the music of Christmas, part one
It’s going to take me several posts to get through the music I associate with this season.
First up, since my mother and I were talking about it earlier today: The Nutcracker. The ballet itself is not one of my favorites; I like the second act well enough, but so much of the first act is taken up by people wandering around being at the Christmas party, without much in the way of actual dancing going on. I do, however, adore the music, most especially “Trepak” (the Russian dance) and “Coffee” (the Arabian dance), but also standards like “The Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy.”
Really, I just kind of adore Tchaikovsky overall. Him and Prokofiev. If I sat down to work it out, they’d probably turn out to be two of my favorite classical composers.
Most of the other music I want to talk about will deserve separate posts — there’s a story behind much of it — so I’ll just use the rest of my time here to bring up Christmas music overall. We have a number of compliation CDs that are a part of the season for me just because I’ve been listening to them for ten, twenty years; there isn’t anything particularly special about them. I do not, however, like everything on them equally. In general, my favorite carols are the ones played less often, which I doubt is coincidence: I don’t get bludgeoned with them every time I turn on the TV or walk into a store, so I haven’t gotten tired of them yet. But I also like them for a reason that probably feeds back into them not being played as often: many of them are in minor keys, or otherwise darker-sounding. You can keep your “Away in a Manger” and your “Jingle Bells” and most especially your bloody “Sleigh Ride*;” give me “Coventry Carol” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “Carol of the Bells” and “We Three Kings,” “What Child Is This” and “Oh Come Emmanuel” and most especially “O Holy Night,” about which I will have more to say later.
Favorite carols? Least favorite? Anything you’d rather rupture your eardrums with a spork than listen to?
*It should be noted that my hatred of “Sleigh Ride” has less to do with the song than the fact that I had to play it. On French horn. Which meant six goddamned pages of upbeats. My hatred of “Sleigh Ride” is just my hatred of marches transposed to the Christmas season. “Rudoloph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” on the other hand, I hate because I had to play it, but not because of upbeats; that one we played in a parade, and two hours of any carol alternating with a drum cadence is pretty much guaranteed to make you hate the carol.