Obscure & Uncommon Classical Christmas Music


Tired of the usual Christmas carols on the radio? Have you heard Sleigh Ride or Winter Wonderland one too many times this season? Then check out our list of uncommon classical Christmas music including rare choral pieces and obscure symphonic compositions.

Past Three O’Clock

Past Three O’Clock is loosely based on the traditional cry of the city night watchman. It was written by George Ratcliffe Woodward and published in 1924. Although it has been recorded by a number of choirs including the Choir of King’s College and Cambridge, it doesn’t typically make the cut among popular music artists.




In Terra Pax – Gerald Finzi

In Terra Pax was one of the last pieces British composer Gerald Finzi wrote. It was composed in 1954 and was set to the words of a poem entitled “Noel: Christmas Eve, 1913” by Robert Bridges. Finzi explained that the work is the Nativity story becoming a vision seen by “a wanderer on a dark and frosty Christmas Eve in our own familiar landscape”. Like his other works, it has hints of inspiration from other British composers like Elgar and Vaughan Williams.




Riu Riu Chiu

Although it has crossed into some popular music recordings, Riu Riu Chiu remains relatively unknown by most. Sometimes attributed to Mateo Flecha the Elder who died in 1553, the basic theme of the song is the nativity of Christ and the immaculate Conception. The words “ríu ríu chíu” are nonsense syllables that represent the call of the kingfisher.




Christmas Overture – Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was a British composer of African descent. His father was a Sierra Leone Creole physician. His mother, an Englishwoman. He showed promise at an early age as a violinist and then as a composer. He became fairly well-known in England as well as in the US where he was dubbed the “African Mahler”. His Christmas Overture was derived from The Forest of Wild Thyme and arranged by Sydney Barnes after Coleridge-Taylor’s death. In it, you’ll hear familiar tunes like “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, “Good King Wenceslaus”, and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”.




Gaudete

Another medieval carol, Gaudete or Gaudete, Christus est natus is a sacred Christmas song that was published in 1582. When it was published, no music was given for the verses, but it is typically sung to a tune that comes from older liturgical books. The title translates as “Rejoice, rejoice! Christ has born”.




Carol Symphony – Victor Hely-Hutchinson

Victor Hely-Hutchinson was a British composer born in Cape Town, Cape Colony (now South Africa). His best known work is his Carol Symphony – a four movement work that incorporates several well-known Christmas carols. The first movement is based on O Come All Ye Faithful. The second is a scherzo on God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. The third is a slow movement loosely based on both the Coventry Carol and The First Noel. And the finale incorporates Here We Come A-Wassailing and O Come All Ye Faithful again.




Sleigh Ride (Winter Night) – Frederick Delius

Another English composer, Delius is best known for lyrical music influenced by other European composers like Edvard Grieg and Richard Wagner as well as music he heard while in America. His Winter Night is an atmospheric portrayal of a moonlit, snowy sleigh ride complete with sleigh bells.




Wassail Song – Ralph Vaughan Williams

The “Wassail Song” is part of Vaughan Williams’ Five English Folk Songs, a transcription of melodies from England’s vast vocal tradition of folk music. It was written in 1913 with cheer and charm to end the collection of five songs.




Santa Claus Symphony – William Henry Fry

William Henry Fry holds the distinction of being the first composer born in the United States to write for a large symphony orchestra. His Santa Claus Symphony was written in 1853 and was very well received by audiences. It may be the first orchestral use of the saxophone which was invented just barely a decade before.


Handel’s “Messiah” FAQs



Handel's MessiahHandel’s “Messiah” is one of the most widely played pieces during the Christmas season and certainly the most popular oratorio (a musical composition for orchestra, choir, and soloists). It’s also, however, the subject of a wide variety of myths, misconceptions, and questions ranging from things as simple as its title to why we stand during the famous “Hallelujah” chorus.

Let’s take a moment to explore answers to these key frequently asked questions about “Messiah”.

What is Handel’s Messiah?

Handel’s “Messiah” is a large work for orchestra, choir, and solo singers called an oratorio. It was composed in 1741 and is typically performed around Christmas. The most famous part is the “Hallelujah” chorus which has been used in popular culture in movies, cartoons, and even commercials. While many people refer to it as “The Messiah”, its official name is just “Messiah”.

What is the story of Handel’s Messiah?

It doesn’t tell story. Instead, the libretto, written by Charles Jennens, is a series of contemplations on the Christian theme of redemption through the life of Christ. The work is in 3 parts: the first part foretells Jesus’ birth and the Christmas story, the second part leads up to and includes the crucifixion, and the third part talks about the spread of Christianity and eternal life. Interestingly, despite its Christian message, most of the text is from the Old Testament.

Where was Handel’s Messiah first performed?

Contrary to myths about London, it was actually first performed on April 13, 1742 in Dublin, Ireland as a charity concert benefiting three charities: prisoners’ debt relief, the Mercers Hospital and the Charitable Infirmary. Handel sought and was given permission from St. Patrick’s and Christ Church cathedrals to use their choirs and he even had his own organ shipped to Ireland for the performance. To ensure that the audience would be the largest possible, gentlemen were asked to remove their swords and women were asked not to wear hoops in their dresses. The takings from the concert were around £400 and each charity received about £127 which secured the release of 142 indebted prisoners.

Why do you stand for Handel’s Messiah?

Audiences typically stand only during the “Hallelujah” chorus. The reason for this has its origins in a legend that may or may not be true. The often repeated story is that King George II was so moved by the chorus during the London premiere that he rose to his feet. Because of protocol, the audience in attendance also stood and thus the tradition was born. However, many experts agree that there is no evidence that King George II was even in attendance at the premiere. Newspapers of the time did not mention his attendance and it would be unlikely they would leave out the detail of a royal presence. The first written documentation of this story was a letter written 37 years after the London premiere. The London premiere also received a rather cool reception unlike the Dublin premiere which was a hit. All of this has led to numerous debates and countless passive-aggressive battles between sitters and standers.

Why is Handel’s Messiah so popular at Christmas?

The premiere in Dublin was held in April and Handel himself associated “Messiah” with Lent and Easter. In fact, only one-third of the piece deals with Jesus’ birth and the Christmas story. So why is a piece that’s really an Easter work so popular during Christmas? Laurence Cummings, conductor of the London Handel Orchestra, once told Smithsonian Magazine that the custom may have come out of necessity stating that while there is so much fine Easter music like Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, there is little great sacral music written for Christmas. Regardless of the reason, “Messiah” has been a regular December staple since the 19th century, especially in the US.

How long is Handel’s Messiah?

Handel wrote the original version of “Messiah” in three to four weeks. Some accounts estimate just 24 days. We say “original version” because Handel rewrote parts to better meet the abilities of specific soloists and depending on availability of instruments. In 1789, Mozart re-orchestrated it to give it a more modern sound.

The time it took Handel to write the work is amazingly short when you consider the score is 259 pages. NPR music commentator Miles Hoffman estimated that there are roughly a quarter of a million notes in it which means Handel had to keep a continuous pace writing 15 notes per minute.

Typical performances of the entire “Messiah” are usually around 2 1/2 to 3 hours long.

8 Facts About Samuel Coleridge-Taylor




If you’re like me, when you heard the name Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, you thought, “Isn’t that the guy who wrote Rime of the Ancient Mariner? The English poet?” Nope, that’s Samuel Taylor Coleridge. However, Coleridge-Taylor’s mother did name him after the famous poet (he was born only 41 years after the poet died).

No, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was an English composer of numerous works including his most celebrated cantata, Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, a piano quintet, a symphony, a once missing opera named Thelma, and his festive Christmas Overture which we will be performing in December.

Here are some other interesting facts about this British composer:

1. He earned the nickname the “African Mahler”. Coleridge-Taylor’s mother was English and his father was Dr. Daniel Peter Hughes Taylor, a Creole from Sierra Leone. His father descended from African-American slaves who were freed by the British and evacuated from the colonies at the end of the Revolutionary War.

2. He met President Theodore Roosevelt. On his first tour of the US, the composer was received by President Roosevelt at the White House which was a rare event for anyone of African descent.

3. He died young. Coleridge-Taylor was only 37 when he died from pneumonia. King George V granted his widow an annual pension which was considered evidence that he held the composer in high regard.

4. He wrote a work inspired by his near-namesake. Coleridge-Taylor wrote a piece called The Legend of Kubla Khan after the poem “Kubla Khan, Or, A Vision in a Dream: A Fragment”.

5. He almost didn’t attend college. The Royal College of Music hesitated over Coleridge-Taylor’s race, apparently worried that other students might object. Ultimately, he did admit Samuel at age 15 as a violin student. After 2 years, Samuel swapped violin for composition.

6. He was a pioneer in integrating African music in his music. He sought to do what Brahms had done with Hungarian music and Dvorak with Bohemian music by integrating African and traditions of the African diaspora into his compositions. Examples of this include his Four African Dances, Concert Overture, Toussaint L’Ouverture, and the Symphonic Variations on an African Air.

7. His Christmas Overture appeared posthumously. In 1925, Sydney Baynes arranged the work which features “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, “Good King Wenceslaus”, and “Hark The Herald Angels Sing” and is thought to have been derived from Coleridge-Taylor’s The Forest of Wild Thyme, a fairy drama for children.

8. Both of his children also had distinguished careers as conductors and composers. His son, Hiawatha, adapted his father’s works. His daughter, Gwendolyn, became a conductor and composer using the professional name Avril Coleridge-Taylor.


Die Fledermaus? At A Halloween Concert?



If you’re familiar with the famous waltzes of Johann Strauss II (think “The Blue Danube”), you might be asking yourself, why on earth are we performing the overture from Die Fledermaus for a Halloween concert? It’s not creepy or spooky or scary. In fact, it’s quite the opposite – filled with sweet melodies and bouncy rhythms that act as a preview of the rest of the operetta which is filled with humorous plot twists, cases of mistaken identity, and a final chorus in honor of champagne.

Despite all that, there are 3 great reasons to perform the Die Fledermaus Overture for Halloween:

1. The opera is about a masquerade: The operetta (a term used to describe a short opera with a light or humorous theme) is centered around a masquerade ball. And what’s more Halloween than dressing up in costumes?

2. The title means “The Bat”: Die Fledermaus is German for “the bat”. The operetta’s main character, Eisenstein, left his friend Dr. Falke abandoned and drunk on the street. Dr. Falke was dressed in a bat costume and from that point on he took on the nickname of “Dr. Bat”. Interestingly, “fledermaus” does not translate to “flying mouse”. “Fleder” is an old form of “flattern” which means “flutter”. So “fledermaus” is “fluttermouse”.

3. It’s fun!: Who says Halloween music has to be creepy? After all, it is meant to be a fun holiday and what’s more fun than clapping or swaying along with the famous waltz melody of this overture once called the “pièce de resistance” of the operetta by a Viennese critic. In fact it was so well-received at its premiere that it was interrupted several times by applause.

Be sure to join us on October 27, 2017 and hear us perform this and other Halloween music at “Sounds of the Deep”

Parker Symphony Halloween 2017 Concert - Die Fledermaus


2017 Halloween Events In Parker, CO


Updated 10/11/2017

Denver area city and town calendars are absolutely filled with Halloween events throughout October and especially the weekend before the holiday and Parker’s is no exception. From costumes and trick or treating with the little ones to spooky concerts for adults, here’s a list of Parker, Colorado Halloween Events (and activities near the town) to help you have a fun and festive time.

Denver Area Halloween Concert in ParkerSounds of the Deep: Explore the darker side of classical music with the Parker Symphony Orchestra and Parker Arts. The program includes Debussy’s “The Sunken Cathedral”, selections from “Phantom of the Opera”, “Orpheus in the Underworld”, and more. There will even be a performance of a piece by Parker, CO composer Ryan Smith. October 27 at 7:30 at PACE Center, 20000 Pikes Peak Ave., Parker, CO 80138 Tickets available: parkerarts.ticketforce.com

Parker Colorado Halloween Event Treat or Treat MainstreetTrick or Treat on Mainstreet: Kids of all ages (and well-behaved dogs) can dress up and join the festive fun on Mainstreet, run by the Cherry Creek Valley Rotary Club. Shop owners along East Mainstreet and in the Baskin Robbins shopping center will have candy and treats for your little ones and you can browse the booths of other local businesses along the way. Parking is available at The Parker Station Parking lot and at the PACE Center. For more information, visit the main site here trickortreatonmainstreet.com or ourparkercolorado.com. Downtown Parker, Colorado along Mainstreet east of Parker Road from 3:30 pm -7:00 pm

Parker Co Halloween Event Sweet StreetSafe Halloween Sweet Street: A group of local businesses on the four corners of S. Progress Way and Plaza Drive are offering a safe and fun trick-or-treat walk perfect for Parker kids. Wear costumes, bring goodie bags, and park anywhere along the route in the parking lots. Hosted by The Perfect Fit-children’s footwear, participating businesses include The Perfect Fit, Little Monkey Bizness, J Salon, Kim & Cam’s Taekwondo, Usborne Books & More, Purgatory Cellars, Fast Signs, The Gator Loft, Elk Mountain Brewing, Dolphinz Swim School, Great Finds, Hansen Glass, Board & Brush, Honey Baked Ham, High Prarie Quilts, and Momentum Athletics. October 27 from 3 PM – 6 PM around 10350 S Progress Way, Parker, CO 80134

Parker Halloween Event Fall FestivalRocky Vista Annual Fall Festival: Rocky Vista University’s student clubs and organizations are hosting a free fall festival that’s sure to be a family hit complete with hay rides, cookie decorating, pumpkin painting, obstacle courses, and more. Wear your costume and join the fun. The event is free and open to the community and a great way to kick off your Halloween weekend. October 28 from 1 PM – 3 PM at 8401 S Chambers Road, Parker, CO 80134

Parker Halloween Event Trunk or Treat at Cherokee Trail ElementaryCTE Trunk-Or-Treat: For a family-friendly community event where kids can trick-or-treat safely, check out the “Trunk or Treat” event at Cherokee Trail Elementary. Kids will experience a fun-filled afternoon complete with a ghoulish game area featuring Witch Toss, Halloween Bingo, Pumpkin Tic-Tac-Toe, Tombstone Toss, and Pirate Hood Ring Toss – all sponsored by Home Stars of Parker. Bring bags and kick off the Halloween weekend! October 28 from 4 PM – 6 PM at Cherokee Trail Elementary, 17302 Clarke Farms Dr, Parker, CO 80134

Parker Halloween Event 17 Mile House Fall FestivalFall Festival at 17 Mile House Just outside Parker is the historic 17 Mile House Farm Park. If you haven’t been there before, October 14 is the perfect day because Arapahoe County is hosting a Free Fall Festival. Pick your favorite pumpkin, enjoy a scenic hayride, try gold panning, experience farm life, pet your favorite animals at the petting farm, take a guided tour, and enjoy music. There will even be Goat Yoga before the event from 9-10 AM. The house is a 155-year old property, which once served as an inn for pioneers traveling on wagon trails to Denver, and was a working farm for more than a century. October 14 from 11 AM – 5 PM at 8181 S Parker Rd, Aurora, CO 80016

Parker Halloween Event 17 Mile House Fall FestivalBat Encounters PACE Center isn’t just home to great concerts from the Parker Symphony. Check out this Family Discovery Series Event – Bat Encounters. Meet bats from around the world including the largest bat with a 6-foot wingspan. Bat expert and founder of the Organization for Bat Conservation Rob Mies will present a fascinating and educational program giving you insight into how bats are key pollinators in deserts and tropical forests and how they are economically important in Colorado. You’ll also learn how you can help bats in your backyard and neighborhood. October 26 at PACE, 20000 Pikes Peak Ave., Parker, CO 80138

Parker Halloween Event Fright Night at the FieldhouseFieldhouse Fright Night Welcome ghastly ghouls, spooky spirits, and wicked witches to a night of tricks and treats. Kids can make their way down the Trick-or-Treat Street, play games, experience the haunted house, conquer the climbing wall, and skate the night away (bring skates). A family costume contest will take place with different age groups. It’s sure to be a night of family-friendly fun. Cost is $6. Kids 2 and under and non-skating/non-climbing parents are Free. October 21 from 5:30 PM to 9 PM at Parker Fieldhouse, 18700 E Plaza Drive, Parker, CO 80134

Parker Halloween Event Pumpkin Festival at Tagawa GardensTagawa Gardens Pumpkin Festival: Tagawa Gardens’ Pumpkin Festival has returned for 2017. Every weekend from October 7 to October 22, the nursery offers fun family friendly activities including the bat cave, pony rides, petting zoo, mini train rides, hayride, pumpkin decorating, spider craft, wild on water bubbles, obstacle course, and more. See their website for complete schedule as activities vary by day and weekend. Some activities are free while others require tickets. Tickets can be purchased on-site. October 7 & 8, October 14 & 15, and October 21 & 22 from 10 AM to 3 PM. Tagawa Gardens, 7711 South Parker Road, Centennial, CO 80016 (at the corner of Broncos Parkway and South Parker Road)

 

Fun Christmas Music Facts & Hanukkah Song Trivia

Parker Symphony Holiday Concert

The Parker Symphony Orchestra is currently rehearsing music for the upcoming A Classic Parker Holiday concerts including pieces we’ll perform with the Parker Chorale. So it’s only appropriate and timely that we share some cool Christmas music trivia and Hanukkah music facts. From the “Chanukah Song” to “Winter Wonderland”, we think you’ll agree that these are interesting tidbits that may just make for great conversation starters this holiday season.

1. “Jingle Bells” is actually a Thanksgiving song. It was written by James Lord Pierpont, an organist at a Unitarian church, and performed during a Thanksgiving concert at the church. It was originally titled “The One Horse Open Sleigh” but re-published later with the title we all know today. “Jingle Bells” is also the first song that was broadcast from space.

2. Many Christmas songs were written by Jewish songwriters. These include “White Christmas” by Irving Berlin, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” by Johnny Marks, “Let It Snow” by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn, and “Winter Wonderland” by Felix Bernard and Richard B. Smith.

3. “The Christmas Song” was written during summer. While many Christmas carols sound like they were written during the perfect snowfall or holiday get-together, “The Christmas Song” was penned during a heat wave. In the summer of 1944, Mel Tormé was inspired by a few lines he saw jotted down by his friend and lyricist Bob Wells. They wrote the song as a way to distract themselves from the heat, but since it only took 45 minutes to complete the song, the relief didn’t last long.

4. The English version of “I Have a Little Dreidel” is slightly different than the Yiddish version. The title in Yiddish is “Ikh Bin A Kleyner Dreydl” or literally “I am a little dreidel”. In English, the singer sings about the dreidel, whereas in the Yiddish version, the singer is the dreidel. In the Yiddish lyrics, the dreidel is made out of “blay” or lead. in English, it is clay.

5. The best-selling single of all time is Bing Crosby’s performance of “White Christmas”. While there are no reliable sales figures that date back to when it was recorded, researchers from the Guinness book of records estimate that this version has sold no less than 50 million copies.

6. “Do You Hear What I Hear” is an anti-war song. The word “peace” often makes its appearance in carols including “Silent Night” and the slightly lesser known “Let There Be Peace On Earth”, but “Do You Hear What I Hear” was specifically written as a call for peace during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was written by Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne when America was on the brink of nuclear war. It is said Shayne was inspired by the sight of mothers pushing baby carriages on a city street.

7. The Christian hymn “Rock of Ages” came from a Hanukkah song. “Ma’oz Tzur” is typically sung after lighting the festival lights at Hanukkah. The hymn’s name comes from its Hebrew incipit (the first few words of the text) which means “Stronghold of the Rock”. A loose English translation of the hymn was written that many know as “Rock of Ages”.

8. Tony the Tiger sang a Christmas song. If you’re a real Christmas music buff, you’ll recognize the name Thurl Ravenscroft. He is the singer behind “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch”. The narrator of the Dr. Seuss classic, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” was Boris Karloff, but he couldn’t sing. So the production team brought in Ravenscroft. Ravenscroft’s other claim to fame is his voiceover work. He is the voice of “Tony the Tiger” and is best known for his “they’re grrrrrrreat!” line.

9. “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” may be one of the oldest, if the not the oldest, of all Christmas songs. It gained popularity in the 18th century, but it was written in Latin around the 9th century. Researchers believe that Gregorian monks first composed the song, but this is just a good guess. It has been associated with Christmas for almost 1200 years and was translated into English in 1851.

10. “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” was sung by a veterinarian. It was written in 1978 to be more of a joke than anything. Certainly it’s not a serious holiday hymn to say the least and it often makes lists of least favorite Christmas songs (although it’s sold more than 40 million copies). It was written by Randy Brooks, but he asked husband-and-wife duo Elmo and Patsy to perform it. Elmo, whose real name is Elmo Shropshire, is actually a licensed veterinarian.

11. Mendelssohn composed the music for “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” to celebrate the inventor Johann Gutenberg. Charles Wesley wrote the original words with the opening, “Hark! how all the welkin rings / Glory to the King of Kings”. The opening was changed to the one we sing today by George Whitefield and was set to Mendelssohn’s music to create the carol we all know. Mendelssohn’s composition was actually a cantata to commemorate Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press.

12. The uncut version of “The Chanukah song” is the one you hear on the radio. There are actually 4 versions or 4 parts to this non-traditional Hanukkah song written by Adam Sandler and SNL writers Lewis Morton and Ian Maxton-Graham. The part you typically hear on the radio at this time of year is Part 1, but did you know this is the uncensored version? The final verse sung on SNL and on an edited recording includes the line “Drink your gin and tonic-ah, but don’t smoke marijuan-icah.” The line you hear on the uncut album, the version that receives the most radio airplay, is actually, “Drink your gin and tonic-ah, and smoke your marijuan-icah.”