December 18, 2013

Winter Holidays Playlist

By Michael Zwiebach

Here’s a season-appropriate playlist for all those who have overdosed on carols relentlessly piped through shopping malls and other offices and public spaces. We’ve brought some seasonal favorites together, which are a little less overexposed at this time of year. Include it in your holiday mix and you’ll find yourself in a better mood as you mix up that first batch of eggnog.

  1. “Winter” from The Four Seasons (Vivaldi), movement 1. Il Giardino Armonico, Enrico Onofri, solo violin.

    A classic not specifically associated with the holiday, it may be the best evocation of bone-chilling cold in music.

  2. “What Power Art Thou?” from King Arthur (Henry Purcell). Paul Elliott, bass, English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner, conductor.

    Proving that Vivaldi wasn’t the first to imagine musically the effect of cold that takes your breath away, Purcell gives us the original Mr. Freeze, unwillingly wakened by a powerful magic spell. Everybody who’s had to abandon a warm bed on a chilly morning knows how he feels.

  3. “December - Yuletide” from The Seasons (Tchaikovsky). Vladimir Ashkenazy, piano.

    Tchaikovsky thought of the December social whirl in this piece, a gracious waltz.

  4. “Troika” from Lieutenant Kije Suite (Prokofiev). Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Claudio Abbado, conductor.

    The movie that occasioned this fabulous score is forgotten, but not the magical sleigh-ride conjured by Prokofiev’s music.

  5. “In dulci jubilo” (Michael Praetorius) Ludwig Guttler Brass Ensemble.

    This arrangement of a familiar tune that goes back to 1619 and a great composer who gets remembered once a year.

  6. Sinfonia from Part II of Christmas Oratorio (J.S. Bach). Trinitatis Orkester, Per Enevold, conductor.

    The tradition of the evocation of the “shepherds watching their flocks” in a lullaby-like pastoral symphony receives a place of honor in both Handel’s Messiah and J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. Here’s Bach’s sumptuously orchestrated version.

  7. “Ich will nur zu nur Ehren leben” from Part III of Christmans Oratorio (J.S. Bach). Bela Fleck and the Flecktones

    The great mandolinist puts the Bach-beat in a famous aria from the Christmas Oratorio.

  8. “Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern” Chorus from Cantata 1 (J.S. Bach). Concentus Musicus Wien, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, conductor.

    A choral movement that ranks with Bach’s greatest achievements, and it’s seasonally appropriate. If you’re going to celebrate Christmas in music, you need to make room for this piece.

Michael Zwiebach is the senior editor/ content manager for SFCV. He assigns all articles and content, manages the writing staff and does editing. A member of SFCV from the beginning, Michael holds a Ph.D. in music history from the University of California, Berkeley.