Five Pieces I Will Listen to over the Holiday Season; What About You?

By Barry Kempton

I think it was about this time last year that I wrote about my dislike of having endless background holiday music filling every public building for the whole month of December (and much of November).  It’s started again (of course), but rather than complain, I thought I’d share five pieces of music I do plan to listen to this month.

  1. S. Bach Christmas Oratorio: Some will know that this is actually a set of six cantatas, so there’s plenty of music to fill an evening of listening.  If you have less time to indulge than the whole evening, listen to the Sinfonia Pastorale which opens the Part 2. Listen on YouTube here.
  2. Gian Carlo Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors: I have very fond memories of hearing this music when I worked for the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.  For several consecutive years, the orchestra collaborated with James Sewell Ballet in a presentation of this opera with stunning choreography by James Sewell. Listen on YouTube here.
  3. Franz Schubert’s song cycle Winterreise: no special Holidays theme here, but one of the great song cycles of all time and the fact that Schubert chooses the title Winter Journey is a good enough excuse to include it here. Listen on YouTube here.
  4. Gerald Finzi’s In Terra Pax: a composer not so well known outside the UK, but this short setting of poems for soprano, baritone, chorus and orchestra is both warming and moving. Listen on YouTube here.
  5. Hark the Herald Angels Sing (in the arrangement by David Willcocks): so, a traditional and well-known carol makes my list, but this arrangement will always remind me of the carol services at St Paul’s Cathedral which I was fortunate to attend in each of my years with the City of London Sinfonia.  That descant line in the last verse is guaranteed to make you tingle. Listen on YouTube here.

I’m sure I’ve overlooked many other obvious (and less obvious pieces).  Let us know please what your favorite holiday music is.