‘Silent Night,’ ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,’ and ‘Joy to the World': The Very Best of Classical Christmas Music

by on July 21st, 2011
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December is just around the corner, and many local radio stations are already playing Christmas music. As of November 1st, as the Halloween costumes went into storage, signs of Christmas began to crop up. Every year, artists release Christmas albums, as they compete for air time against the classics; Christmas songs that have withstood the test of time.

Christmas is a time of homemade traditions, when we bask in the magic of the season and the warmth caused by the togetherness of family. It is a time of baking elaborate feasts, giving to those we love and enjoying the company of others. It should come as no surprised that many people prefer the classics to a new Christmas tune on the radio. Here is a look at five of the best Christmas songs that lend to the Classical era.

Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy

If there is a piece of music that evokes imagery of the classical era that is synonymous with Christmas it is the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” from “The Nutcracker” by Peter Tchaikovsky. Tchaikovsky was commissioned to write the music for “The Nutcracker” in 1891 at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia. The end result was a delightful and enchanting song that would receive new life every Christmas.

Carol of the Bells

There are few Christmas songs that evoke more emotions than “Carol of the Bells.” This piece was composed by Mykola Dmytrovych Leontovych in 1916 under the title “Shchedryk.” Later, in 1936, Peter Wilhousky wrote the lyrics and the song was renamed “Carol of the Bells.”

Adeste Fidelis

For a long time, it was unclear who the true creator of “Adeste Fidelis” was, but many historians now agree that the beloved holiday song was created by John Francis Wade in 1743. Also known as “O, Come All Ye Faithful,” the holiday song is well known by many and has survived through two and a half centuries.

Silent Night (Stille Nacht)

One of the most beloved Christmas carols is also among the oldest. “Stille Nacht,” as the song is called in German, was first performed on Christmas Eve of 1818 in Oberndorf, Austria. Performed at the midnight Christmas mass at St. Nicholas church, “Stille Nacht” was brought to life by the voices of Father Joseph Mohr and the church’s choir director, Franz Gruber. The haunting melody and the beautiful lyrics still send shivers to listeners to this day.

Joy to the World

A widely known and beloved Christmas song that has withstood the test of time is “Joy to the World.” The song is believed to be arrived from Frederic Handel’s “Messiah” in the “Comfort Ye, My People” segment. When you begin to listen to the piece, you can certainly see where the inspiration comes from. In 1839, Lowell Mason drafted the sheet music for “Antioch,” which is an alternate name for the song. The words to the song were written in 1719 by Isaac Watts.

More from this Contributor:

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What is Musical Tempo Language?: A Guide to Understanding Italian Tempo Markings in Classical Music Pieces


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