Magazine article Gramophone

The Importance of Christmas Music

Magazine article Gramophone

The Importance of Christmas Music

Article excerpt

Christmas music, usually in the form of carols (or what we generally refer to as carols), is perhaps the classical music most heard, by the most people. (By 'Christmas music' I'm willfully ignoring the infuriatingly ubiquitous pop songs of the genre, which are already serenading shoppers as I write this in mid-November). The reasons are many, and foremost among them is that the music is often wonderful.

Many carols are of course from the 19th century, even if the tunes are older, and evoke for us the kind of Christmas which owes far more to Dickens than a Middle-Eastern nativity. But even if they do, what of it? Our great churches mostly draw on classical antiquity or Gothic architecture for inspiration, rather than the biblical Holy Land, and are no less inspiring for it. If holly, ivy, candles and choruses best communicate the Christmas message of peace, love and hope, then so be it. Another reason is that, more than any other time, Christmas causes us to reflect on these things collectively, and there are precious few shared, collective experiences in society today. And entwined with all that, like tinsel around a tree, is nostalgia, for childhood, for family and friends present and past. All this somehow places us in touching distance of something we may not fully understand, but know to be good. And few things get us there so well as the likes of Once in Royal echoing in a chapel otherwise holding its breath, or In the Bleak Midwinter, leading us from the foul winds outside towards a moving meditation on the humility of love.

I've digressed slightly, but only to ponder the popularity of Christmas music, for it serves another important role, too, for those of us who love classical music, specifically here choral music. …

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