Listening to Christmas classical music can you give a break from pop songs and put you in the holiday spirit. Plus, holiday classical music has so much staying power that Christmas wouldn’t be complete without hearing your local choir sing these Christmas classical music selections.
1. Berlioz – L’Enfance du Christ
Hector Berlioz, a French composer, composed this Christmas classical music called the L’Enfance du Christ. It is based on Christ’s life as a child, and His family’s flight to Egypt. The music was first performed in December of 1854 at the Salle Herz in Paris. Berlioz’s previous compositions received negative reactions. But with this Christmas classical musing song, Berlioz received universally positive feedback.
2. Britten – A Ceremony of Carols
Benjamin Britten, an English composer, composed “A Ceremony of Carols” in 1942 while he sailed across the Atlantic from the United States to England. The original version of this Christmas classical music was a bespoke composition for the SSA Children’s Choir. In 1943, an SATB — soprano, alto, tenor, and bass — arrangement was published for mixed choirs.
3. Whitacre – Little Tree
Eric Whitacre composed this beautiful ode to a Christmas tree, conclusively proving that classical music isn’t for old masters. He composed this Christmas classical music in 1996 after receiving the commission from Georgo Vane, San Francisco Symphony Chorus’ director.
4. Tchaikovsky – Nutcracker
Everybody knows or is familiar with Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. But what is the history behind this famous Christmas classical music?
The Nutcracker was actually for a ballet based on E.T.A. Hoffman’s fantasy story called “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.” It tanked, but the 20-minute excerpt was wildly successful. Eventually, the full ballet became popular.
The score became one of Tchaikovsky’s greatest works and the music and ballet rank as top signs of the Christmas season. The ballet enjoys endless productions all over the world by top ballet companies and even transformed into other types of entertainment like films and animated shows.
5. Bach – Christmas Oratorio
The Christmas Oratorio by Johann Sebastian Bach has six parts for each of the major feast days of the season. This 1734 Christmas classic music is one of the longest compositions, lasting over three hours.
The music was intended as an example of parody music, which is when composers use changing styles or copy the musical ideas of other composers for their musical style or lyrics. Whether original or an exceptionally sophisticated parody, the Christmas Oratorio ranks as one of Bach’s greatest works.
6. Mozart – Sleigh Ride
German composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed Sleigh Ride as one of Three German Dances, which were finished in 1791. At this time, the musical prodigy held the position of Kammermusicus, or Imperial Chamber Composer, in Vienna.
Sleigh Ride ranks as the most vividly orchestrated piece that Mozart ever composed in his short but illustrious career. The work has been adapted for modern orchestras and fosters an extraordinary scene of winter charm.
7. Prokofiev – Troika
Troika by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev was written as the musical score of the film of the same name that was released in March of 1934. It ranked as Profiev’s first attempt to compose music for film, and it was his first commission of any kind. It was Prokofiev’s first attempt at film music and his first commission. Prokofiev had been criticized for composing dissonant music, and Troika became his ticket to change that perception.
Parts of the film’s music appeared in other films. The sequence, “I Believe In Father Christmas” enjoyed extensive popularity. Troika has remained Prokofiev’s most popular work.
8. Tchaikovsky – Christmas Waltz
Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky composed the “Christmas Waltz” as a short piano solo for his 12-piece masterpiece called “The Season.” This Christmas classical music stands out because it is dainty and festive, making it appropriate for the season.
Just like many Christmas classical music selections on our list, Tchaikovsky’s Christmas Waltz has inspired movies and songs including a Frank Sinatra hit.
9. Vivaldi – Winter
Vivaldi’s Winter is part of his Four Seasons tribute. Each season celebrates the characteristics and joy of the season. The music features four violin concertos that borrow heavily from other works. However, none reached the level of success of Four Seasons. Vivaldi varied the texture for each season, and winter features silvery pizzicato notes from the high strings that invoke images of icy rain.
10. Handel – Messiah
German-born composer George Frideric Handel composed the English-language oratorio in 1741, and the music included a scriptural text based on the King James Bible. This Christmas classical music was first performed in Dublin in 1742 and reached London a year later.
Handel’s reputation throughout England had been based on Italian opera, but he adjusted his music to the oratorio style based on changing tastes of the public. His composition was originally for modest instrumental and vocal performances. It was later adapted for large-scale performances with big orchestras and choirs singing in the background.
11. Gruber – Silent Night
Gruber’s Silent Night is also one of the most well-known Christmas classical music selections that many recognize until today. It is so popular that its Bing Crosby version sold 10 million singles. UNESCO even declared it as an Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2011.
12. Bach – Magnificat
Magnificat has five vocal parts divided among two sopranos, an alto, a tenor, and a bass, and was accompanied by a Baroque orchestra. Bach composed the oratorio in 1723 as his first major liturgical composition with Latin text.
Versions of Magnificat were fine-tuned for different feasts and church events. One version featured Christmas hymns and expanded or altered instrumentation. This flexibility has made Magnificat more popular over the years as a biblical canticle, holiday music, and vocal tour de force.
You can play a new song for each of the 12 days of Christmas. Enjoying classical music triumphs beats listening to “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” over and over. The classics withstand the influence of time for a reason.