Händel is everywhere. At least in the German town of Halle/Saale, just like Mozart in Salzburg. I lived for many years in Halle, and for a long time, I kept my distance to that Baroque composer. Being constantly exposed to his “Feuerwerksmusik” (Music for the Royal Fireworks, HWV 351) and his “Wassermusik” (Water Music, HWV 348–350), I ended up hating his music.
On Christmas Eve, I will honor a convinced agnostic: Camille de Saint-Saëns. The French composer’s life is marked by an interesting paradox. He preferred reason to faith, and still, for most of his career, he worked as an organist at the church La Madeleine in Paris. As such, he composed in 1858 a wonderful Christmas cantata in nine movements, the “Oratorio de Noël”, op. 12. It was performed for first time on December 25 of the same year in La Madeleine and dedicated to his pupil, the Viscountess de Grandval. Saint-Saëns had intensively studied the choral music of Bach, Händel and Mozart and makes an explicit reference to Bach in the “Prélude”. He had already composed a mass, his op. 4, at that time.
Christmas Eve is two days away, and Christmas carols and Christmas pop songs might by now have poisoned your ears. Here is an antidote. Is pure, joyful and pacifying. It is solemn without veering into kitsch. It’s classy. It’s over 300 years old, but not outdated. It’s perfect for Christmas.
The first cadences could well illustrate the moment a discoverer’s ship leaves the port of Oslo: majestic, full of hope, peaceful. But Edvard Grieg had something totally different in mind when he composed the “Holberg Suite”, op. 40. He had been tasked to write a piece to commemorate the 200th birthday of the Danish poet Ludvig Holberg (1684-1754). Continue reading!