Christmas music: evolving and involving

Martin CullingfordFri 30th November 2012

Gramophone's editor introduces the December issue of the magazine

Christmas is one time in the year when even those with the vaguest interest in classical music find themselves listening to and enjoying it – and even joining in. There’s no real reason why it should just be Christmas music of course – that written for Holy Week and Easter is perhaps the most profound liturgical music of all. But the connotations of candles, choristers, carol singers and childhood memories have made music a key custodian and conduit of the Christmas message of love, hope and peace, and for that we should all be grateful. Also, unlike other liturgical music where less adherence to the calendar is generally paid – nobody minds, for example, listening to an Annunciation anthem in mid-Trinity – we get to hear Christmas music only once a year, so let’s revel in it while we can.

King among Christmas music of course is the carol, however that’s defined – something Jeremy Nicholas tries to answer, along with some of today’s musicians most immersed in the genre. Among these is Stephen Cleobury, director of music at King’s College, Cambridge, home to the annual Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols since 1918. Of any event, this perhaps epitomises everything Christmas conjures in the mind and such an institution could be forgiven for resting on its laurels. But it doesn’t. For 30 years now, Cleobury has commissioned an annual carol, placing contemporary music at the heart of this most high-profile of events. King’s (where our cover photograph was taken) has released a new recording of its much-loved service on its new label – you’ll find it among our round-up of Christmas releases.

Looking to the origins of the genre, we talk to conductor 
David Skinner about performing the earliest-known English polyphonic carols – the Trinity Carol Roll. We also visit the ‘other place’ to report on Worcester College Choir recording modern carols in Keble College, Oxford. So we think we’ve covered the genre from beginning to…well, not end, certainly. For, like all traditions of worth, the carol continues to evolve and, as it does so, involve. So enjoy reading, listening – and indeed singing – and a very Happy Christmas to you all.

Read more about the December 2012 issue.

Martin Cullingford

Martin Cullingford is Editor and Publisher of Gramophone - brought up in Britten country on the Suffolk coast, when not practising the guitar he can often be found enjoying Evensong.

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