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Christmas 2011 Celebration: December 13, 2011

The Ultimate Classical Christmas Album of All Time
Various Artists

CDs: 2
Tracks: 43

Sony Classical/Legacy
Rel. 25 Sep 2007

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Sony’s Xmas Concert
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Classical Christmas
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Carols and Popular Christmas Songs
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Christmas 2011 Celebration
The Christmas season is upon us, and that means a rich and diverse musical soundtrack to accompany the worship, gatherings, shopping, and general festivities that mark the days leading up to December 25. No other day in our calendar even comes close to the sheer volume of music written for Christmas – composed throughout the full length of music history from the Middle Ages to the present day, and ranging from sacred chants and elaborate choral works to folk-derived carols to jazzy popular tunes. In celebration of the wealth of Christmas music, Classical Archives is pleased to present this Feature spotlighting the rich history and some of the enormous musical literature that accompanies this religious holiday. Specifically, our feature includes a written overview of the musical traditions of Christmas, as well as a useful index of key Christmas works and albums – broken into various categories and periods. As a special treat, our friends at Sony Records have granted ALL visitors to Classical Archives a FREE STREAM of a full Christmas concert including classical Christmas works and carols. Finally, we include two other 1-Click concerts based on the three categories of Christmas music: classical works, carols, and popular songs (full streams to subscribers only). Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from all of us at Classical Archives!


“I believe I saw all of Heaven before me, and the great God Himself.”
– George Frideric Handel, upon composing the “Hallelujah Chorus”

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The feast of Christmas – celebrated generally on December 25, and commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ – may hold secondary doctrinal significance within Christian theology to Easter (celebrating Christ’s Resurrection), but it has long been the most bountiful source of musical tribute among all Christian holidays, and especially with the tradition of Western art music. The roots of Christmas music lay in the Gregorian chants composed largely between the 6th and 10th centuries for the celebration of Christmas day and the Christmastide season that precedes it – most notably the hymn Christe, Redemptor omnium, the introit Puer natus est nobis, the antiphon Quem vidistis, pastores, and the gradual Viderunt omnes. During the Middle Ages and Renaissance, these and other Christmas chants became popular sources of motets and other sacred polyphonic forms from the late 12th through early 17th centuries – starting with the earliest masterworks in the polyphonic literature, such as Perotin’s 4-part organum setting of Viderunt omnes (c.1200), through the “golden age” of Renaissance motets by composers such as Josquin Des Prez, Heinrich Isaac, Giovanni Palestrina, and William Byrd, to the elaborate proto-Baroque edifices by composers like Giovanni Gabrielli, Claudio Monteverdi, and Johann Schein.

The Baroque era saw dramatic changes in musical composition, not least through the rise of instrumental writing, but also through the advent of large-scale sacred forms like the oratorio. Indeed, the late-Baroque produced perhaps the most celebrated Christmas works in the classical canon, especially, J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio and George Frideric Handel’s Messiah – which has become a staple of the holiday season for choruses and audiences around the world (as illustrated by our featured video of the “Hallelujah Chorus” by the citizens of Quinhagak, Alaska); as well as purely instrumental works like Arcangelo Corelli’s Christmas Concerto. The ensuing centuries have likewise seen a host of vocal and instrumental works by top composers commemorating the Christmas season and spirit, with notable contributions by Felix Mendelssohn, Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov, Charles Ives, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Benjamin Britten, Béla Bartók, and others (see our full list of Christmas-titled works); the most enduring Christmas-related work of the last 200 years, however, has undeniably been Piotr Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker – which likewise has become a staple tradition for many families during the holidays, despite the surprising fact that the initial performances (in 1892) were not successful.

Since the mid-19th century, moreover, an ever-growing number of popular, folk-derived, and quasi-classical Christmas carols and songs have gained prominence in performance and recording – becoming staples of holiday concerts, holiday parties, as well as on Christmas-oriented radio stations, movies, television shows and commercials, etc. Some of these songs have their roots in the literature of “traditional” classical composers – such as “Joy to the World” (based on an adaptation of melodies from Handel’s Messiah), “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” (adapted from Mendelssohn’s secular choral work, Festgesang), and “O Holy Night” (“Cantique de Noël”; a carol by French composer Adolphe Adam). Many others have their roots in 18th and 19th century folk / traditional Christmas songs from Germany (e.g., “Silent Night” and “O Tannenbaum”), France (e.g. “Les anges dans nos campagnes” or “Angels We Have Heard on High”), and especially England (e.g., “Boar’s Head Carol”, “Coventry Carol”, “The Holly and the Ivy”, “Greensleeves” or “What Child is This”, etc.).

Finally, the last 60 years have seen an explosion of jazz- and rock-influenced Christmas songs (
“White Christmas”, “Jingle Bells”, “The Christmas Song”, and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”, to name but a few), with new ones coming out each season. Indeed, very few singers – classical or otherwise – can resist the temptation to produce a Christmas album at least once in their career, with notable classical examples coming from Andrea Bocelli, Byrn Terfel, Roberto Alagna, Plácido Domingo, Jessye Norman, Joan Sutherland, Leontyne Price, Emma Kirkby, Annie Sofie von Otter, The Three Tenors, Chanticleer, and many others.

While one can lament the over-commercialization of Christmas, particularly in recent years, it is worth celebrating the wealth of superb art and popular music we today can enjoy by virtue of the inspiration this season has yielded to composers over the centuries – and subsequently to the world’s top artists. In most of this music, beyond the lighter calls for mirth and decorations, is the more profound message imbued in the holiday itself: peace, love, joy, and the hope for new blessings in the coming year. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from all of us at Classical Archives!

Below is a quite partial list of significant Christmas-related musical works, divided into various three different categories: classical Christmas works (broken into various historical periods); carols and folk-derived Christmas works; and popular Christmas songs. Many of these selections in turn form the basis of our three 1-Click Christmas Concerts, with full streams available to our subscribers. All visitors are also welcome to enjoy the FREE 1-Click Concert offered from our friends at Sony Records.

Classical Christmas

Medieval Period

Gregorian Chant, Mass I for Christmas Day

Gregorian Chant, Christe, Redemptor omnium (hymn)

Gregorian Chant, Puer natus est nobis (introit)

Gregorian Chant, Quem vidistis, pastores (antiphon)

Gregorian Chant, Viderunt omnes (gradual)

Gregorian Chant, Ave maria, gratia plena (antiphon)

Anonymous (St. Martial de Limoges, O primus homo coruit (versus, from Matines de Noël)

Anonymous (13th c.), Iubilemus, exultemus (trope, a2)

Anonymous (attributed to Léonin), Viderunt omnes (organum a2)

Anonymous (13th century), Annus renascitur (conductus a1)

Pérotin, Viderunt omnes (organum a4)


Renaissance Period

Guillaume Dufay, Ce jour de l'an (rondeau, a3)

Josquin Des Prez, Ave Maria, gratia plena (motet, a4)

Loyset Compère, O admirabile commercium (motet, a4)

Antoine Brumel, Noe, noe (motet, a4)

Jean Mouton, Quaeramus cum pastoribus (motet, a4)

Clemens non Papa, Missa Pastores quidnam vidistis (a5)

Ludwig Senfl, Puer natus est (motet, a4)

Orlando de Lassus, Resonet in laudibus (motet, a5)

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Quem vidistis pastores (motet a6)

William Byrd, O magnum mysterium (motet a4)


Baroque Period

Giovanni Gabrieli, Quem vidistis pastores (motet a14)

Michael Praetorius, Psallite unigenito (a8)

Claudio Monteverdi, Christmas Vespers

Heinrich Schütz, Die Geburt unsers Herren Jesu Christi (Weinachtshistorie; The Nativity), for chorus, soloists, and orchestra, SWV435

Johann Schein, Quem vidistis, pastores (motet, a8)

Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Canticum in nativitatem Domini, H.393

Arcangelo Corelli, Concerto Grosso in G-, Op.6, No.8 ('Christmas Concerto')

J.S. Bach, Cantata No.63: Christen, ätzet diesen Tag, BWV63

J.S. Bach, Christmas Oratorio, BWV248

George Frideric Handel, Messiah (oratorio), HWV56


Romantic – Contemporary Periods

Felix Mendelssohn, 6 Children's Songs (‘Christmas Songs’), Op.72

Franz Liszt, Christus (oratorio) for soloists, chorus, orchestra and organ, S.3, R.478

Edvard Grieg, Under Juletræet (Beneath the Christmas Tree), EG144

Piotr Tchaikovsky, Nutcracker (ballet), Op.71

Jean Sibelius, 5 Christmas Songs, Op.1

Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov, Christmas Eve (opera)

Charles Ives, A Christmas Carol, S.228

Béla Bartók, Romanian Christmas Carols, 20 pieces in 2 series, BB67, Sz.57

Ralph Vaughan Williams, Hodie (This Day), Christmas cantata

Ralph Vaughan Williams, Fantasia of Carols, for baritone, chorus, and orchestra

Benjamin Britten, Hodie (This Day), Christ’s Nativity: Christmas Suite, for chorus

Francis Poulenc, 4 Motets pour le temps de Noël, Op.152

Samuel Barber, Die Natali: Chorale Preludes for Christmas, Op.37

Oliver Messaien, La Nativité du Seigneur, 9 meditations, I/14

Witold Lutoslawski, 20 Polish Carols, for voice and piano (also for female chorus and orchestra)


Christmas Carols and Folk-Derived Christmas Songs (limited)

Anonymous (14th c.) In dulci jubilo

Anonymous (16th c. Spain) Riu riu chiu

Michael Praetorius, Es ist ein Ros entsprungen (Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming)

“Joy to the World” (after Handel)

“Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” (after Mendelssohn)

Adolphe Adam, “O Holy Night”

Anonymous (American) “I Wonder As I Wander”

Anonymous (English) “Boar’s Head Carol”

Anonymous (English) “Coventry Carol”

Anonymous (English) “Greensleeves” (“What Child is This”)

Anonymous (English) “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

Anonymous (English) “Good King Wenceslas

Anonymous (English) “The Holly and the Ivy”

Anonymous (English) “We Wish You a Merry Christmas

Anonymous (France)“Les anges dans nos campagnes”(Angels, We Have Heard on High)

Franz Xaver Gruber, “Silent Night”

Anonymous (Germany), “O Tannenbaum”

Anonymous (Italian), “Dormi, dormi, o bel bambin”

Anonymous (Welsh) “Deck the Halls”

Expanded list of Christmas Carols and Traditional Songs


Popular Christmas Songs (limited)

Mel Tormé, “The Christmas Song”

Steve Nelson, “Frosty the Snowman”

Hugh Martin / Ralph Blane, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”

James Pierpont, “Jingle Bells”

Katherine Davis, “Little Drummer Boy”

Johnny Marks, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”

John Frederick Coots, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”

Leroy Anderson, “Sleigh Ride”

Irving Berlin, “White Christmas”

Felix Bernard, “Winter Wonderland”

Nolan Gasser, “Christmas by the Bay”

Below is a small sample of Christmas CDs, again divided into the three categories of classical Christmas; carols and folk-derived Christmas songs; and popular Christmas songs.


Classical Xmas

The Complete Christmas Celebration: Works by Bach, Handel, Tchaikovsky, etc.
Various Artists

CDs: 7 Tracks: 161 Length: 7:29:18

Deutsche Grammophon
Rel. 4 Oct 2010
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Weihnachtskonzert (A Christmas Concert)
Regensburger Domspatze...

CDs: 1 Tracks: 19 Length: 45:40

Deutsche Grammophon
Rel. 25 Oct 1984
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$7.99

About Christmas: Works by Handel, Grüber, Bach, etc.
Berlin Voices

CDs: 1 Tracks: 14 Length: 51:24

hänssler CLASSIC
Rel. 28 Sep 2010
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$11.99

Aquitania: Christmas Music from 12th century Monasteries
Sequentia Ensemble for...

CDs: 1 Tracks: 18 Length: 1:12:57

Deutsche Harmonia Mundi
Rel. 14 Oct 1997
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$9.99

Ave Maria: The Ultimate Sacred Christmas Album
Various Artists

CDs: 1 Tracks: 17 Length: 1:10:38

Decca London
Rel. 31 Aug 2010
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$7.99

Thys Yool: A Medieval Christmas
Martin Best Medieval E...

CDs: 1 Tracks: 23 Length: 1:04:07

Nimbus Records
Rel. 1 Oct 1997
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$9.99

Unto Us a Child Is Born: Tudor Christmas Music by Tallis and Byrd
Haydn Society Chorus a...

CDs: 1 Tracks: 12 Length: 1:02:04

Arabesque Recordings
Rel. 1 Jan 2006
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$9.99

Venetian Christmas: Vocal Works by Gabrieli, Rore, etc.
Gabrieli Consort and P...

CDs: 1 Tracks: 22 Length: 1:21:00

Archiv Produktion
Rel. 29 Nov 2007
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$8.99

Schütz: Christmas Vespers
Gabrieli Consort and P...

CDs: 1 Tracks: 34 Length: 1:19:40

Archiv Produktion
Rel. 13 Aug 1999
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$11.99

Charpentier: Messe de Minuit pour Noël; Te Deum
Aradia Ensemble

CDs: 1 Tracks: 8 Length: 59:50

Naxos
Rel. 9 Nov 2003
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$5.99

Handel: Messiah
Robert Shaw Orchestra

CDs: 2 Tracks: 53 Length: 2:28:17

RCA Red Seal
Rel. 12 Oct 2004
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$16.99

A Roman Christmas; Works by Stradella, Marcello, Albinoni, etc.
Cologne Chamber Orches...

CDs: 1 Tracks: 23 Length: 1:04:19

Naxos
Rel. 26 Aug 1999
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$5.99

A Late Romantic Christmas Eve: Works by Tchaikovsky, Schoenberg, Bach, etc.
Elena Fink

CDs: 1 Tracks: 19 Length: 1:17:36

Ars Produktion
Rel. 4 Jan 2011
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$11.99

Christmas Adagios
Various Artists

CDs: 2 Tracks: 45 Length: 2:28:38

Decca Music Group Ltd.
Rel. 14 Sep 2001
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$11.99

Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker (Complete Ballet)
Kirov Opera Orchestra

CDs: 1 Tracks: 24 Length: 1:20:58

Decca Music Group Ltd.
Rel. 5 Oct 1998
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$10.99

Rimsky-Korsakov: Christmas Eve; Night on Mount Triglav
Moscow Symphony Orches...

CDs: 1 Tracks: 20 Length: 1:15:17

Naxos
Rel. 4 Feb 1998
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$5.99

Christmas Piano Music
Eteri Andjaparidze

CDs: 1 Tracks: 22 Length: 1:12:38

Naxos
Rel. 1 Oct 1996
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$5.99

Lutoslawski: Twenty Polish Christmas Carols; Lacrimosa; Five Songs
Katowice Radio Symphon...

CDs: 1 Tracks: 26 Length: 54:21

Naxos
Rel. 18 Oct 2005
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$5.99


Carols and Folk-Derived Christmas Songs

Christmas Star (Carols for the Christmas Season)
Cambridge Singers

CDs: 1 Tracks: 22 Length: 59:51

Collegium
Rel. 1 Oct 1997
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$11.99

The Three Tenors Christmas
The Three Tenors

CDs: 1 Tracks: 21 Length: 1:02:29

Sony Classical
Rel. 31 Oct 2000
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$9.99

Silent Night: Christmas Carols
Various Artists

CDs: 1 Tracks: 25 Length: 1:16:12

Decca Music Group Ltd.
Rel. 23 May 2014
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$8.99

Joy to the World: Christmas works by Gauntlett, Kocher, Holst, etc.
Various Artists

CDs: 1 Tracks: 20 Length: 1:02:26

Naxos
Rel. 8 Oct 2003
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$5.99

Christmas All Over The World
Various Artists

CDs: 1 Tracks: 17 Length: 54:05

Sony Classical/Legacy
Rel. 1 Oct 2002
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$9.99

Celebration: Christmas Fanfares and Carols
BBC Welsh Symphony Cho...

CDs: 1 Tracks: 26 Length: 1:15:26

Nimbus Records
Rel. 1 Oct 1997
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$9.99

Joy To The World
Mormon Tabernacle Choi...

CDs: 1 Tracks: 15 Length: 45:04

Sony Classical/Legacy
Rel. 8 Oct 2002
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$9.99

Christmas Carols
Worchester Cathedral C...

CDs: 1 Tracks: 20 Length: 59:47

Naxos
Rel. 29 Oct 1993
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$5.99


Popular Christmas Songs

Christmas Season: Favorite Christmas Songs
Various Artists

CDs: 2 Tracks: 51 Length: 2:04:07

hänssler CLASSIC
Rel. 28 Sep 2010
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$17.99

White Christmas: A Christmas Festival
Boston Pops Orchestra

CDs: 1 Tracks: 11 Length: 49:35

Deutsche Grammophon
Rel. 31 Aug 2010
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$9.99

Christmas by the Bay
Various Artists

CDs: 1 Tracks: 12 Length: 45:28

Sterling Performances
Rel. 1 Jan 2003
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$9.99

Christmas From The Heart
David Archuleta

CDs: 1 Tracks: 13 Length: 56:37

Jive
Rel. 13 Oct 2009
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$10.99

Carla's Christmas Carols
The Partyka Brass Quin...

CDs: 1 Tracks: 12 Length: 1:00:16

ECM Records
Rel. 6 Nov 2009
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$8.99


 
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