "O Holy Night" and "Ride of the Valkyries" appeals to you. If so, this is the music for you. I had a great time performing it and listening to it as well.
3. Heinrich Schutz's The Christmas Story
Heinrich Schutz (1585-1672) was the most important German composer before J.S. Bach, and his music had a profound influence on many German composers, especially J.S. Bach. I hadn't heard his "Christmas Story" until someone suggested I listen to it in my comments. Schutz studied with Gabrieli, and he brought new Italian musical ideas to Germany, thus inspiring the New German School of composing. His music sounds halfway between Monteverdi, who influenced him considerably, and Bach. Schutz's "Christmas Story" reminds me of Bach's Christmas Oratorio, and I wonder if Bach used Schutz's earlier piece as a model. The music has wonderful melodies and beautifully represents the style of early German baroque.
I love listening to new music and finding pieces I've never heard before, so if you know of any more great classical Christmas music, let me know!