Fascinating music

Seven pieces of Christmas music for your enjoyment


(Public domain photo from Wikimedia Commons in Wengen, Bernese Oberland; Wengen sits on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Lauterbrunnen Valley, which is not far from Interlaken)

Although I grew up in Southern California and have spent a lot of time over the years in Israel or Palestine (to say nothing of Egypt), my “Christmas sensibility” is oddly Alpine. . We will soon, I hope, have our traditional seasonal dishes of Raclette and Bratwurst, Wienerschnitzel and Spätzle, Rotkohl and Kartoffelsalat and Rouladen (or Fleischvögel) and, of course, Käsefondue. And if I’m really, really lucky, I might even try Norwegian Lefse.

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Among the chief glories of the Christmas season is its music. I have already shared three of my favorite pieces, suitable for vacations. Here, I suggest others:

First of all, something wonderfully beautiful, from one of the most amazing singers I have ever heard:

The lyrics vary. (Actually, the song was originally written in French. Part of that is just a variation in the translations.) But here’s a version:

1. Where does this good flowing perfume come from,
Steal all our senses,
nothing like this has ever happened,
Shepherds, in the flowered fields of May,
Where does this good flowing perfume come from,
Steal all of our senses.

2. What is this light so bright, shattering
Here in the night through our eyes.
Never so bright, the day star awakening,
I started to climb in the morning sky!
What is this light so bright, which breaks,
Here in the night through our eyes.

3. Bethlehem! there in the lying manger,
Quickly find your Redeemer,
Run with greedy footsteps competing!
Worship the Savior born today.
Bethlehem! there in the lying manger,
Quickly find your Redeemer.

And of Classes we are going to do Handel this Christmas!

I love this play, written by Chris Eaton and Amy Grant, which depicts the voice (and the humble heroism) of the young girl Mary:

I have traveled many moonless nights
Cold and tired, with a baby inside.
And I wonder what I did.
Holy Father, you have come
And chose me now
To carry your son.

I wait in silent prayer.
I am afraid of the load I am carrying.
In a world as cold as stone,
Should I walk this path alone?
Be with me now.
Be with me now.[Chorus]

Breath from the sky,
Hold me together.
Always be near me.
Breath from the sky,
Breath from the sky,
Light up my darkness.
Pour out your holiness on me,
Because you are holy.

Breath from the sky,
Do you wonder looking at my face
If a wiser one should have had my place?
But I offer all that I am
For the mercy of your plan.
Help me to be strong.
Help me to be. . .
Help me . . .

[Chorus: x2]

Breath from the sky!
Breath from the sky!
Breath from the sky!

Then it is a Christian folk hymn from southern America. It was first published in Lynchburg, Virginia, in 1811, and has sometimes been referred to as “spiritual white”:

And that of JS Bach Jesulein süss (“O, sweet little Jesus”) strongly evokes the spirit of an old German Christmas, at the time when Germany was still a more or less Christian land:

I have always loved Miklos Rozsa’s score for the film Ben hur. And his “Star of Bethlehem” is, in my opinion, one of the two musical highlights of this film:

And now, because I feel rather nostalgic, not exactly for das Vaterland but for neighboring German-speaking Switzerland and Austria (and, for similar reasons, for Bavaria), here’s a pretty schmalzy rendition of a 19th century German Christmas carol that has fond memories for me. The song itself only lasts a little over two minutes. The last minute or so of the recording is a very deliberately “cute” interview by one of the hosts with one of the choir boys. Don’t hesitate to ignore it:

Kling, Glöckchen, klingelingeling,
kling, Glöckchen, kling!
Laßt mich ein, ihr Kinder,
ist so kalt der Winter,
öffnet mir die Türen,
last mich nicht erfrieren!
Kling, Glöckchen, klingelingeling,
kling, Glöckchen, kling!

Kling, Glöckchen, klingelingeling,
Kling, Glöckchen, kling!
Mädchen, hört, und Bübchen,
macht mir auf das Stübchen,
bring euch viele Gaben,
solt euch dran erlaben.
Kling, Glöckchen, klingelingeling,
kling, Glöckchen, kling!

Kling, Glöckchen, klingelingeling,
kling, Glöckchen, kling!
Hell erglühn die Kerzen,
öffnet mir die Herzen!
Does drin wohnen fröhlich,
frommes Kind, wie selig.
Kling, Glöckchen, klingelingeling,
kling, Glöckchen, kling!

Ringing, bell, ringing,
Ring, little bell, ring!
Let me in, you children,
Winter is so cold
Open the doors for me
Don’t let me freeze!
Ringing, bell, ringing,
Ring, little bell, ring!

Ringing, bell, ringing,
Ring, little bell, ring!
Girls, listen, and boys,
Open the room for me,
I bring you lots of gifts,
You should enjoy them!
Ringing, bell, ringing,
Ring, little bell, ring!

Ringing, bell, ringing,
Ring, little bell, ring!
Make the candles shine,
Open your hearts to me!
I want to live there happy,
Devout child, what a blessing!
Ringing, bell, ringing,
Ring, little bell, ring!

A view of Innertkirchen on a summer day. (Image in the Wikimedia Commons public domain)

One of my favorite Christmases was in 1972, I think, when my fellow missionary and I were invited to dinner and a little Christmas program in the Stalder family home. Brother Stalder was an eminent Swiss engineer and an advisor to the presidency of the Swiss Mission in Zurich. He and his family lived on the outskirts of Innertkirchen in Haslital. I don’t remember much of the details of that evening (which is amazing, since the three Stalder daughters were legendary among the elders of the Swiss Mission), but I do remember the feeling of pure “Alpine” in their spacious home. The stars shone in a crystalline night sky with a full or near full moon, brilliantly illuminating the deep snow. There was a deep silence and the Alps loomed around us, themselves glowing in the moonlight. I felt like I had been transported to another more glorious world. I can still see it in my mind.