11 relaxing pieces of Christmas music
21 December 2021, 10:53 | Updated: 27 May 2022, 12:24
Sink into our soothing Christmas soundworld, with relaxing carols and calming melodies from Bach, Mozart and Vaughan Williams.
Christmas is a time for togetherness, gratitude – and wonderful music.
From gentle arrangements of traditional carols, to calming festive melodies, here’s a selection of relaxing Christmas music to enjoy, however and wherever you may be celebrating this year.
Stille Nacht – Franz Xaver Gruber
The original German version of ‘Silent Night’, consonants clear, delicate and impeccably placed, is just delightful. In 1914, the year of the outbreak of the First World War, a Christmas truce took place – and in a rare moment of peace, the carol was sung simultaneously, across the trenches, by English and German troops.
O Tannenbaum – Ernst Anschütz
Also known by its English title ‘O Christmas tree’, this timeless carol sings an ode to the centrepiece of homes around the world at this time of year: the Christmas tree, and all its shining glory.
Read more: The 30 greatest Christmas carols of all time
Balulalow – arr. James Burton
English conductor and composer James Burton, who is the choral director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, arranged this sublime rendition of ‘Balulalow’, a lullaby for the baby Jesus. The text, impeccably annunciated below by the King’s Singers, was written around 1548 by the brothers Wedderburn,
Ave Verum Corpus – Mozart
This familiar Mozartian melody, gently melancholic but always resolving in the major key, was written to be performed sotto voce and finds delicate power in its simplicity.
O Little Town of Bethlehem – Phillips Brooks
For many of us, ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ will conjure images of joyous congregations and candlelit services. But it was originally inspired by a breathtaking view of Bethlehem from the hills of Palestine, and its reassuring text and melody, written for a local Sunday school choir.
One of the oldest carols we still sing today, ‘Coventry Carol’ finds its roots in the 16th century. Its sombre, but undeniably beautiful minor melody, has been exquisitely recorded by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, whose voices are known to many as the soundtrack for the festive period.
Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring – Bach
Gently undulating up and down, Bach’s melody moves cyclically, ever reassuring and always bringing us back home to those familiar opening notes. Because it’s Bach, many musicians over the years have interpreted this timeless piece.
Away in a Manger
One of the sacred Christmas carols we still sing today, ‘Away in a Manger’ is a favourite among carollers young and old. The 19th-century offering has a gentle, unfussy melody sung – as with most carols – by the trebles or sopranos, as the sumptuous harmonies work away underneath.
Fantasia on Greensleeves – Vaughan Williams
Based on a traditional Tudor tune, Fantasia on Greensleeves has evolved into a beloved work in its own right. Often heard during the festive period, Vaughan Williams’ piece captures an image of pastoral beauty and a typical English Christmastime.
O Holy Night – Adolphe Adam
It’s hard to think of an instrument or musical genre that hasn’t done their own take on this beloved carol – also known by its French name, ‘Minuit, Chrétiens’. The beautifully reflective song tells of the birth of Jesus, and of humanity’s redemption. For many, Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without it.
Andante Festivo – Sibelius
This poignant, almost hymnal string work was held close to the composer’s heart, even being played at his funeral in 1957. Both deeply relaxing and intensely moving, the festive cantata’s swelling melody and rich texture make it a glorious choice for Christmastime listening.