When our surroundings change drastically and times get difficult, we like to have things to hold on to. No matter how bad a situation gets, there will always be those nostalgic memories that are set in stone with nothing that could take them away. It supports and comforts us, which is most needed during times like these.
Music may very well be the most powerful tool to showcase this. Right now, we need the Christmas spirit more then ever, which is where this music might come in helpful. Many people don't research a piece when listening to it, which is understandable. Still, there are many pieces that have such a wonderful story to tell that it would be a shame not to elaborate on them. It truly enriches a piece to listen to them with the context in which they were written. This is why we are taking a special look at the top 10 greatest classical pieces for Christmas.
1. Schubert – Ave Maria
It is by far the most popular classical Christmas piece out there with a staggering combined viewership above 300 million views on YouTube alone. Ave Maria are the first two words of a prayer in the Roman Catholic church, of which the story is based on the salutation of the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary and the words of Elizabeth to her. People are quick to compare this to heaven's music which suits the early romantic time-period during which Schubert lived. The Romantic era is often associated with the golden age of opera, of which this piece is a great example.
2. Tchaikovsky - March Of The Toy Soldiers
This piece tells a story about a young girl Clara, celebrating her birthday with her family, including her uncle Drosselmeyer. After gifting her various presents, he gifts her a toy nutcracker which her brother breaks out of jealousy. Later in the evening, Clara gets curious and looks for her present under the Christmas tree. Eventually she finds it after which she begins to dream and the Christmas tree begins to grow in her imagination. The Nutcracker grows and a fight with the Mouse King breaks out. To find out how the story ends, I strongly recommend watching this performance yourself.
3. Tchaikovsky - Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy
This is the third movement in The Nutcracker pas de deux. You hear what Tchaikovsky called "a divinely wonderful sound". The instrument wasn't popular in Russia yet, so he decided to buy it and take it with him. You may recognize this sound from several Harry Potter films and various Walt Disney movies, which regularly use the same sweet, mystical and twinkling sound as The Nutcracker.
It isn't very difficult to grasp how the association with Christmas came about. Apart from the association with another Nutcracker performance The March Of The Toy Soldiers which takes place during Christmas time, this piece has become a Christmas hit because of its charming sound.
4. Prokofiev - Troika
This is the fourth movement of Prokofiev's Lieutenant Kijé, which was his first attempt at composing film music. The fast pace, imitated by using rapid pizzicato and the tambourine which adds a sense of haste, is used to give off an impression of a traditional Russian winter's journey. Often times, a three-horse sled (called a troika in Russian, hence the name of the piece) was used to make the journey.
Although Prokofiev didn't specifically write this for Christmas, this piece has been adapted into pop-music several times, for example in Greg Lake's best-selling pop song I Believe in Father Christmas. To find out what makes it such a Christmas banger, just give it a listen yourself.
5. Bach - Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248
This wouldn't be a valid Christmas Top 5 without including Bach's oratorios or cantatas. Bach in particular has made an enormous amount of religious music in the form of chorals like oratorios, cantates, masses, motets and passions which get performed to this day. Bach intended BWV 248 in particular, to be performed during the so called Twelve Days of Christmas (otherwise known as Christmas season).
Before you start admiring Bach for composing a series of compositions bundled into one BWV with an impressive duration of one hour and fifteen minutes as shown in the video, it should be noted that the entire work is nearly three hours. In short, don't worry about getting bored soon if you happen to like Bach's chorals because you're in for another few hundreds of hours.