Discography of medieval and Renaissance Christmas music
The following disks can be found in the classical room of any major
record store (Tower, Virgin, etc.). Some can be found at public and/or
University libraries, and most can be found at our house.
- Altramar. Nova Stella: a Medieval Italian Christmas.
(Dorian Discovery DIS-80142, 1996)
- The Indiana University-based ensemble Altramar studies the
literature, art and music of both East and West to create
medieval musical synergy. In this album, they present their
interpretation of music (about the Annunciation, the birth of Christ,
and related miracles) that might have been performed at a Nativity
tableau staged in 1223 by Francis of Assisi. The original
13th-century notation was
rhythmically ambiguous, so Altramar do some pieces in a free “chant”
style, and others in complex rhythms inspired by Arabic musical
tradition. Voices and medieval string instruments: harp, gittern, lute,
vielle, and rebec.
- Anonymous 4. On Yoolis Night. (HMU 907099)
- This NYC women's vocal quartet
(which "stopped touring" in 2004, then re-formed several times
with one or two substitutions)
is famous for their extraordinarily pure tone and blend. This album
contains a variety
of Englich chant and polyphony from the 12th - 15th centuries. Not the
album to keep you
awake on a long drive, but excellent for washing away the day's
- Martin Best Ensemble. Thys Yool: A Medieval Christmas.
(Nimbus 5137, 1988)
- A sprightly blend of voices and instruments bring the Greatest Hits
of the Middle Ages to life. The program is divided into several
sections, including 'Winter and Wassail" and "Mary Mother, Queen of
Heaven," which allows the ensemble to include some popular songs (such
as Marian hymns from the Llibre Vermell, and a hearty drinking song or
two) which might have otherwise been overlooked.
- Boston Camerata. Noël, Noël! French Christmas Music
1200-1600. (Erato 2292-45420-2, 1990)
- If you are sick of the holiday Muzak permeating the airwaves, then
this recording will be a welcome change of pace. You might not
recognize many of the songs, but they're all gems, presented with the
Boston Camerata's customary elan. Gilding the Camerata's musical lily
is the Boston Shawm and Sacbut Ensemble, because no holiday is
complete without shawms....
- La Capella Reial. Cant de la Sibil-la. (Astree/Auvidis E
- For those interested in straying far from the old standards,
these settings of Sibylline prophecy were traditionally performed at
the Christmas Eve mass in medieval Catalonia. Deliciously dark.
- Chanticleer. Psallite! A Renaissance Christmas.
- The venerable Californian all-men's choir provides a satisfying
sampler of Renaissance "hits" (such as "Riu Riu Chiu" and "Psallite
Unigenito" ) and "dusties" (such as "O Admirabile Commercium"). The
only wrong note was Perotin's twelfth-century organum "Benedicamus
Domino," which broke the momentum in an otherwise all-fifteenth- and
sixteenth-century program. Chanticleer has a rich sound which can be
both full-bodied and delicate; their countertenor section is
especially praiseworthy for its purity and lack of blowsy
- Andrew Lawrence-King. Weihnachtliche Harfenmusik: the Harp at
(Ambitus amb 97 812, 1986)
- The world’s foremost early-harp player interprets a variety of
Christmas carols (e.g. "Es Ist Ein Rose Entsprungen"
and "In Dulci Jubilo"), mostly sixteenth-century German plus a few Bach
medieval, renaissance, and baroque harps. This
instrumental album makes ideal background music for holiday parties, or
for decompressing at home.
- Lionheart. Tydings Trew (Koch KIC CD 7562, 2003)
- With their impeccable phrasing and soft-focus vocal stylings,
Lionheart can sometimes seem like an all-male analogue of Anonymous 4,
but they have a musical sensibility all their own. The chants are
sensitively rendered, but their polyphonic carols also shine.
- Maddy Prior with the Carnival Band. A Tapestry of Carols.
(Saydisc CD-SDL-366, 1987)
- Or “A Very Steeleye Christmas.” The Carnival Band
uses more period instrumentation, and fewer electrified instruments,
than Steeleye Span, but the rollicking arrangements, and Ms. Pryor’s
unmistakable vocal stylings, will invite comparisons with the
aforementioned Brit folk-rockers.
- Mediæval Bæbes. Salva Nos. (Virgin 0 6700
301412 20, 1997)
- Unlike Anonymous 4, these ladies use a very nasalized
Balkan-style vocal placement, and a variety of period instruments such
as recorders and hammer dulcimer. The Bæbes also differ from
Anonymous 4 in their laissez-faire approach to historical accuracy.
Several songs on this recording have medieval lyrics with melodies
composed by one of the group members, but there’s a higher proportion
of period songs here than on other Bæbes recordings.
- Mediæval Bæbes. Mistletoe and Wine. (Nettwerk
- Goth-flavored holiday music dominates this disc, a compilation of
selections from earlier recordings (plus two previously unreleased
songs). The Bæbes made some puzzling repertoire choices (including
the springy "L'Amour de Moi," but not
"Adam Lay Y-Bounden" or "Veni Emanuel"),
but it does include a number of medieval Christmas songs.
- New York Ensemble for Early Music. Nova: a Medieval Christmas.
(Ex Cathedra EC-9001 70070-29001-2)
- A survey of Christmas music from 200 years and several countries.
Worthy of note is countertenor Marshall Coid, whose voice is light and
supple, without the hooty "bargain-countertenor" quality that sets this
reviewer's teeth on edge. The recording has a nice balance of
unaccompanied vocal pieces and instrumental ones, and also balances the
obscure bits (e.g. "Rex Virginum Amator") with more widely-known songs
(e.g. "Orientis Partibus," known in the SCA as "Oriental Party Bus").
- New York Ensemble for Early Music. Bohemian Christmas.
(Ex Cathedra EC 9007/70070-29007-2, 2005)
Released in conjunction with the Met's Prague exhibit, this
recording features 14th- and 15th century music with a Bohemian
connection, such as songs from the late medieval Codex Specialnik, and
La Messe de Nostre Dame by Guillaume de Machaut (who worked for, among
others, John, King of Bohemia).
- New York Pro Musica. English Medieval Christmas Caorls.
(Tradition TCD 1056, 1956, reissued on CD 1997)
The late Noah Greenberg's ensemble was one of the
pioneering groups in the twentieth-century Early Music revival;
although many of their recordings sound dated now, this one has aged
reasonably well (unaccompanied vocal performances generally do). The
singers use more vibrato than current performance practice recommends,
but it doesn't overpower the text -- and
countertenor Russell Oberlin's voice is a thing of beauty.
As a listening exercise, compare this recording to ...
- the Oxford Camerata. Medieval Carols. (Naxos
- which includes many of the same songs.
- Sequentia. Shining Light: Music from Aquitanian Monasteries
(DHM 05472 773702)
- The oldest extant Western polyphony is the 12th-century
Aquitanian repertoire referred to as the "School of St. Martial de
Limoges." Sequentia, under the leadership of Benjamin Bagby and the
late Barbara Thornton, present this music with their typical
combination of meticulous scholarship and thoughtful performance.
The pieces are tied together by the theme of light, and performed
variously by men’s voices, women’s voices, and medieval strings.
The crystalline precision of the voices as they soar through voluptuous
melismas and linger over suspensions is a spinetingling delight. Savor
it on a moonlit snowy evening....
- Sinfonye. Gabriel's Greeting. (Hyperion CDA66685)
- A "rambunctious" interpretation, with fiddles, hurdy-gurdies, and a
singing style. An acquired taste, with a refreshing pungency.
- Various artists. A Celebration of Christmas: Nova Cantica:
Medieval and Traditional Carols, Chansons, and Festive Dances from the
13th to 17th Centuries. (Healing Muses Recordings HM 0703, 2003,
- A new sleeper favorite recently discovered at CDBaby.com. These
performers from the Bay Area turn in a clean, crisp minimalist
performance, with exquisitely-rendered interpretations of German
favorites like "In Dulci Jubilo" and "Joseph Lieber, Joseph Mein" and
several New Year's Day chansons by Dufay. The section of
Elizabethan/Jacobean dances sounds just right with their consort of
one recorder/flute, two vielles/viols, and one lute. The
squarely-Baroque "Ermuntre Dich" (1696)
sounded an incongruous note, but it came at the end, and could be
considered a chronological coda.
- The York Waits. Old Christmas Return'd. (Saydisc CD-SDL
- 13th-16th century songs, with a few "traditional" items,
played on soft instruments and loud. And who wouldn't want to be
serenaded by shawms at Christmas, right?
- The York Waits and Deborah Catterall. Christmas Musicke
(Brewhouse Music BHCD9607, 1996)
- About half of the tracks on this album are “Olde English”
Christmas carols, like “I saw three ships come sailing in” and “Ding
dong merrily on high”; there are also French, German, Spanish, Italian,
and Spanish pieces. Performed variously on voice, flute, recorder,
crumhorn, bagpipe, hurdy-gurdy, cornett, sackbut, and shawm.
- The York Waits and Deborah Catterall. Yule Riding: Music for
the Twelve Days. (Beautiful Jo BEJOCD-46, 2004)
- Loud Band fans rejoice: this venerable British early wind ensemble
has released a third holiday recording, this time celebrating the Yule
Riding, a Yorkist celebration of the arrival of Christmas on Dec. 21
in which even the city's lowlifes were welcome to stay.
Loud, rowdy fun.
Tue Dec 9 11:24:59 EST 2008
Stephen Bloch / email@example.com