No other holiday has inspired the creation of a larger and more beautiful body of music than Christmas. Music celebrating the birth of Christ transcends the boundaries of geography and time. Countless folk songs and carols from every corner of the Christian world are beloved by people outside the borders—and even faith traditions—of the nations where those songs originated. And through the centuries, some of the world’s most prominent composers have added masterpieces to the still-expanding canon of Christmas music.
In making this recording, Eva Beneke has risen to that challenge by gathering an attractive array of German and English traditional tunes and pieces by revered classical masters. She then undertook performing them movingly alone and with her friends. I feel very fortunate that in addition to her own expert arrangements, she has chosen to include five of mine.
The oldest melody represented here, “In Dulci Jubilo” appears in Codex 1305 from the Leipzig University Library and dates back to the 14th Century. The song is also widely popular in several English translations made in the 19th Century and is well known as “Good Christian Men, Rejoice.” Eva’s lovely, solo-guitar rendition of “Es ein Ros entsprungen,” is based on a melody penned by German organist-composer Michael Praetorius (ca. 1571-1621).
The song is also known to English speakers as “Lo How a Rose Ere Blooming.”
Works by 18th Century masters J. S. Bach and G. F. Handel represented here include selections from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio and Handel’s evergreen “Hallelujah Chorus” from the Messiah. All three are heard in settings for guitar duo and given virtuosic treatments by Scott Tennant and Eva. A guitar setting of the “Hallelujah Chorus” is unusual, but is not meant to be a gimmick. I adapted it from a wonderful two-harpsichord arrangement created by Englishman John Marsh (1752-1828). Hence, you hear keyboard-style trills foreign to the choral original.
From the early 19th Century comes another gem, “Ave Maria,” by Austrian Romantic-era composer Franz Schubert in Eva’s arrangement for guitar, cello, and oboe. The album closes with another ensemble setting for guitar, cello, English horn, and violin of the poignant “In the Bleak Midwinter” by 20th Century British composer Gustav Holst.
Eva arranged melodies popular in the German-speaking countries including “Maria durch ein Dornwald ging” (traditional) and “Alle Jahre wieder” (Friedrich Silcher). My arrangement of the universal favorite “Silent Night” by Franz Gruber, was written several years ago for a Christmas recording I made, but the solo guitar setting of the German traditional song “O Tannenbaum” I wrote especially for this CD with Eva’s playing in mind.
Ultimately, the object of all music is to evoke an emotional response in the listener. I’m probably not alone in hoping that the music on this album will call to mind reminiscences of Christmases past or perhaps become the soundtrack for Christmases future.
- Mark Small