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.

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


Denver Area Black History Month 2017 Events

 

Updated 2/16/2017

African-American heritage is celebrated year-round in the Mile High City, but during Black History Month, it truly comes alive. Below are just some of the various Denver area Black History Month events you can take part in this February.

Black History Month Denver Area ConcertCelebrating Black Composers Throughout The Centuries: The Parker Symphony Orchestra and Parker Arts are presenting an amazing concert featuring works by composers of color from the late 1700’s to the late 1900’s. The program includes “Three Black Kings” by Duke Ellington with a saxophone solo performed by Art Bouton, Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” and the Overture to “Treemonisha”, William Grant Still’s “Afro-American Symphony”, and the Overture in D by Joseph Bologne (also known as The Black Mozart). February 25 at 7:30 at PACE Center, 20000 Pikes Peak Ave., Parker, CO 80138 Tickets available here: https://parkerarts.ticketforce.com

Black American West Museum: Located in the former home of the first Black woman doctor in Denver, Dr. Justina Ford, the museum is dedicated to preserving the history and culture of the African American men and women who helped settle and develop the West. They will be hosting several educational speaking events. 3091 California St., Denver, CO 80205

Stiles African American Heritage Center: The mission of this museum and heritage center is to teach African American history 365 days of the year. They are located in Five Points, the heart of Denver’s historic African American community. They were named The Best of Denver by Westword Magazine for their rich cultural teachings. 2607 Glenarm Pl., Denver, CO 80205

Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library: This 3 story library houses a full-service branch, collection archives, and The Western Legacies Museum and Charles R. Cousins Gallery. The name of the library is a combination of the last names of Omar Blair, the first black president of the Denver school board, and Elvin Caldwell, the first black Denver City Council member. They host events throughout the year as well as during Black History Month including Black History Live – Harriet Tubman on 2/18 and the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame exhibit of Mildred Pitts Walter from 1/23 to 2/28. There is also a solo art exhibition by Christine Fontenot titled Chromatic Attraction through March 24.2401 Welton St., Denver, CO 80205

Hallowed Ground: The University of Denver Black Student Alliance and The Black Actors Guild present a multi-dimensional theater performance celebrating the cherished spaces in African American culture. Admission is free. February 11 at 6:30 PM. University of Denver Lindsay Auditorium
Strum Hall, 2000 E. Asbury ave, Denver, CO 80210

Black History Live - Harriet Tubman2017 Black History Live – Harriet Tubman Harriet Tubman is coming to Colorado. Becky Stone, a national humanities and Chautauqua scholar, will portray Harriet Tubman, showing everyone how one woman became an abolishonist and led hundreds of slaves to freedom. It will be held at various locations throughout the Denver metro area and beyond.

A History Of Black Firefighters The Denver Firefighters Museum is presenting an exhibit about the brave African American firefighters who carved out a career in a historically segregated profession. 02/01/2017 to 02/28/2017. 1326 Tremont Place, Denver, Colorado 80204

History Colorado Center: The History Colorado museum presents the history of Colorado year-round, but on February 25, you can see Tim Johnson portray Sgt. Jack Hackett, a Buffalo Soldier. Buffalo Soldiers were the first peacetime all African American units formed after the Civil War. Ask him questions about the life of a soldier. 1200 Broadway, Denver, CO 80203

Author Toni Tipton-Martin Lecture, Food, and Book Signing: Enjoy food and a lecture with Toni Tipton-Martin, author of The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks. Book signing is also available. Wednesday, Feb. 22, 4-6 p.m. CentreTech S100 Rotunda, Community College of Aurora

“Black Women in Medicine”: Colorado premiere of documentary honoring black female doctors around the country, featuring rarely-seen documentation of black women practicing medicine during critical operations, emergency room urgent care and community wellness sessions. Includes first-hand accounts from black female pioneers in medicine and healthcare like Dr. Claudia Thomas and Dr. Jocelyn Elders. Airing, Sunday, Feb. 19 at 8 p.m. Colorado Public Television 12.1.

Incognito: A free, one-man play starring Michael Fosberg detailing the journey of discovery after learning that he is part African-American. A question-and-answer session with Fosberg will follow. Part of Aurora Race Forum Series. Wednesday, Feb. 15 – 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Community College of Aurora CentreTech Campus – 15900 E. Centretech Pkwy. – Aurora, CO 80011

Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Facilities Fundraiser: Enjoy a complimentary breakfast, tour the Cleo Parker Robinson dance facilities and hear from the legendary Cleo Parker Robinson, who will be honored for her accomplishments (Presented by Keller Williams Downtown RH Luxe Group). Saturday, Feb. 25 – 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Cleo Parker Robinson Dance – 119 Park Ave. West – Denver, CO 80205

 

Other Colorado African American History Articles and Resources:

A Look Back At Colorado’s Rich African American History

Denver’s Five Points

Joplin’s Treemonisha – Rediscovered For A New Generation

Dearfield, Colorado

William Grant Still: A Man Of Many Firsts

Get To Know “The Black Mozart” – Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges

Bibliography of African Americans In Colorado And The West

Quiz: Test your Black History Month knowledge

 

Musician Spotlight: Dan Reinschmidt Rocks!

 

Dan ReinschmidtIf you’ve attended any Parker Symphony concert over the last 3 years, you’ve definitely heard our trombonist Dan Reinschmidt. And like last year’s holiday concert, he’s going to rock both the trombone and the guitar during the A Classic Parker Holiday concerts this weekend. After all, what would a Trans-Siberian Orchestra piece like A Mad Russian’s Christmas be without electric guitar?

Since he’s going to play such a big part in our upcoming performances with both slides and riffs, I thought it would be a perfect time to learn more about this multi-talented musician and dedicated family man.

How long have you played with the PSO?

I’ve been with the PSO since 2013. That’d be 3 seasons.

What do you do when you’re not playing with the PSO?

While my main day job is full-time dad, I also work at Play-It-Again Music in Parker, which donated some of the equipment we’re using at this concert, and as the choir director at St. Matthew’s Episcopal church in Parker.

Are you in a band?

I’m playing with several at the moment. I play trombone with the Blues Brothers, who played at PACE on November 26. I play bass guitar with an indie rock band called Survive The Planet, which is in the process of recording an album. I also play bass with a classic rock cover band, Misconduct, which will be playing a couple of private shows in December and February.

Do you play other instruments besides trombone and guitar?

Trombone, euphonium, guitar, bass guitar, and trumpet. I have an extensive collection of instruments that I can play a little bit on, but those are the instruments I am proficient at. Trombone is my “number one.”

How did you get your start in music?

I learned to play trombone in middle school band class. My mom all but insisted that I try band and I all but insisted that it be on the trombone. I got the idea from a school assembly in 5th grade where a man played trombone, accordion, and high-hat simultaneously. It must have made an impression on me.

Do you have a fond musical memory you could share?

Last season in the PSO my niece, Meaghan Reinschmidt, joined the PSO on trumpet. It was the first time I was able to play along side her in an official capacity. I love music and I love my family, when they come together it’s the funnest thing I can imagine.

Do you have a favorite band or musician? Favorite composer?

I’m into industrial and progressive rock as well as metal. If I had to pick a favorite band it would be Nine Inch Nails. As for composers, I love the classical and romantic periods the most, but few have reached the level of J.S. Bach. A close second would be Percy Grainger.

What are your favorite pieces to play?

Stavinsky’s Firebird Suite, Wagner’s Lohengrin, and any Bach Fugue. Lincolnshire Posy by Grainger was probably my favorite overall.

Is there anything in particular you like or find interesting about playing A Mad Russian or another piece in this concert?

I find it interesting whenever a piece of music is adapted to a whole new style. It’s like hearing something from a very different perspective. Many musicians hear the Nutcracker Suite and groan, “not this again!” but with this arrangement, it’s a completely different beast with a whole new energy.

As for the other pieces, I feel like the choir completes the orchestra, like we’re missing an integral part of our instrument without them.

What is your proudest accomplishment?

Seeing/hearing about former students of mine as happy, successful adults.

Anything else you’d like to share?

The PSO is one of the funnest long-term experiences I have ever been a part of, particularly because of the wonderful people in it. We somehow combine the serious nature of classical music discipline with silly over-zealous fun and camaraderie, especially between the low brass and trumpet sections.

Dan Reinschmidt Rehearsal

 

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.”

 

Top 7 Pirate Classical Music Pieces

 

Happy Talk Like A Pirate Day! In honor of the day, we’ve compiled a list of classical music related to the pirate life. From famous soundtracks to swashbuckling operas to rousing overtures, we’ve got your definitive playlist for the day.

1. Gilbert & Sullivan – The Pirates of Penzance

Probably the best known on our list is the fifth Gilbert and Sullivan collaboration. This comic opera brought us the much-parodied “Major General’s Song“. However, “I am a Pirate King” is a more appropriate selection for today. Watch this rousing pirate selection below.

2. Leroy Anderson – Pirate Dance

A light and exuberant piece, Anderson’s “Pirate Dance” has melodies you can certainly associate with pirate life. In fact, at one point, you can almost imagine it leading into the Disney “A Pirate’s Life For Me”, but it never quite gets there. Still, it’s a nice lighthearted selection for International Talk Like A Pirate Day.

3. Vincenzo Bellini – Il Pirata

Another opera on our list, Bellini’s “The Pirate” is based on a three-act melodrama called “Bertram, or The Pirate”. It was an immediate success upon its premiere in October 1827. Recent notable recordings have included such famous names as Maria Callas and Renée Fleming in the cast. Hear the opening below.

4. Walter Leigh – Jolly Roger

A rousing overture for sure, this lively piece will have you thinking adventure in no time. Leigh was an English composer in the early 20th century. Like “Pirates of Penzance”, “Jolly Roger” was a comic opera. Hear the overture below.

5. Klaus Badelt – Pirates of the Caribbean

You have to be marooned on an island not to know (or guess) that the music from the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean” has a distinctly swashbuckling sound. Hear it performed live below.

6. Erich Wolfgang Korngold – The Sea Hawk

Another piece written for the movies, Korngold’s soundtrack for “The Sea Hawk” is an exciting and romantic score you wouldn’t guess was composed in the 1940’s. The movie itself starred Errol Flynn as an English privateer who defends his nation against the Spanish Armada. Hear the overture from the film score below.

7. John Williams – Hook

To round out the list, we couldn’t help but include John Williams’ Hook soundtrack. Of course a score for a film about Peter Pan and Captain Hook would have a distinctly adventurous sound. Watch the “Flight to Neverland” from Hook conducted by the composer himself.