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!