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Classical-Music.com Six of the best pieces to celebrate winter

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Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – The Nutcracker

This two-act ballet is a winter classic. The top US ballet companies earn around 40% of their yearly ticket revenue from this work! It was premiered on 18 December 1892, and was judged harshly by its first audiences. However, with its entrancing characters, Christmas Eve setting and its depiction of family and friends, let this delightful masterpiece warm you up during the coldest evenings of winter.

 

 

Joseph Haydn – ‘Winter’, The Seasons

Haydn’s ‘Winter’, from the 1801 oratorio The Seasons, is a suitable work to accompany those dark and chilly nights this season. Strangely, there are documents that suggest Haydn was dissatisfied with sections of the libretto; written in the margins of one of the scores, Haydn allegedly said that he was ‘forced to write this Frenchified trash’.

Despite Haydn’s possible reservations, the scale of this work alone is impressive enough. With the oratorio’s grand orchestration – which even includes an alto, tenor and bass trombone, as well as three solo voices – the scale of this work will complement the imposing snowstorms and fog that cloaks the landscape at this time of year!

 

 

JS Bach – Christmas Oratorio

Now it’s time for some uplifting winter music…. Far from the bleak and dreary nights, Bach’s Christmas Oratorio opens with an overwhelming sense of energy and joy. The work was written for the 1734 Christmas period; the oratorio traces the Nativity story from the birth of Christ through to the adoration of the Magi. What better way to cheer up a wintry afternoon?!

 

 

Felix Mendelssohn – ‘Vom Himmel hoch’

This cantata opens with a chorus entitled ‘From Heaven’; whether you are watching the rain fall, or even the snow, this work’s vivacious opening should lift your spirits! Mendelssohn was evidently entranced by the winter season, since he composed numerous works with a title or subject based upon this time of year. If you are seeking further merriment to complement the falling snow, look no further than Mendelssohn’s Six Christmas Pieces, Op. 72, and – of course – Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

 

 

Sergei Prokofiev – ‘Troika’ from Lieutenant Kijé Suite

Prokofiev’s score was originally intended to accompany a film, but as a result of the work’s success, the composer released a five-movement suite. Premiered in December 1934, this is another optimistic take on this divisive season! The ‘Troika’, the penultimate movement of the suite, features sleigh bells and pizzicato strings, both of which contribute to the image of the three-horse sled that Prokofiev intends to evoke.

 

 

Franz Liszt – Christmas Tree Suite

Keeping the Christmas spirit alive, Liszt dedicated this set of 12 piano pieces to his first granddaughter. The work was premiered on Christmas Day, 1881. The location of the premiere? His granddaughter’s hotel room. What a gift to receive at Christmas, and what a way to celebrate the beauty of the winter season by listening to this fantastic work!

 

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Classical-Music.com Composers at Christmas

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Benjamin Britten

 

Santa or Scrooge:           Santa

Why:

In 1932, at the age of 19, Benjamin Britten recorded his family Christmas in his diary. At home in Lowestoft, Suffolk, the composer performed a pantomime alongside his relatives to celebrate the festive season! His presents included Tchaikovsky’s symphonic poem Francesca da Rimini from fellow composer and mentor Frank Bridge.

Recommended listening:

‘In Freezing Winter Night’, A Ceremony of Carols

The eighth movement of Britten’s choral masterpiece describes the birth of Christ. Britten wrote his A Ceremony of Carols whilst travelling back to England from America in 1942; with the U-Boat threat a clear and present danger, it seems particularly touching that it was at this time Britten penned a piece of such hope and tranquillity. He is the ideal composer with whom you can celebrate this season of peace and joyfulness!

 

 

 

Richard Wagner

 

Santa or Scrooge:           Santa

Why:

In 1870, Wagner put his compositional skills to good use by writing a piece of music for his wife, Cosima. Her birthday just happened to be on Christmas Day. The Siegfried Idyll was premiered on the steps of the composer’s villa on Christmas morning; conductor Hans Richter played the trumpet part! Cosima recorded, ‘When I woke up I heard a sound… music was sounding, and what music!’

Recommended listening:

Siegfried Idyll

Upon receiving this gift, Cosima wrote that ‘I was in tears, but so, too, was the whole household’. This recording presents the original version for a small chamber ensemble of 13 players. The sense of intimate celebration this conveys is perfect for the family celebrations at Christmas!

 

 

 

Gustav Mahler

 

Santa or Scrooge:          Scrooge

Why:

Not everyone enjoyed Christmas. Mahler was haunted by a sense of isolation and despair; in Leipzig in 1886, the composer-conductor wrote to a friend that he had ‘spent a sad Christmas Eve once again sitting at home all by myself’, going on to comment how ‘the whole world through which I am destined to wander without rest was blotted out by a few tear-drops.’

Recommended listening:

‘Der Abschied’, Das Lied von der Erde

The sixth and final movement of Mahler’s monumental composition is scored for two voices and orchestra. The movement’s title translates as ‘The Farewell’. Hardly cheerful Christmas music, but its sense of introspection provides striking evidence of the composer’s psyche, making him a fitting Scrooge.

 

 

 

Frédéric Chopin

 

Santa or Scrooge:           Santa

Why:

Chopin appears to have found solace in the reflective spirituality of Christmas. In his Scherzo in B minor, Op. 20, the composer quotes the Christmas lullaby Lulajze, Jezuniu (Sleep, Little Jesus). Following the November Uprising, and having left his native Poland forever, Chopin was missing his family. With an uncertain future, the Scherzo provided him with some relief by acting as an outlet for his anxiety.

Recommended listening:

Scherzo in B minor, Op. 20

The beautiful tenderness of the lullaby that appears in the centre of this Scherzo allows for a moment of peace in this unsettling period of Chopin’s life. With its personal connotations of family and home, this is an ideal piece for Christmas!

 

 

 

Krzysztof Penderecki

 

Santa or Scrooge:           A little bit of both….

Why:

Polish composer Penderecki wrote an entire symphony that used quotations of a Christmas carol as a method of unifying the work. Informally known as the Christmas Symphony, Penderecki frequently quotes the carol Silent Night throughout.

Recommended listening:

Symphony No. 2

In the dissonant, building climaxes punctuated by the brass section, the influence of Shostakovich is clear. The four-note motif derived from Silent Night struggles to mitigate the sense of darkness that pervades this work. This is a Scrooge’s depiction of Christmas…

 

 

 

Felix Mendelssohn

 

Santa or Scrooge:           Santa

Why:

Mendelssohn moved to Berlin in November 1843, and spent much of the festive season with eight members of his family. On Christmas Eve, he wrote to his youngest sister Rebecka, then staying in Italy; ‘this is the time for a chat. If only I could have one with you in reality!’ On Christmas Day, he conducted at the Berlin Cathedral, leading a performance of a new psalm he had set.

Recommended listening:

‘Christmas’, 6 Sprüche

Mendelssohn composed this jovial piece in 1843 for the Cathedral Choir in Berlin. Its declarative unison opening soon gives way to a sprightly homophony, with the dotted rhythms conveying the joy of the festive season; it was premiered on Christmas Day, 1843.

 

We can hardly resist including the composer’s famous setting of Charles Wesley’s words, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing…. English organist William H. Cummings adapted a previous work by Mendelssohn to fit Wesley’s text. The music? A secular cantata to celebrate the invention of the printing press! Even stranger, Wesley originally planned for the words to be sung to the same melody as his Easter song, Christ the Lord Is Risen Today

 

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Classical-Music.com Free Download: La Fantasia performs Corrette’s Les Six Symphonies de Noël

This week's free download is Corrette's Sinfonia I from Les Six Symphonies de Noël, performed by La Fantasia with Rien Voskuilen as conductor and organist. the track appears on 'Joyeux Noel: French Christmas Music', which was awarded four stars for both performance and recording in the Christmas issue of BBC Music Magazine.

'Lightness, charm, elegance – qualities that surface repeatedly in these three CDs of French music related to Christmas' writes Terry Blain. 

DOWNLOAD INSTRUCTIONS:

If you'd like to enjoy our free weekly download simply log in or sign up to our website.

Once you've done that, return to this page and you'll be able to see a 'Download Now' button on the picture above – simply click on it to download your free track.

If you experience any technical problems please email support@classical-music.com. Please reference 'Classical Music Free Download', and include details of the system you are using and your location. If you are unsure of what details to include please take a screenshot of this page.

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Classical-Music.com Glyndebourne General Director steps down

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Sebastian F. Schwarz steps down from his position as General Director of Glyndebourne after two years working with the opera house. He has cited a desire to focus on the more creative aspects of artistic leadership.

‘In my first encounter with a privately funded company I have come to appreciate Glyndebourne’s unique and complex business model on which its success and survival are dependent’, says Mr Schwarz. ‘While planning the seasons up to 2021, I have realised that I feel most at home in a position which allows me to concentrate more fully on creating and executing the artistic vision of an organisation.’

Before his position at Glyndebourne, the musician was Deputy Artistic Director of Theater an der Wien in Vienna for nine seasons. He has also worked at Hamburg State Opera and Wexford Festival Opera.

Mr Schwarz succeeded David Pickard as General Director of Glyndebourne in 2015, and went on to present a new production of Cavalli’s Hipermestra and the world premiere of Brett Dean’s Hamlet. Mr Schwarz also introduced a new annual international singing competition, the Glyndebourne Opera Cup, and is due to remain as chair of the jury when the contest is staged in March 2018.

‘He is hugely respected and admired by everyone at Glyndebourne, including myself, and he has made an indelible mark on the organisation in his time with us’, says Gus Christie. Mr Christie – the Executive Chairman of Glyndebourne and the grandson of the company’s founders – has been appointed as Acting General Director until the appointment of a successor.

Further information about Mr Schwarz’s departure can be found here.

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Classical-Music.com Nominations open for the RPS Music Awards

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Nominations for the next Royal Philharmonic Society (RPS) Music Awards have been opened. The winners will be revealed at a ceremony held at The Brewery in Central London on Wednesday 9 May 2018.

These independent awards were set up in 1989 to celebrate ‘outstanding achievement in live music’; BBC Radio 3 has described the awards as the classical equivalent to ‘the Oscars, the BAFTAs and the Grammys all in one’.

The Awards celebrate individual performers, ensembles, composers and productions that took place in the UK in 2017. Music organisations and Royal Philharmonic Society members are asked each year to submit their nominations for the 13 categories that make up the evening.

Projects that expand audience participation in music have also been celebrated in the more recent RPS Awards shortlists, developing alongside the Society’s campaign to promote wider engagement with music. This was seen in the 2016 ceremony’s social media campaign exploring the importance of live performance, in which musicians and listeners summarised their thoughts on live music with the hashtag #LiveMusicIs.

Previous winners of RPS Music Awards include conductors Claudio Abbado and Marin Alsop, percussionist Colin Currie, soprano Joyce DiDonato and pianist Murray Perahia.   

The upcoming ceremony will recognise some of the top musical achievements by performers, composers and arts organisations from 2017. After nominations close on the 16 January, independent juries will select the winners, who will be announced at the ceremony in May.

RPS members are free to vote until Tuesday 16 January at 11.59pm; if you would like to vote but are not currently a member, you can register here.

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Classical-Music.com Festive music: our top picks

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It’s officially the festive season, so we’re all finally permitted to don our finest reindeer jumpers, have mugs of mulled wine thrust upon us on entry into any room, and generally indulge in all things rich and fruity (that counts for food and music in equal measures).

To coincide with our Christmas playlist on Apple Music (available here), the BBC Music Magazine team have chosen their favourite seasonal pieces. 

 

Neil McKim, Production editor: ‘Troika’ from Lieutenant Kijé Suite by Prokofiev

‘Troika’ from Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kijé Suite conjures up a crisp, bell-filled wintry scene and fits this time of year perfectly. After a grand brass introduction, the famous fourth movement ‘Troika’ breezes along, creating the impression of a fast-moving sleigh. The music was written for a Soviet film in 1933 – when Prokofiev returned to his homeland after a ten-year residency in Paris – and charts the life of a fictional military officer. 

Recommended recording: Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Andrew Litton BIS BIS1994

 

Oliver Condy, Editor: Tomorrow shall be my dancing day by John Gardner

There seems to be a dearth of cheery Christmas choral works – most tend to be reflective rather than joyful (think Warlock, Howells, Michael Head, etc etc). But John Gardner’s sprightly two-minute burst of joy is inspired, its off-set rhythms and constantly changing time-signatures giving a wonderful sense of forward movement. Gardner, born in 1917, was a prolific composer of orchestral, chamber, vocal and instrumental music, but it’s for this delightful Christmas miniature that he’s almost solely known today.

Recommended recording: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers CORO COR16004

 

Freya Parr, Editorial assistant: ‘Hail Mary, Gracious!’ from El Niño by John Adams

Adams’s nativity oratorio is one of the more unusual retellings of the Christmas story. The text is drawn from various biblical sources as well as a number of poems written by Latin American women, and the musical language is littered with inflections of Latin American folk music. Its theatrical writing is John Adams to a T, and the floating harmonies and unusual rhythms in this movement are warm and otherworldly. The trio of countertenors make this movement completely magical.

Recommended recording: Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson, Dawn Upshaw, Willard White, German Symphony Orchestra/Kent Nagano Nonesuch 7559 79634-2

 

Jeremy Pound, Deputy editor: A Ceremony of Carols by Benjamin Britten, particularly Interlude (Harp Solo)

Amid all the choral hurly-burly of Britten’s wonderfully invigorating A Ceremony of Carols comes the moment of extraordinary stillness that is the Interlude for solo harp. Based on the plainchant that we hear at the beginning of the work, this is music that reminds me of a frozen, deserted landscape, in which the only movement is the occasional drip from a slowly melting icicle. It’s extraordinarily atmospheric, and an essential part of my festive listening each year.

Recommended recording: James O’Donnell (organ), Sioned Williams (harp), Choir of Westminster Cathedral/David Hyperion CDA66220

 

Rebecca Franks, Reviews editor: O come, O come Emmanuel

If I haven't heard or sung O come, O come Emmanuel at least once over Christmas, even an extra mince pie won't stop me feeling short-changed on the festive front. This haunting hymn for Advent and Christmas has an ancient quality that I love. The text and tune developed separately through the centuries, and various versions exist, but the familiar words-and-music combination in English came into being in 1851. Rejoice, Rejoice!

Recommended recording: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge/Sir David Willcocks Warner Classics 9992365032

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Classical-Music.com ‘The Owl’ by Toby Young & Jennifer Thorp: Our 2017 Christmas commission

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It's approaching December, so for the fourth year BBC Music Magazine have commissioned a carol from a superb young composer for our readers to sing.

With music by Toby Young and lyrics by Jennifer Thorp, 'The Owl' is performed here by Exultate Singers and conducted by David Ogden. 

 

 

A few words from Toby Young…

Having sung pretty much every Christmas carol in existence during my time in the choir of King’s College, Cambridge, I was hugely excited to be asked to write something new for BBC Music Magazine. And as much as we all love the classic festive texts, this seemed the perfect opportunity to commission a new poem from the hugely talented writer Jennifer Thorp – something that might sum up the excitement and beauty of yuletide, but in a new and unexpected way. 

Jennifer didn’t disappoint, with an exceptional text capturing the landscape of these winter months. ‘In many traditional yuletide carols and poems,’ she writes, ‘a balance is posed between a dark, wild winter world and the intimate golden safety of human celebration. Pagan roots run deep here – particularly when it comes to the passing of the year – and festivals reflect that connection to darkness, with fires, feasts and revels that glow brightest through long nights. The owl, which embodies untamed wilderness and hunts under the yellow December moon, is an emblem of that delicious tie that exists between the carols sung indoors by candlelight and the bleak, beautiful midwinter beyond.’

Since my career has spanned classical, pop and folk traditions, I have tried to mix elements from all of these genres to create a musical language that really captures the magic of Jennifer’s words. 

 

Performance Notes

My carol The Owl is all about atmosphere, beginning with a cold, sparkling sound in verses 1 and 2, and gradually warming up into a more glowing colour for the chorus and third verse. 

Strong dynamic contrast between the different sections will help create these moods. As with all carols, the words should be as clear as possible to give life to the direct and expressive text. 

Rhythmically, this carol is full of hemiolas and cross-rhythms, which should be used to bring out the dance-like quality of certain phrases, particularly the unexpected and funky cross-rhythm in the soprano’s opening phrase (bar 5 and again in bar 9). In general, care should be made to make these moments of ambiguity between 6/8 and 3/4 feel as natural as possible.

At the chorus (bar 26), there should be a new injection of energy – imagine the owl taking flight and soaring! – with a new sense of excitement in the soprano melody, and lots of consonants to make the accented notes really explode. The accompanying ATB parts should use the dynamics to really push the music forward, using the forte words (‘under’, ‘heaven’, etc) to create as much drama and propulsion as you can. Be careful to save enough breath for the big crescendos in bar 31 and bar 39, to make them as majestic as they can be.

Most importantly, once the notes are learned and the geography is figured out, enjoy it. I hope it is as fun to sing as it was to write!  

 

Click here to download the score.

 

We hope you’ll include ‘The Owl’ in your carol service or concert. We’d love to hear/see your performances, so send any audio files or YouTube links to music@classicalmusic.com and we’ll post them to our website and social media. To learn more about Toby Young and his collaborations with Jennifer Thorp, visit http://www.theothertoby.com

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Classical-Music.com Free Download: Andreas Brantelid and Bengt Forsberg play Fauré’s Sicilienne

This week's free download is Fauré's Sicilienne Op. 78, performed by cellist Andreas Brantelid and pianist Bengt Forsberg. The disc it appears on features the composer's works for cello and piano by the duo, and was awarded five stars for both performance and recording in the September issue of BBC Music Magazine. 

DOWNLOAD INSTRUCTIONS:

If you'd like to enjoy our free weekly download simply log in or sign up to our website.

Once you've done that, return to this page and you'll be able to see a 'Download Now' button on the picture above – simply click on it to download your free track.

If you experience any technical problems please email support@classical-music.com. Please reference 'Classical Music Free Download', and include details of the system you are using and your location. If you are unsure of what details to include please take a screenshot of this page.

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Classical-Music.com European Broadcasting Union celebrates 50th Birthday

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In celebration of the 50th birthday of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), Johannes Wildner will be conducting the BBC Concert Orchestra at LSO St Luke’s this evening (Monday 27 November) in a performance that will be broadcast by 44 EBU radio organisations.

An international programme aims to reflect the EBU’s ethos of cross-border collaboration and innovation. The concert will feature a new commission from British-Bulgarian composer Dobrinka Tabakova, as well as performances by the Russian pianist Pavel Kolesnikov, Norwegian violist Eivind Holtsmark Ringstad, and US-Korean violin virtuoso Esther Yoo. 

The evening will include Beethoven’s Emperor Piano Concerto No.5, Mozart’s Sinfonia concertante, Britten’s Suite on English Folk Tunes ‘A time there was…’, as well as Tabakova’s premiere, Fanfare. The choice of music is designed to recall the inaugural concert of the EBU on the 27 November 1967, which similarly featured Mozart’s Sinfonia concertante along with Britten’s Nocturne song cycle, the composer also conducting the performance. 

The EBU gives radio stations in Europe and beyond access to a range of live concerts, with subscribing stations in 56 nations and some concerts reaching an audience of 7 million. Previous EBU projects have included a Haydn complete opera cycle from 1975 to 1978, as well as the more recent One Love Manchester concert that commemorated the 22 victims of the terrorist bombing. BBC Radio 3’s Head of Music, Edward Blakeman, says that the Union is ‘a cost-effective way of accessing huge riches’.

Tonight’s concert can be heard live on BBC Radio 3 at 7pm, but if you miss the evening or want to listen again, the performance will be available on iPlayer Radio for 30 days. 

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