Classical Christmas Songs

Back in the day of the classic Christmas song (we’re talking those Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Andy Williams, Ella Fitzgerald Perry Como and Frank Sinatra standards) there was more than a hint of classical music embellishment. With orchestral movements sweeping through these festive greats, Nat’s ‘The Christmas Song’ being a prime example, one could almost have a classical Christmas without ever needing to revert to what is considered the archetypal classical music sound.

Of all the genres in the holiday soundtrack classical Christmas music has been with us the longest. This is as much thanks to the instruments themselves, like brass, string and woodwind, which were invented in the 18th and 19th centuries as their traditional usage in places of worship as the season approached. Classical Christmas songs like ‘Joy To The World’ which was written in the early 18th century has strong associations with the composer Handel and was lavishly given the classical treatment by Percy Faith’s instrumental rendition in 1954 for his majestic album ‘Music of Christmas’.

‘Once in Royal David’s City’ is another carol that has always ushered in the Christmas season. None more so that its unveiling at the King’s College Chapel Cambridge by Choir of King's College (formed in 1441) each Christmas Eve, an event which has been running each Christmas since 1918. The lavish affair is broadcast around the world each year by the BBC but you can find a 2009 recording called ‘A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols’ which means that it can be enjoyed at any time.

‘Silent Night’ is perhaps the most famous carol of them all and it was originally composed in Germany by Franz Xaver Gruber. It has been recorded on hundreds of occasions most memorably by singer Mahalia Jackson on her own Christmas album but also by choirs of every distinction throughout the years. ‘Christmas with the Westminster Choir’, released in 1991, is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful choral Christmas music recordings ever and it includes an elaborate but entirely peacefully version of ‘Silent Night’. This is an album which is ready made for filling radio schedules as Christmas Eve turns into Christmas Day each year.

Classical Christmas music does not get much more popular than Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra’s 1962 LP ‘The Glorious Sound of Christmas’. Featuring the Temple University Concert Choir this is a choral and orchestral wonder with arranger Ormandy creating many definitive recordings of classical songs such as ‘Hark! the Herald Angels Sing’, Cantique de Noël (‘O Holy Night’) and ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’. Similarly cherished and also from the 1960’s is ‘A Christmas Festival’ by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops. This album is a roll call for the great classical Christmas songs including several pieces from Tchaikovsky's ‘Nutcracker Suite’ which itself progressively became a part of the Christmas celebrations as the 20th century wore on. Elsewhere Fielder captured the magic of Leroy Anderson’s ‘Sleigh Ride’ and his ‘Rudolf The Red-Nosed Reindeer’ is so accomplished you may feel as if Santa and his friends have made a quick stop on your rooftop.

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