Christmas just sneaks up on me every year. I’m not very good at planning in advance, and when I do get the gumption to plan things way ahead, by the time my choices come up, I frequently decide to do something else. What seemed perfect in late September just doesn’t quite feel right in December. (At least that’s my excuse.)
So this blog post early in December is a bit late for those of you who have already planned what keyboard music you are playing for Advent, Christmas Eve and beyond. But if you haven’t, here are some ideas!
There are certain pieces that I always play for Advent, which is a season I love (just like Lent), so planning my organ music for Advent usually begins around the following three pieces. First is J.S. Bach’s Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (Wake, awake, for night is flying) BWV 645, from his collection known as the Schübler Chorales, (named for the editor who worked with Bach to organize the collection). For those of you who are new to the organ and to playing the pedals, this piece will be tricky, but well worth it. Another Bach piece that I love to play is his Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (Savior of the nations, come) BWV 659. Both these chorale preludes are found on the IMSLP site, available for free download, but be sure to click through all the available editions before printing out one you like. Some are easier to read than others, and some still use alto and tenor clefs, making the music trickier to learn if you don’t play in those clefs regularly.
Johannes Brahms wrote a set of eleven chorale preludes, and his lovely Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen (Lo, how a rose e’er blooming) is for manuals only. (My hands are small, though, so I have to couple the manuals down to my feet and pick up a few of the notes I cannot reach). Check it out!
During the Christmas season, I usually play one or two of the Noëls by Louis-Claude Daquin. All are available on IMSLP. There are twelve of them to choose from here, and most have very minimal pedal. They are also in segments, and I often don’t play the entire piece (okay, okay, I admit to sometimes leaving out the hard sections….)
If you’re like me, though, once you’ve scheduled your favorite pieces, there is usually room for some new music, or music you don’t play every year. GIA has some organ music for Advent and Christmas, if you are looking to expand your library, consider some of the following collections.
First, these collections are all settings of Christmas carols and tunes:
A Polish Christmas Triptych by Kevin Vogt
Seven Christmas Hymn Settings by Austin Lovelace
Ten Carols for the Christmas Season by John Kriebel
Six Carols of Christmas by Robert J. Powell
Three Hispanic Carols by George Lachenauer
A Wreath of Carols for Christmastide by Bernard Wayne Sanders
The following collections include pieces for the liturgical year, so each book will have an Advent and Christmas piece (or more) included in it:
Gregorian Preludes for the Liturgical Year by Kenneth Lowenberg
Ten Seasonal Hymn Tune Preludes for the Church Year by Robert J. Powell
Eight Hymn Preludes for the Church Year by Peter Niedmann
These collections also contain some tunes for either Advent or Christmas:
Eight Preludes for Organ on Familiar Hymn Tunes by Edmund B. Wright (setting of Picardy)
Fourteen Pieces for Organ by John McCann (settings of O Come, Emmanuel, Creator of the Stars of Night, The First Nowell)
Twelve Organ Preludes on Hymns Old and New by Paul Carlson (setting of Conditor Alme Siderum, Morning Star)
Six Hymntune Sketches for Organ by Anne Roberts (setting of Antioch)
Eight Hymntune Postludes by Adrian Mann (setting of Antioch)
Ten Hymntune Preludes for Manuals only by Adrian Mann (settings of Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming, O Come, All Ye Faithful, What Child Is This)
Global Song Preludes and Intonations for Organ by William McNair (He Came Down, Une Jeune Pucelle)