The sixteenth-century chorale Vom Himmel hoch, to words by Martin Luther, is one of the most important Evangelical Christmas songs, and has also provided the material for countless arrangements. The programme of our concert will recall one of them – a choral cantata written by Felix Mendelssohn. He composed it in 1831, at the age of 22, fascinated by the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, which he was in the process of discovering.
The modest beginnings (a few songs composed for a Christmas puppet show at home) of Engelbert Humperdinck’s opera Hänsel und Gretel gave no inkling of the brilliant success to come for this work, the first performance of which, in 1893, was conducted by Richard Strauss (a subsequent performance was led by Gustav Mahler). The suite on motifs from this ‘fairy tale opera’ reminds us what was so loved about this work, which is still being revived on stages today – particularly in Germany.
The cantata Midvinter by Wilhelm Stenhammar, one of the most prominent Swedish composers of the turn of the twentieth century, also refers to the festive period. It is representative of the composer’s style, frequently referring to the harsh sounds of traditional Scandinavian music.
The Concierto de Aranjuez (1939), full of quasi-classical charm and references to Iberian folklore, as well as powerful emotions (in the beguiling Adagio), became the most famous work in the oeuvre of Joaquín Rodrigo and one of the most important items in the guitar’s concert repertoire.