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Christmas Piano Music

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Christmas Piano Music


At Christmas play, and make good cheer,

For Christmas comes but once a year.

- Thomas Tusser(1524? - 1580)


"On Christmas night all Christians sing, to hear thenews the angels bring," says a traditional Sussex carol, and sing they did,from the fourteenth century onwards, in words that were sometimes merry andsometimes tender, but always simple and unpretentious, set to lilting, happytunes that suggest dance rhythms rather than the music of hymns. The word"carol" originally meant a ring dance accompanied by song. Such dancesongs were mainly secular in theme, concerned with love and courtship,feasting, the return of spring, or any other cheerful matter, and it was not untilthe end of the thirteenth century or beginning of the fourteenth century that thetrue religious carol was first heard. Many surviving English carols were composedbetween 1400 and the middle of the seventeenth century, and so, too, werenumerous others in Italy, France, Germany, Spain and elsewhere. During the nineteenthcentury many of these old songs were collected and published. As a result ofthe scholarly work and wide distribution of published Christmas carols, thesemany fine songs became an essential part of popular rejoicings. Countless arrangements,orchestrations, and transcriptions also began to be published. Numerous seriouscomposers took what was once a folk tradition and incorporated many of thefinest carol melodies into classical compositions. Many new carols and workscelebrating Christmas were also composed. On this recording Eteri Andjaparidzehas selected some of the finest examples of piano music written for theChristmas season.


[1] Max Reger (1873 - 1916) was a German composer,organist and pianist. Reger was known for his pessimistic, and often sarcastic,personality. He once stated that "the life of the composer is work, hope,and bicarbonate of soda," and that people took pleasure in "composersand pigs only after their deaths." Benevolent critics characterized hismusic as "full-textured, abounding in chromaticisms, elaborately structured,replete with complex harmonies, intricate polyphonies, and unusual modulations."Much of his piano music requires from the performer a sense of irony and theability to recognize hidden riddles and puns. Such a piece is his

Weihnachtstraum, Opus 17, No.9. This piece comesfrom the collection entitled Aus der Jugendzeit, which Reger publishedin 1895. Weihnachtstraum (or Christmas

Dream) is a beautiful and tender arrangement of the verywell known Christmas song, Stille Nacht (Silent Night) of Franz XaverGruber. Reger treats this music with a gentleness and delicacy rarely found intranscriptions.


[2] A collection such as this would be incomplete withoutJohann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750). Bach composed his Christmas Oratorio

in 1734. The title of "oratorio" (Weihnachts-Oratorium) ismisleading. The work is essentially "a series of lyrical meditations"(in Albert Schweitzer's words), held together by recitatives that tell the storyof Christmas as it is related in the New Testament by St Matthew and St Luke. Thecomposition consists of a set of six cantatas, composed by Bach for the Christmasfestival, never given by him as a whole and on one occasion, but in six performances,one part at a time: on the three Christmas festival days, on New Year's Day, onthe Sunday after New Year's Day, and on Epiphany. The work differs from otherChristmas and post-Christmas cantatas, as Schweitzer remarks, in these respects- "that the one mood runs through them all, and that together they tellthe full story of the birth of Christ." The Pastoral Prelude (Sinfonia)

known as "Shepherds' Music" is the famous and lovely instrumentalmovement that introduces Part II of the Christmas Oratorio. According toSchweitzer, there can be no doubt as to the meaning of the Sinfonia:"it represents the angels and the shepherds making music together."


[3] - [14] Franz Liszt (1811 - 1886) composed his Weihnachtsbaum

(Christmas Tree) suite between 1874 and 1876, dedicating the twelve piece setto his grandchild, Daniela von Bulow. He published the suite in 1882 in twoversions, one for solo piano and one for piano fourhands. The first four piecesare Christmas songs. Liszt maintains the boundless simplicity of the songs,while making them remarkably moving pianistic experiences. In two of the songshe actually provides the texts above the music:


(1) Psallite -Old Christmas Song

?á?á?á?á?á See the little Child lies in his crib so mild!

?á?á?á?á?á All the little Angels dear,

?á?á?á?á?á All the little Angels dear

?á?á?á?á?á Watch him from far and near.


(2) O heilige Nacht! - O Holy Night

?á?á?á?á?á O holy Night, With splendour bright!

?á?á?á?á?á O holy Night, With splendour bright!

?á?á?á?á?á Thro' ether light,

?á?á?á?á?á from Heaven swinging,

?á?á?á?á?á Angel hosts are singing, and singing

?á?á?á?á?á Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

?á?á?á?á?á The Lord is born!

?á?á?á?á?á Of Hell the scorn!

?á?á?á?á?á The Lord is born!

?á?á?á?á?á Of Hell the scorn!

?á?á?á?á?á Thro' ether light,

?á?á?á?á?á from Heaven swinging,

?á?á?á?á?á Angel hosts are singing, are singing

?á?á?á?á?á Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

?á?á?á?á?á Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

?á?á?á?á?á Hallelujah! Hallelujah!Hallelujah!


The third piece, Die Hirten an der Krippe (TheShepherds at the Manger) is actually a beautiful setting of In dulci jubilo.

The fourth is also well known -Adeste Fideles (March of the Three HolyKings). The next two pieces in the suite arouse unforgettable childhoodChristmas experiences - lighting the tree (scherzoso - Little Scherzo"Lighting the Tree") and the sounds of ringing bells (Carillon

- Chimes). The seventh is entitled schlummerlied (Slumber Song, orLullaby) and is a flowing, dreamlike piece that is played sempre dolcissimo.

The eighth piece is an Old Proventcal Christmas Song, which is followedby Abendglocken (Evening Bells), where we hear a very realistic pianoimitation of bell-effects. The remaining three pieces are portraits of Liszt andthe Polish Princess Jeanne Carolyne von Sayn-Wittgenstein. The Princess metLiszt, left her husband (with her eleven-year-old daughter) in 1848 andeventually lived with Liszt in Weimar for twelve years. Tireless in hercampaign to obtain a divorce from Prince Nicholas von Sayn-Wittgenstein, shemoved to Rome in 1860 and af
Disc: 1
Cantata No. 147, Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben:
1 Weihnachstraum, Op. 17, No. 9
2 Sinfonia 'Shepherds' Music', BWV 248
3 I - Psallite (Old Christmas Song)
4 II - O heilige Nacht! (O Holy Night)
5 III - Die Hirten an der Krippe (In dulci jubilo)
6 IV - Adeste Fideles (March of the Three Holy Kings
7 V - Scherzoso (Little Scherzo, 'Lighting the Tree'
8 VI - 'Carillon' (Chimes)
9 VII - Schlummerlied (Slumber Song)
10 VIII- Altes provencalisches Weihnachtslied (Old Pr
11 IX - Abendglocken (Evening Bells)
12 X - Ehemals (Old Times)
13 XI- Ungarisch (Hungarian)
14 XII- Polnisch (Polish)
15 December - Noel
16 Waltz
17 I - Nuit de Noel
18 II - Cortege des mages
19 III- Chanteurs de Noel
20 IV-Chant de Noel
21 Sleigh Ride
22 X. Jesu, joy of man's desiring (arr. M. Hess)
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