Top 10 instrumental Christmas works

Jeremy Nicholas Mon 19th December 2016

Jeremy Nicholas wishes Gramophone readers a musical, peaceful, joyful – but entirely wordless – Christmas, as he chooses his favourite non-vocal seasonal works

A Christmas Carol Symphony 

Patric Standford (b1939) uses the framework of an 18th-century symphony for this 1978 work which takes in “Deck the Halls”, “God rest you merry, gentlemen”, “Away in a manger”, “On Christmas Night”, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and “We wish you a merry Christmas”.

 

Noël

American composer George Whitefield Chadwick (1854-1931) wrote his four Symphonic Sketches in 1895, each one prefaced in the score by a short poem of his own. The second of these is Noël, its tender opening reminiscent of “Silent Night”.

 

Christmas symphony

Penderecki’s one-movement Symphony No 2, composed during the winter of 1979-80, is sometimes referred to as the “Christmas Symphony” (though nowhere in the score is it called such). Throughout the work, the composer repeatedly quotes “Silent Night”.

 

Rhapsodie sur des noëls

The French tradition of writing organ works based on well known Christmas tunes is represented by this Rhapsodie by Eugène Gigout (1844-1925). It quotes “Joseph est bien marié”, “Adeste, fideles” and “Shepherds in the field abiding”.

 

A Christmas Fantasy 

George Melachrino (1909-65) was the probable arranger of this medley recorded by his orchestra in 1950. Side 1 of HMV B9981 is “Christmas Morn” (“Jingle Bells”, “Christians Awake” and others); side 2 is “Christmas Night” (including “Come, landlord, fill the flowing bowl” and “Silent Night”).

 

Christmas Festival Overture 

The master of American light music, Leroy Anderson (1908-75), managed to cram eight popular carols into just over six minutes of this exuberant curtain-raiser, equally effective in its brass band arrangement.

 

Santa Claus, Christmas Symphony 

The first significant native-born American composer, William Henry Fry (1813-64), takes us from the announcement of Christ’s birth and Santa Claus’s arrival to a chorus of angels (high violins) singing “Adeste, fideles” on Christmas morning.

 

The Christmas Tree

Weinachtsbaum is a collection of 12  pieces for piano (also published as piano duets) composed by Liszt as a Christmas gift to his granddaughter Daniela. They include arrangements of “O heilige nacht!”, “In dulce jubilo”, “Adeste, fideles” and a Christmas song from Provence.

 

A Carol Symphony

Victor Hely-Hutchinson’s four-movement work based on Christmas carols was composed in 1927, the first substantial one of its kind. “Adeste, fideles”, “God rest you merry, gentlemen”, the Coventry Carol and “O little town of Bethlehem” all make their appearances.

 

Christmas 

Albert W Ketèlbey, using the pseudonym of “A William Aston”, arranged this syncopated medley of festive tunes as a foxtrot. The Edison Bell Dance Orchestra recorded it for that label in 1925. Ketèlbey assembled another seasonal medley, A Dream of Christmas (1926), but with a (dreadful) vocal contribution.

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