Thursday 29 December 2011

Christmas Music from Liszt and Schoenberg

We rightly tend to think of choral music at Christmas time, but there are instrumental gems, often little known, to be heard too. In a late studio recording, Vladimir Horowitz plays 'Ehemals' from Liszt's Weihnachtsbaum:

And here is Schoenberg's adorable Weihnachtsmusik, from the Arnold Schoenberg Center in Vienna. When I hear it, I fancy that it tells us as much about the composer as the Variations for Orchestra. The contrapuntal mastery cannot be gainsaid, not least that wondrous interpolation of Stille Nacht, nor the command of tonal relations, here most obviously between the tonic C major and its subdominant, F major. Nor, of course, should one or could one ignore the mastery of textural balance: think also of the Johann Strauss arrangements. What nevertheless comes across every bit as strongly is Schoenberg's profound humanity. Is this his Siegfried-Idyll?