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Favorite Christmas Music by Classical Composers

Updated on December 20, 2014

Top Rated Christmas Music Classics - Favourite Christmas Composers

Here are some favorite Christmas classical composers of mine. Most of the greatest music ever written was composed by a handful of composers from the history of music. At Christmas, musical barriers seem to melt away and you will find many people enjoying serious classical music they would not normally even think of listening to. The pageantry and festivity of Christmas, and its sacred message cannot be better expressed than by great music and accomplished musicians. This is not so much a "Top 10" list as much as a must try one. I have made the order roughly chronological, but it is not meant to be a comprehensive history of music, just a snapshot. If any of this music is new to you, I hope it will be the start of a great interest. If you know these pieces then I hope you will enjoy sharing some favorite classical Christmas music with me!

Image of St Francis is art in the public domain. Source is Wikimedia Commons. Click here to hear St Francis Prayer

Mass and Gregorian Chant

The Earliest Written Music

Any Cathedral library in Europe will have a wealth of historic sheet music for its choir to perform. This may well include early manuscripts of Gregorian chant, as you see in this video. The system looks a little strange to the uninitiated, but choirs can and do perform from this early form of written music and if you look closely, you can see how it developed into what we now think of as music notation.

Christmas with the Tallis Scholars

Thomas Tallis - an important English composer

Thomas Tallis was born in around 1505 and died in 1585. He was an important English composer who wrote during the reign of the Tudor monarchs. and is considered one of the most important choral composers of all time and one of the greatest English composers. I am very fond of Tallis's music and Christmas is a time when everyone should enjoy its magical sound and unique quality.

He was writing music at Canterbury Cathedral and a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal from 1543. Little is known about his early life and no contemporary portrait survives which seems to suggest he was keeping a low profile at Court. He was an unreformed Roman Catholic during a time when religious controversy was causing chaos and Catholics and Protestants seemed to take turns to be persecuted and executed in dreadful ways! Thomas Tallis composed sacred music through all this time and he must have kept his head down - in order to avoid losing it - having served under Henry VIII, Edward VI (1547–1553), Queen Mary (1553–1558), and Queen Elizabeth I (1558 until his death in 1585).

Portrait of Heinrich Schutz

"Schutz". Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
"Schutz". Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons | Source

Pastorale and Cantata

Schutz, Charpentier, Bach and Vivaldi's Choral Music

Pastorale refers to a "pastoral scene" and that gives us a clue as to how the music would have been performed. It was a forerunner of opera. Cantata means "sung" and that is self-explanatary. A cantata is a short piece of choral music (usually) celebrating a sacred subject. Bach was the master of writing cantatas. Charpentier wrote many "Pastorale" pieces. Vivaldi wrote glittering instrumental music at the height of the Baroque era and his Gloria in D illustrates what is best in his choral and orchestral music. Heinrich Schutz is often thought of as one of the earliest writers of opera.

Heinrich Schutz -Schutz: Christmas Story / Cantiones Sacrae

Heinrich Schutz is one of the most important composers of the 17th century and wrote in a modal contrapuntal style. He is considered Germany's most important composer before Bach and, as a pupil of Gabrielli, he was instrumental in bringing many ideas from Italian music into Germany.

Charpentier - Christmas Midnight Mass

Pachelbel Christmas Canon

Christmas Choral Concert: Regensburg Cathedral Choir - Lutzel, J.H. / Pachelbel, J. / Handl, J. / Rheinberger, J.G. / Brahms, J. / Britten, B.

Christmas Music By Johann Sebastian Bach - Christmas Oratorio and other Baroque Favorites

Bach's Christmas Oratorio is a popular classic. I love Bach because he was very much a working musician - nevertheless his music is sublime!

Bach Christmas Oratorio

Christmas Oratorios and the difference between Oratorio and Opera

There is one critical difference between opera and oratorio and that is the absence of action on stage. Both opera and oratorio have recitative - which is intoned narration leading into the "songs" or arias. So recitative and aria are what they have in common. These days you might well see action imposed on the music of an oratorio but in those past times acting was frowned upon in the Church. Opera was secular, oratorio was sacred so while both could tell a story opera was a complete theatrical experience and oratorio was a chance to worship through listening and sharing beautiful music. The forms are related because their development overlaps in the history of music. While Handel was best known for his oratorios he also wrote opera in the Italian style which was the fashion of the day. His contemporary, Bach, was a cathedral organist and tended to write Masses and Oratorios. He was relatively unknown until rediscovered by Mendelssohn in the 19th century.

Music and Video of Handel's Messiah - G.F.Handel Messiah, Scores, CDs and DVDs

Can you imagine a Christmas without The Messiah? I know I can't...

Handel Messiah

Vivaldi Gloria

One of Vivaldi's most famous pieces of music is The Seasons and a few years ago I arranged Winter for Guitar Ensemble. This is my arrangement, which includes TAB, and is easy to play.

Music by Hector Berlioz

L'enfance du Christ has some of the most gorgeous melodies ever written!

L'Enfance du Christ

Benjamin Britten - A Ceremony of Carols and other gems... - Britten is one of our greatest modern composers!

Britten was such a completely original composer. He often aimed to include amateur musicians and schoolchildren in his compositions. Choirs would perform alongside professional singers and orchestra. Noyes Fludde in which the children, in piping voices, represent the animals entering the ark and singing "Kyrie Eleison" is a prime example. Britten would often introduce a hymn or folk song into his compositions which provided a total contrast to his own unique style of composition. A Ceremony of Carols is a lovely piece in which he arranges the most beautiful Christmas melodies for choir. His music makes me proud to be British!

A Ceremony of Carols - Special Christmas Music

A Ceremony of Carols, Op. 28, was written in 1942 and is scored for a choir and soloists with harp. The choir is a three part chorus of treble (children's) voices. The words come from The English Galaxy of Shorter Poems,and are 16th century songs in Middle English. The piece has eleven movements and was originally just a collection of songs later edited to become one piece. It was written for Christmas while Britten was onboard a ship returning from the United States to his home in England. It has a magical quality that makes it a firm favourite at Christmas concerts.

Britten - A Ceremony of Carols

Saint Saens Christmas Oratorio

Tchaikovsky The Nutcracker

Do you have a favorite Christmas piece of classical music? Thank you for visiting!

Happy Christmas! - Thank you for listening to my Christmas composers

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    • sierradawn lm profile image

      sierradawn lm 4 years ago

      I love all of these classical Christmas pieces! Such a beautiful lens!

    • octopen profile image

      octopen 5 years ago

      Hearingoh holy night by King's College Cambridge choir always gives me goose bumps.

    • GeorgeneMBramlage profile image

      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 6 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      An interesting and enjoyable lens with so much information. Thanks for sharing!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      saved this on my favorites so I can listen to it from time to time, 'thumbs up' for a well put together lens.

    • profile image

      benelly 6 years ago

      nice lens.. i like this

    • Hana4 profile image

      Hana4 6 years ago

      Can't wait till Christmas to hear all of them in the right spirit again!

    • privresearch profile image

      privresearch 6 years ago

      I love your lens!

    • TheLittleCardShop profile image

      Malu Couttolenc 6 years ago

      Beautiful selection of Christmas Classic Songs, I listend to some of them and they are inspiring :)