11 most relaxing pieces of Christmas music

6 December 2023, 16:20

11 relaxing pieces of Christmas music
11 relaxing pieces of Christmas music for a calm festive season. Picture: Alamy

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

Sink into a 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.

Escape the hustle and bustle with calm and gentle carols, and peaceful classical melodies to give you that warming festive feeling.

Here’s a selection of relaxing Christmas music to enjoy, however and wherever you may be celebrating this year.

Listen: Classic FM Christmas playlist, for non-stop yuletide joy

  1. 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.

    The King's Singers - Stille Nacht

  2. 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

    Andrea Bocelli - O Tannenbaum

  3. 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.

    Read more: Aled Jones sings ‘O Holy Night’ with star 12-year-old treble in Christmas duet

    Aled Jones and Malakai M Bayoh sing ‘O Holy Night’

  4. 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, in a beautiful performance below by the King’s Singers, was written around 1548 by the brothers Wedderburn.

    Balulalow | The King’s Singers at St Martin in the Fields | Classic FM

  5. Ave Verum Corpus – Mozart

    This familiar Mozartian melody, gently melancholic but always resolving in the major key, was written to be performed sotto voce, in ‘soft voice’, and finds delicate power in its simplicity.

    Mozart - "Ave verum corpus", K.618 (Vienna Boys Choir, Bertrand de Billy)

  6. 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.

    O Little Town of Bethlehem

  7. Coventry Carol

    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.

    Read more: What are the lyrics to Coventry Carol, and what are they really about?

    King's College Cambridge 2011 #11 Coventry Carol

  8. 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.

    Alon Goldstein performs Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring

  9. 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.

    Read more: What are the lyrics to ‘Away in a Manger’, and why does the carol have two melodies?

    Away In A Manger (Philip Lawson) The Gesualdo Six at Ely Cathedral

  10. 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.

    Fantasia on Greensleeves by Ralph Vaughan Williams

  11. 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 Christmas listening.

    Sibelius - Andante Festivo

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