Along with visions of gingerbread houses and candy canes, thoughts of the Christmas holidays evoke feelings of celebration, family traditions, and music. Though Frosty and Rudolf may delight both young and old, classical holiday music was written with the same holiday cheer as many contemporary favorites. Though some may already be on your holiday playlist, you may want to add a few more from the list of our seven favorite pieces of classical music for Christmas.
Liszt’s Christmas Tree Suite
Despite Liszt’s Christmas Tree Suite sounding unfamiliar, you may recognize some of the pieces contained within the suite, such as “O Holy Night”, “Evening Bells”, and “Good Christian Men Rejoice”. The suite was composed in 1881 by Franz Liszt and dedicated to his granddaughter Daniela von Bulow.
Daniela, who celebrated her birthday on Christmas Eve, would forever treasure this special gift from her grandfather. The twelve pieces have become traditional classical carols and are known and cherished at many traditional celebrations.
Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker
Even if you have never seen Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, you are most likely somewhat familiar with the story of a young girl transported to a fantastical land of Snow by the Nutcracker turned prince after a battle with the Rat King.
The Nutcracker is probably the most renowned classical Christmas music because of the enduring familiarity of pieces such as the “Waltz of the Flowers”, the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”, and the “March”. Based loosely on ETA Hoffman’s short story, the ballet became further popularized in the 1950s and 60s and remains a popular holiday tradition today, with Tchaikovsky’s music taking center stage.
“Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
The “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” can stand alone among classical Christmas favorites and is also part of The Nutcracker ballet. This light, happy piece is recognizable by young and old alike and can be seen in performances from world-class ballet companies to elementary school performances. The seemingly simple score reveals its complexity and beauty when a symphony performs.
Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Greensleeves
You may know “Greensleeves” as a folk melody, but it has become a Christmas carol over the years, often sung as “What Child is This?” Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote it as a love song for Anne Boleyn, and it was first featured in his opera Sir John in Love. He created a fantasia that combined Greensleeves with two very different lullabies, one by Schubert and the other by Gruber.
In addition, he wrote another fantasia on other Christmas carols, combining several works in his composition.
Popular with classical audiences for hundreds of years, Handel’s Messiah proudly proclaims the birth of Christ, quoting from St. Luke’s gospel: For Unto Us, A Child Is Born! Many orchestras perform the full opera, including the popular and recognizable “Hallelujah Chorus”. This piece is joyous and widely used in celebrations and even in snippets for films and television. Always beautiful. Always in demand. Always a celebration.
Bach’s Christmas Oratorio
Johann Sebastian Bach first wrote this piece for a Christmas performance for the church in 1734. It incorporates music from earlier compositions written between 1733 and 1734. The next performance, however, was not until 1857, more than a century later. It is a six-part piece that begins with Christ’s birth, the annunciation to the shepherds, the adoration of the shepherds, the naming of Jesus, the journey of the Magi, and the Epiphany.
‘Sleigh Ride from Three German Dances’ by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Mozart may have written “Sleigh Ride” from Three German Dances to give the listener the feeling of traveling on the snow-covered hills in a sleigh. Classic holiday cards and movies depict this beautiful winter scene, as does Mozart’s Sleigh Ride. Mozart’s Sleigh Ride is the last of his Three German Dances and is thought to be composed for a celebratory ball at Vienna’s Imperial Court. Listen closely; you may hear the bells and feel as though you are being transported through a winter wonderland on an ornate horse-drawn sleigh.
Live Holiday Music Classics in Denver
The holiday season is the time for celebration, reflection, and preparation. The Colorado Symphony offers the best holiday music in a beautiful venue.
If visiting the symphony is not part of your holiday celebration, why not start a new tradition today? We have plenty of performances to choose from, including:
- A Colorado Christmas: Your family will love this combination of traditional Christmas carols, winter faves, and even some new surprises! Sing along and get your holiday season started right!
- A Night in Vienna: Ring in the New Year with this musical celebration, including waltzes, polkas, and marches.
- Too Hot to Handel: Crank up the excitement with a reinvention of Hendel’s Messiah, featuring jazz, gospel, and R&B.
- Elf in Concert: Relive this heartwarming holiday classic on four giant screens as every note of John Debney’s wonderful score is played live to picture.
Experience a Live Symphony Orchestra Like Never Before!
Join the Colorado Symphony for a joyous, music-filled holiday season. Make the symphony a part of your Christmas celebration and a tradition for years to come. And check out our calendar for other fun, musical events in the upcoming season.
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