‘Tis the season to sing! One of our favourite holiday traditions is gathering with family and singing carols. While we love revisiting old favorites, discovering new songs can be incredibly fun as well. This season we’d like to offer you a selection of our top picks that you may enjoy exploring.
We have divided these into three sections. carols for soloists, carols for small groups (SATB), and carols to sing at family gatherings and with children. We’ll offer some background information and share why we love these particular songs and hope that you will too.
Christmas singing inspirations for… soloists
Christbaum by Peter Cornelius (1824-1874)
This beautiful German language art song by Peter Cornelius is the first in a cycle of six songs he composed called Weihnachtslieder or Christmas songs. A gifted writer, Cornelius wrote all the poems for this song cycle before writing the music. Grouping each song around a different seasonal theme, Christbaum describes a domestic scene of a mother and children sitting around a beautifully decorated Christmas tree.
This lively song is a wonderful choice as an opening to a solo program. We also recommend exploring the rest of the song cycle. Other songs in the cycle included in our collection are Die Hirten (The Shepherds) and Die Könige (The Kings) (Mezzo learning pack | Mezzo | High).
In the first publication Cornelius dedicated the songs to his sister, the inscription reading “Meiner lieben Schwester Frau Elisabeth Schily” (My dear Sister Mrs. Elisabeth Schily).
Here is a delicate and agile performance by Irmgard Seefried:
Piano accompaniment for Peter Cornelius’s Christbaum
Madonna And Child by Eric Thiman (1900-1975)
This piece composed by the prolific Eric Thiman was originally intended as a solo song, but is often performed by choirs and ensembles. Its beautiful simplicity allows the piece to easily transfer to choir performances, and makes it suitable for young voices as well. The scene depicted in the piece is told from the perspective of visitors to the baby Jesus, receiving encouragement from the Madonna to come forth and gaze upon the ‘sweet and small’ child.
Starting at the age of 16, Thiman published over 1300 known pieces, many of which can be found in the British Library catalogue. Thiman worked as an organist, teacher, conductor, and composer until his death in 1975.
An archive of Thiman’s work was created by his next of kin after his death. This collection is now looked after by Guy Turner, a former choir member of the Elysian Concert Society where Thiman was the conductor. The society’s aim is to include the entire catalogue in the archive, raise interest in his work and support performances of his music. If you wish to learn more about the collection, a great place to start is with an introductory video on YouTube.
Madonna And Child performed by a young treble voice:
Piano accompaniment for Eric Thiman’s Madonna and Child: high | low
Snow In The Street by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
This traditional carol with words by Willam Morris is Included in the Oxford Book of Carols (1928). Vaughan Williams’ musical rendition has a unique haunting quality. Often performed as a choral piece, Snow in the Street offers a rich dramatic melody and is supported by a vividly expressive accompaniment which mimics a howling winter wind. These elements make it a lovely choice for a solo piece as well.
Composing an extensive variety of work including operas, orchestral, chamber music and more, Vaughan Williams was strongly influenced by Tudor music, an element of which can be heard in this piece.
Here is a solo performance sung by Eileen Farrell:
Piano accompaniment for Vaughan William’s Snow in the Street
The Carol Of The Field Mice by Michael Head (1900-1976)
This rendition of The Carol of the Field Mice by Michael Head was published in 1975. The text for this piece written by Kenneth Grahame, appears in his classic work A Wind in the Willows. In the book a group of carolling field mice sing this song to Mole and Rat and afterwards are invited in for a hot drink.
There have been many different musical interpretations of this text, including choral pieces, lieder and mélodies. Michael Head’s version is a beautiful lyrical art song that offers the singer an expressive yet peaceful melody and tempo. This carol would be a wonderful choice if you’re looking for traditional English carols, or looking for a piece to complement a program of songs that feature a soloist.
Here is a solo version sung by Timothy Dickenson:
Piano accompaniment to The Carol of the Field Mice by Michael Head