1. Ode to St. Cecilia (Benjamin Britten) and The Trumpet's Loud Clangour (from Handel's An Ode for St. Cecilia's Day): I'll admit, neither of these are truly Advent pieces, but the feast of St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music, falls on November 22, so they start my playlist. The Britten piece is gently but richly textured, with a soaring soprano line. (Britten was aptly born on the feast of St. Cecilia.)
2. The Messiah: Yes, I know, it's a traditional Christmas war horse, particularly the Hallelujah chorus. For Advent, though, listen to Part I, especially Every Valley, And the Glory of the Lord (the texts are from Isaiah). There are hundreds of version of this but I like this one from St. Martin in the Fields. (For Christmas, try For Unto Us a Child is Born, the Hallelujah Chorus is really for Easter!)
3. Bach's Advent cantatas are not to be missed. I once spent an Advent in Vienna, so this DVD brings back memories of going to Vesper's at St. Stephen's cathedral there and hearing this magnificent music. This is Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducting...
4. Some might consider the Magnificat to be the original Advent hymn, though New Testament scholars are more likely to point out its roots in Old Testament canticles. There are thousands of versions, but Handel's Carmelite Vespers is a place to start. In same vein, Cathy and I invite you to listen to Anonymous 4's English Ladymass
5. An Advent playlist would certainly not be complete without O Come, O Come Emmanuel, but try adding Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming, In the Bleak Midwinter and Ralph Vaughn Williams' The Call to the list.
7. The O Antiphons, the short snippets traditionally used before the Magnificat at Vespers on the last days leading up to Christmas, form the basis for O Come, O Come Emmanuel, but I prefer this version by Marty Haugen for my own sung prayer: My Soul in Stillness Waits
May you find in this season of light, a few tranquil moments, perhaps shepherded along the way by some of this music. In case the music is not enough, I offer in closing this prayer:
O God of unchangeable power and eternal light, look favorably upon your people throughout the world. By your mysterious providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; for all time belongs to you, and all Ages. We pray then, in the fullness of your time bring all things to perfection by him, through whom all things were made—your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God of Love, for ever and ever.(With thanks to Fr. Vincent Pizzuto and the New Skellig Community.)
Uh-oh: Thanksgiving...it's coming, too! To celebrate musically, try
Copeland's Simple Gifts or the Brigham Young University's choir (on both CD and DVD).
Notes: I have an earlier version of the Britten CD, which is out of print, but Amazon has used copies. The painting is Rubens' robust St. Cecilia.