02 December 2021
By Ellie Palmer
Try your hand at these Christmas favourites as we count down to the big day!
Gruber arr. Heumann: Silent Night
The music for this popular carol was composed by Austrian primary school teacher, church organist and composer, Franz Xaver Gruber.
The story goes as follows: Joseph Mohr, a priest at Gruber’s St Nicholas parish church, showed Gruber a six-stanza poem he’d written in 1816. Gruber was so impressed that he set it to music in 1818.
That same year, the two men sang Stille Nacht for the first time at Christmas Mass, while Mohr played guitar and the choir repeated the last two lines of each verse (the church organ had broken down!). The version sung by Bing Crosby in 1935 is the fourth best-selling single of all-time.
Enjoy our piano lesson on 'Silent Night' below. Teacher John Maul talks about how produce a good singing piano tone, finger distribution, legato pedalling and more.
Lyapunov: Chanteurs de Noël Op 41 No 3
Russian composer Sergei Lyapunov wrote an array of works for piano – from short waltzes to two full-blown piano concertos.
This piece is No 3 from his Op 41 Fêtes de Noël (Christmas Festival).
Playing tips: Don’t be put off by the octaves! If you make sure to retract your fingers between octave-playing, that will help. Tips of the fingers should be ‘steely’ and keep the wrists firm, yet supple. Enjoy the wonderful build-up towards the end. Pedal tips: Try two pedal changes per bar. Increase when textures thicken.
Schumann: Wintertime 1, No 38 from Album for the Young Op 68
Schumann wrote his Album for the Young, a collection of 43 short pieces, for his three daughters to play.
Several have featured inside Pianist.
Playing tips: This 16-bar piece needs to ‘speak’ to the listener, so work at the phrasing before you begin. Then use your best cantabile and voice the chords well, making sure that the top melody-note rings out. This piece is perfect for improving your soft playing. Pedal as marked.
Rebikov Waltz from The Christmas Tree Op 21
In 1900 Rebikov produced a seasonal opera, Yolka (known in English, if at all, as The Christmas Tree) to a libretto of texts compiled from the unlikely trio of Hans Christian Andersen, Dostoyevsky and Gerhart Hauptmann.
His later operas such as The Abyss, The Woman with the Dagger and Prince Charming and Princess Beautiful, are all subtitled as ‘musico-psycholographic drama’ according to the principle of a Tolstoyan artistic manifesto which he advanced in 1900, that ‘music is the shorthand of the feelings’.
Watch pianist Chenyin Li play Rebikov's romantic 'Christmas Tree' Waltz.
Macdowell: Winter, No 4 from 4 Little Poems Op 32
The below poem by English Romantic poet, Shelley, was inspiration for this evocative piece.
Try to bring out the chill and stillness in your playing.
A widow bird sate mourning for her Love
Upon a wintry bough;
The frozen wind crept on above,
The freezing stream below.
There was no leaf upon the forest bare
No flower upon the ground,
And little motion in the air
Except the mill-wheel’s sound.
Montgomery (lyrics) arr. Heumann: Angels from the Realms of Glory
This traditional Christmas carol was penned by Scottish-born hymn writer James Montgomery, and was first printed in the Sheffield Iris newspaper on Christmas Eve back in 1816.
You may also recognise this hymn under a different name: Angels We Have Heard on High.
Tchaikovsky January from The Seasons Op 37a
Chosen by Tchaikovsky or possibly his publisher Nikolai Bernard, a verse by Pushkin originally prefaced this movement: ‘A little corner of peaceful bliss/The night dressed in twilight;/The little fire is dying in the fireplace,/And the candle has burned out.’