About this Recording
8.553461 - CHRISTMAS PIANO MUSIC
English 

Christmas Piano Music

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 the news the angels bring," says a traditional Sussex carol, and sing they did, from the fourteenth century onwards, in words that were sometimes merry and sometimes tender, but always simple and unpretentious, set to lilting, happy tunes that suggest dance rhythms rather than the music of hymns. The word "carol" originally meant a ring dance accompanied by song. Such dance songs were mainly secular in theme, concerned with love and courtship, feasting, the return of spring, or any other cheerful matter, and it was not until the end of the thirteenth century or beginning of the fourteenth century that the true religious carol was first heard. Many surviving English carols were composed between 1400 and the middle of the seventeenth century, and so, too, were numerous others in Italy, France, Germany, Spain and elsewhere. During the nineteenth century many of these old songs were collected and published. As a result of the scholarly work and wide distribution of published Christmas carols, these many fine songs became an essential part of popular rejoicings. Countless arrangements, orchestrations, and transcriptions also began to be published. Numerous serious composers took what was once a folk tradition and incorporated many of the finest carol melodies into classical compositions. Many new carols and works celebrating Christmas were also composed. On this recording Eteri Andjaparidze has selected some of the finest examples of piano music written for the Christmas 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 "composers and pigs only after their deaths." Benevolent critics characterized his music 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 the ability to recognize hidden riddles and puns. Such a piece is his

Weihnachtstraum, Opus 17, No.9. This piece comes from the collection entitled Aus der Jugendzeit, which Reger published in 1895. Weihnachtstraum (or Christmas

Dream) is a beautiful and tender arrangement of the very well known Christmas song, Stille Nacht (Silent Night) of Franz Xaver Gruber. Reger treats this music with a gentleness and delicacy rarely found in transcriptions.

 

[2] A collection such as this would be incomplete without Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750). Bach composed his Christmas Oratorio in 1734. The title of "oratorio" (Weihnachts-Oratorium) is misleading. The work is essentially "a series of lyrical meditations" (in Albert Schweitzer's words), held together by recitatives that tell the story of Christmas as it is related in the New Testament by St Matthew and St Luke. The composition consists of a set of six cantatas, composed by Bach for the Christmas festival, 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, on the Sunday after New Year's Day, and on Epiphany. The work differs from other Christmas and post-Christmas cantatas, as Schweitzer remarks, in these respects - "that the one mood runs through them all, and that together they tell the full story of the birth of Christ." The Pastoral Prelude (Sinfonia) known as "Shepherds' Music" is the famous and lovely instrumental movement that introduces Part II of the Christmas Oratorio. According to Schweitzer, 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 set to his grandchild, Daniela von Bulow. He published the suite in 1882 in two versions, one for solo piano and one for piano fourhands. The first four pieces are Christmas songs. Liszt maintains the boundless simplicity of the songs, while making them remarkably moving pianistic experiences. In two of the songs he actually provides the texts above the music:

 

(1) Psallite -Old Christmas Song

      See the little Child lies in his crib so mild!

      All the little Angels dear,

      All the little Angels dear

      Watch him from far and near.

 

(2) O heilige Nacht! - O Holy Night

      O holy Night, With splendour bright!

      O holy Night, With splendour bright!

      Thro' ether light,

      from Heaven swinging,

      Angel hosts are singing, and singing

      Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

      The Lord is born!

      Of Hell the scorn!

      The Lord is born!

      Of Hell the scorn!

      Thro' ether light,

      from Heaven swinging,

      Angel hosts are singing, are singing

      Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

      Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

      Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

 

The third piece, Die Hirten an der Krippe (The Shepherds at the Manger) is actually a beautiful setting of In dulci jubilo. The fourth is also well known -Adeste Fideles (March of the Three Holy Kings). The next two pieces in the suite arouse unforgettable childhood Christmas 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, or Lullaby) and is a flowing, dreamlike piece that is played sempre dolcissimo. The eighth piece is an Old Proventcal Christmas Song, which is followed by Abendglocken (Evening Bells), where we hear a very realistic piano imitation of bell-effects. The remaining three pieces are portraits of Liszt and the Polish Princess Jeanne Carolyne von Sayn-Wittgenstein. The Princess met Liszt, left her husband (with her eleven-year-old daughter) in 1848 and eventually lived with Liszt in Weimar for twelve years. Tireless in her campaign to obtain a divorce from Prince Nicholas von Sayn-Wittgenstein, she moved to Rome in 1860 and after two papal audiences was finally granted permission to marry Liszt. The marriage did not take place and she devoted the rest of her life to theological studies and smoking vast numbers of extremely strong cigars. Ehemals (Old Times) perhaps represents the memory of their first meeting. The remaining two pieces are holiday musical portraits of their respective countries - Ungarisch (Hungarian) reminds us of Liszt's last Hungarian Rhapsodies and somber Csilrdilses, while Polnisch (Polish) is a nostalgic look at the Slavic world of melody.

 

[15] Peter Il'yich Tchaikovsky (1840 - 1893) poured out his emotions in an astounding number and variety of works: ten operas, six symphonies, six symphonic poems, three ballets, three overtures, four orchestral suites, chamber music, concertos, a large number of piano pieces, and a hundred or more songs. His music is not flawless in form like that of Beethoven, nor is it serene and thoughtful like that of Brahms. Sometimes it is true that his "manner is better than his matter", but it is beautiful music, unrivalled for lovely melody and exquisite colouring. Careless critics have labelled Tchaikovsky a master of melancholy. It is true that nowhere in music may be found such an expression of overpowering grief as in the last movement of his Sixth Symphony. His music reflects his life, the life of a nervous, highly sensitive man. Tchaikovsky was a thinker, and if his thoughts on the mysteries of life cast a shadow over his work, he was not alone in his gloom. Not all his music is gloomy, however, in fact he produced some of the happiest melodies of his time. Only a man as complex could have created a masterpiece as wonderful and full of joy as the ballet Nutcracker. Among his finest piano works is his set of twelve portraits, The Seasons, Opus 37a. The editor of Nouvelliste, Nikolay Bernard persuaded Tchaikovsky to contribute a monthly piano piece to his publication. From December 1875 onwards Bernard enticed his readers with these words: "Our celebrated composer Tchaikovsky is giving his support to the magazine; month by month he will provide a work for piano illustrating a seasonal event by its title and content." The result eventually was published as Opus 37a (or 37-bis). One of the happiest of the twelve pieces is December - Noel, a Christmas waltz to which Tchaikovsky appends an excerpt from the poem Svetlana (1811) by Vasili Zhukovsky (1783-1852):

 

      Once upon a time on the night of Epiphany

      Young maidens were guessing fortunes

      Behind closed door

      Having quickly kicked-off their shoes.

 

[16] Vladimir Ivanovich Rebikov (1866 - 1920) was a Russian miniaturist. Many of his short piano pieces have been likened to those of Grieg, and the more experimental pieces of later years gave him the title of Russia's finest impressionist. He wrote eleven stage works, liturgical music, numerous short piano pieces (many very experimental and far reaching), and melomimiques for voice and piano. His most adventurous and celebrated pieces are his stage works called "musico-psychological dramas", such as The Woman with the Dagger (1911), Narcissus (1913) and The Gentry's Nest, Opus 55. His best known work is a fairy play, after Dostoyevsky, Andersen and Hauptmann, called Yolka (The Christmas Tree) which was produced in Moscow in 1903. The endearing little Waltz, from this work is the stuff of Russian childhood memories.

 

[17] – [20] Sergey Lyapunov (1859 - 1924) was an eminent Russian composer and pianist. He studied composition with Tchaikovsky and Taneyev, graduating from the Moscow Conservatory in 1883. He continued his studies with Mily Balakirev in

St Petersburg. Balakirev's influence was to remain the dominant one for much of Lyapunov's creative career. Of the seventy-one works of Lyapunov bearing opus numbers, thirty-five are for piano solo. In addition, there are a small number of works, also for piano solo, without opus numbers, and a number of arrangements, both of Lyapunov's and other composers' works. The piano is also to a major extent involved in a number of songs, a chamber work, two concertos and a rhapsody. In 1893, Lyapunov, with Balakirev and Lyadov, was commissioned by the Imperial Geographical Society to collect folksongs from the regions of Bologda, Vyatka and Kostroma. Almost 300 songs, the fruits of this expedition, were published by the society in 1897. Lyapunov often dipped into this collection for musical ideas and themes, and virtually all of his work published after 1897 was influenced to some extent by his research into the folk music of Russia. Lyapunov published his suite Fetes de Noel ("Svyatki"), Opus 41 in 1910. Each of the four pieces is resplendent in its Russian "Orientalism" (so popular with composers of the time period, such as Borodin and, especially, Balakirev). The opening Nuit de Noel is a pastorale, whose middle section incorporates the sounds of peeling bells accompanied by a Russian Orthodox chant. The Cortege des mages is a musical picture of the procession of the Magi (somewhat in the manner of Borodin's In the Steppes of Central Asia). Chanteurs de Noel is in the form of a Russian folk-dance, while Chant de Noel is based on Russian folk-songs. This is the first recording of Lyapunov's suite.

 

[21] Leroy Anderson (1908 - 1975) studied with Enesco and Piston at Harvard University. In 1937 he was appointed chief arranger and pianist of the Boston Pops, providing that world-class ensemble with a steady stream of delightful music for the next twenty-five years. Those years yielded such favourites (and memorable tunes) as Blue Tango, The Syncopated Clock, Bugler's Holiday, Jazz Pizzicato, Trumpeter's Lullaby, Fiddle Faddle, The Typewriter, Belle of the Ball, and the ever popular Sleigh Ride. Concurrently with his orchestrated version, Anderson published his most popular pieces in their original piano version. Sleigh Ride was first published in 1948 and has since then been an absolute must at all Boston Pops' holiday concerts.

 

[22] The final work on this recital is not strictly a Christmas piece, but has been often performed during the holidays, separated from its parent work. Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring ("Jesus bleibet meine Freude") by Johann sebastian Bach is one of the chorales in his Cantata No.147 (Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben) which was adapted in 1723 by Bach from a similarly named cantata (now lost) written originally for the fourth Sunday in Advent on 20th December, 1716. This hauntingly beautiful chorale was spectacularly transcribed by Dame Myra Hess

(1890 - 1965) in 1925 and instantly brought her worldwide recognition.

 

@ 1996 Marina and Victor Ledin

 


Close the window