Johann Sebastian Bach composed his Weihnachts-Oratorium, or Christmas Oratorio in 1734 and is considered to be part of a group of three oratorios that were composed in Leipzig during this same time, the other two being the Ascension Oratorio and the Easter Oratorio.

The Chistmas Oratorio is a much larger piece than the other two, though, and is performed much more frequently, as well. While its six parts are now often performed together in one sitting, which takes around three hours, Bach originally intended each part to be performed on the major feast days of the Christmas period, which begins…

Bing Crosby singing for the troops in 1944

Most people today associate the song White Christmas with the 1954 eponymous hit film, starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen. Filmed in Technicolor, it was also the first film to be filmed in VistaVision, a technique developed by Paramount Pictures that doubled the surface area on 35mm film, creating far superior prints. It was the top grossing film of 1954 and it still looks beautiful today.

However, this is not the film where the song White Christmas was introduced. A decade earlier, in 1942, Irving Berlin, a Jewish immigrant, composed twelve songs specifically for the musical…

Twenty years ago, John Adams’ nativity oratorio, El Niño, premiered at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris with soloists Dawn Upshaw, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and Willard White, a vocal ensemble from the Theatre of Voices — countertenors Daniel Bubeck, Brian Cummings and Steven Rickards), the London Voices, La Maîtrise de Paris, and the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, all conducted by Kent Nagano. Peter Sellars’ incredible libretto includes text from the King James Bible, the Wakefield Mystery Plays, Martin Luther’s Christmas Sermon, the Gospel of Luke, and several gnostic gospels from the Apocrypha, as well as poems by Rosario Castellanos, Sor Juana…

One of the most successful pianists of all time, George Winston established his unique and iconic style over forty years ago. Vince Guaraldi’s song, Cast Your Fate to the Wind, and his music for A Charlie Brown Christmas were major influences on Winston when he was a teenager. He writes,

I love Vince’s piano playing, and I love his compositions. I play way more of his songs than by any other composer. I first heard him in 1962, with ‘Cast Your Fate to the Wind’….And then in December 1965, I was a fan of animation, and I saw in the…

In 1942, while traveling by boat from the United States to England, the British composer, Benjamin Britten, wrote a series of nine songs for three-part children’s choir and harp based on predominantly Middle English Christmas poems from The English Galaxy of Shorter Poems, edited by Gerald Bullett. They were originally intended as separate songs, but Britten would later tie them together with a processional and recessional of the Gregorian chant, Hodie Christus natus est (Today is Christ born) and named the collection, Ceremony of Carols.

Burl Ives’s voice is still part of the American consciousness, but his story has been largely forgotten.

Original 1951 production — Amahl and the Night Visitors

It is hard to imagine a world in which there were only a few television stations to choose for your at-home entertainment. Harder still to imagine one of those stations commissioning a living American composer to write an opera to be premiered and performed live on national television on Christmas Eve. Yet, such was the case for the Italian-American composer, Gian Carlo Menotti, and his opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors.

The Flight Into Egypt — Giotto di Bondone

The French composer Hector Berlioz is mostly known in the U.S. for his truly groundbreaking Symphonie fantastique, but he was a prolific composer whose many works are admired and performed with regularity in other parts of the world, including his oratorio, L’Enfance du Christ (The Childhood of Christ).

Between 1850–1854, Berlioz wrote the music and words for what would become the Trilogie sacrée (sacred trilogy) — his words — of L’Enfance du Christ. In 1850, he composed a work for tenor, organ, chorus and orchestra called La fuite en Egypte (The Flight to Egypt). It was published in 1852 and…

Leonard Bernstein at the Berlin Wall in 1989

Probably born on this day in Bonn, Germany, in 1770, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Sestercentennial is being celebrated around the world for his music and accomplishment, and justifiably so. His music had an incalculable impact on not only how music would be composed after him, but how music would be played. For really the first time we see in Beethoven a musical artist who takes political and philosophical stances and risks, bringing the artform and the musician into a relevance neither had really had until this point. And, there only a few in all of history who have overcome something so…

Autograph score 1860

Franz Xaver Gruber was a school teacher, church organist and composer who lived in the small Austrian village of Arnsdorf, just twelve miles north of Salzburg. Even today, calling Arnsdorf a village is a stretch. In fact, the two largest buildings are still the church and school where Gruber lived and worked, and where he probably wrote one of the most famous tunes ever written.

But how did this carol from the Austrian hinterlands achieve such worldwide recognition, becoming the most translated and sung carol in the world? …

Donato Cabrera

Music Director of the California Symphony and Las Vegas Philharmonic

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