2023 Advent and Christmas music calendar

Cut, paste, send to your loved ones, discuss, enjoy, propose others, spread the love of music.

There is a golden nugget in here that was inexplicably missing from previous ones. 

I am posting today so you get 48 hours of anticipation and then it all kicks off on Friday. 

Over to you to remember to bump this every day from Friday.



2023 Advent and Christmas Carol Calendar


  1. A traditional Advent Matins Responsory. I look from afar https://youtu.be/Q_qtwOhu3C4 sung by Wells Cathedral Choir. 


  2. Another Advent Responsory. https://youtu.be/HSfZGkIGi1A  The Choir of Trinity College Cambridge led by Richard Marlow who is also responsible for this arrangement. Mixed voices, so a very different tone to the traditional male voices of a traditional cathedral choir.  This arrangement is led by a female voice and has a great Bass line in it – a really deep note underpinning the extremely high voice of the soloist, reminiscent of Russian Orthodox tradition. 


  3. Day 3 continues the Advent journey of darkness to light as candles are lit as the procession works its way to the choir stalls. As the choir moves through the cathedral the volume increases as does the accuracy of the consonants in unison. This recording is the King’s College Cambridge Choir under the direction of Stephen Cleobury https://youtu.be/8oE2VCmYsBk


  4. The Prophet Isaiah foretells the coming of the Son of God. This delicate choral work is called ’twas in the year that King Uzziah died  https://youtu.be/G0AESPv5ggQ  A tiny piece with a lovely arrangement, well sung. The verse reads:

Twas in the year that King Uzziah died,
A vision by Isaiah was espied;
A lofty throne, the Lord was set thereon;
And with his glory all the temple shone.

Bright seraphim were standing round about
Six wings had every of that quire devout;
With twain he awesome veiled his face, and so
With twain he dreadful veiled his feet below.

With twain did he now hither, thither fly:
And thus aloud did one to other cry:
Holy is God, the Lord of Sabaoth,
Full of his glory are earth and heaven, both.

And at their cry the lintels moved apace,
And clouds of incense filled the holy place.


  1. Following Day 4's ancient prophecy, something more contemporary.  John Tavener tells the tale of the Angel Gabriel's message to Mary. The Annunciation, Angels, Thunder Entered Her.  Mary is visited by the Angel Gabriel and the music gives us the silence of the desert, the dark sky full of stars, the appearance of the Heavenly Host, awe and majesty, her confusion, frailty, and shock. 

https://youtu.be/Ec9w0xEmjCU  All the angels appear and give blessings to Mary.

https://youtu.be/MrNT_XqKXRM The Angel Gabriel greets Mary - hail, thou that art highly favoured. Gabriel tells her not to be afraid, she is chosen by God. She replies. How can this be?

https://youtu.be/5eQrBJMfZAg Gabriel says ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you‘. Extraordinary organ work depicting the rumbling thunder of God’s presence. 


  1. The Cherry Tree Carol. https://youtu.be/dTYdqlsAmRg
    Joseph doesn’t get much of a look-in during this part of the Advent story. But he does in this beautiful arrangement.  This is a very old verse - 15th C - and an Anglicised allegory. The Virgin Mary and Joseph are travelling to Bethlehem for the census. They are hungry and stop at a cherry orchard. Mary asks Joseph to pick some cherries for her because her pregnancy is making her hungry and he says, with anger, "let the father of your child pick them for you". The unborn Jesus speaks up from womb, commanding the cherry tree to lower a branch so that Mary can pick the cherries, which she does.  This causes Joseph to recognise that a higher power is in control, and he repents his rudeness to her. An interesting little detail in the Christmas story, telling how Joseph came to terms with it all. The verse reads:


When Joseph was an old man

An old man was he

He married Virgin Mary

The Queen of Galilee
Joseph and Mary walked through an orchard green

There were cherries and berries as thick as might be seen 

Mary said to Joseph so meek and so mild

Joseph  gather me some cherries

for I am with child

Then Joseph flew in anger 

In anger flew he 

Let the father of the baby gather cherries for thee 

Then up spoke baby Jesus

From in Mary's womb 

Bend down the tallest branches

That my mother might have some

And bend down the tallest branches

It touched Mary's hand 

Cried she "Oh, look thou Joseph, I have cherries by command" 

Then Mary gathered cherries 

Gathered cherries did she 

And Joseph said in sorrow "Lord, have mercy on me"


  1. One of the finest contemporary Advent pieces, Bethlehem Down.  Carols from King's 2016 | #13 "Bethlehem Down" Peter Warlock - Choir of King's College, Cambridge - YouTube Peter Warlock wasn’t his real name. Warlock (Philip Heseltine) won the 1929 Telegraph carol competition with this entry. He and a friend were in the pub before Christmas discussing their lack of money and how this meant they were going to have no Christmas. One had the newspaper with him and noticed the composition competition. They set themselves the challenge of writing an entry that evening. Bethlehem Down was written in one sitting, won the competition, and is still one of the finest Advent choral arrangements.


  2. O Holy Night | Carols from King's 2017 - YouTube  A lovely arrangement of this favourite which almost transcends church choral music into the world of cinematic soundtrack. So beautifully sung and with warm introductory organ chords rising to full cathedral thunder.


  3. Harold Darke’s arrangement of In the Bleak Midwinter.  This is Trinity College again. A nice choral version but the first verse should be a solo clear voice to depict the iciness of the winter. So here, at 18.48 Canford School Music: Carol Service 2020 - YouTube, is that solo.  


  4. A lovely arrangement, very seldom sung.  Lovely tones and a great medieval verse.  King Jesus Hath a Garden. The Tenor solo in the second verse is superb. https://youtu.be/pU0VGnNDUbc


  5. A Galician traditional carol set to a modern arrangement https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R3YF_pV1dKA Up, Awake and Away!  Energy and power for a winter’s day. 


  6. ‘Illuminare, Jerusalem’ by Judith Weir, written for the King’s College Choir and first produced in 1985. https://youtu.be/8sBVa3J4nP8 . A modern rendition of a 15th Century text that celebrates the Feast of Christ the King. The phrase 'illuminare, Jerusalem' is from Isaiah 60:1: 'Surge, illuminare, Jerusalem, quia venit lumen tuum, et gloria Domini super te orta est', 'Arise, shine, Jerusalem, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.'  An invocation to the people of Jerusalem to rise and celebrate the conquest of Good over Evil. The music gives us the terror of Herod’s decree and purge that the birth of Jesus overcomes. 


  7. O Little One Sweet by Rutter. A lovely gentle arrangement sung beautifully here by the Cambridge Singers https://youtu.be/bneXXcOdLrw


  8. A double. Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day. There are two famous arrangements of this.  The Gardner arrangement https://youtu.be/Affg4DOYdY4  by Westminster Abbey with organist Simon Preston. The traditional Willcocks arrangement which is more familiar and perhaps more ‘church choral’ but less of a ‘ dancing day’ https://youtu.be/K0Yod6A403s.


  9. Hodie Christus Natus Est. A beautiful arrangement. Jan Sweelinck Hodie Christus Natus Est - YouTube 


  10. The Shepherds’ Farewell by Hector Berlioz.  A rich and comforting piece with a strong bass line under the delicate high melody.  https://youtu.be/e_pyk3wmHGw


  11. O Come! O Come! Emmanuel. A great descant arrangement by Philip Ledger here  https://youtu.be/jfz9O2qrZ-M 


  12. The Holly and the Ivy by the Trinity College Choir under Richard Marlow.  https://youtu.be/UNaSacV4Zv0 Very beautifully sung.   And a bonus track from Handel’s Messiah.  Some would say this is quintessential Christmas music for British musical ears…the ultimate choral music for Advent. But it is written by a German, for the Passiontide, first performed in Dublin in a secular concert hall (the New Music Hall on Fishamble Street) on April 13th 1742, with the alto soloist a Mrs Susanna Cibber, a music hall actress who had attracted scandal but whose emotional performance of 'He was despised' was said by Handel to align her own regret, shame and vulnerability with that of Christ, and whose performance moved Dr Patrick Delany – the husband of one of Handel's most ardent champions - to exclaim 'Woman, for this, be all your sins forgiven'.  The Spanish operatic Tenor, Juan Diego Florez has a light choral, non-operatic tone which is just right for this message:  Comfort ye, My People https://youtu.be/3qCD4ONWXYQ and Ev'ry Valley Shall Be Exalted. 


  13. A Christmas Cracker and one of my all-time favourites - The Three Kings, by Peter Cornelius. Lovely balance here between the alto/treble harmonies and that brilliant baritone solo. A technically difficult piece sing, with breath control a challenge for the baritone/tenor soloist.  https://youtu.be/SkBndFuy55o


  14. Herbert Howells’ fabulous Here is the Little Door. https://youtu.be/9gOABQN1lPY 


  15. Two today. O ye little flock https://youtu.be/qmKn_6S_kI4 which is a lovely, delicately sung piece, and if you miss the days of the school nativity play then here's Away In A Manger https://youtu.be/zb6eNyj63gc sung beautifully. 


  16. Two arrangements of the Coventry Carol https://youtu.be/b23aFP-t0ys and https://youtu.be/LawxEPfHniE. I prefer the first.


  17. Day 23 needs no introduction https://youtu.be/PfzksGbQ4UI


  18. A big noise for Christmas Eve  https://youtu.be/V_RmUVQQQqk  Great descant work and lower voices on a counterpoint through the hallelujahs and a bit of a ding dong for good measure https://youtu.be/R3XymGrwXeU


  19. Christmas Day 

Tavener’s amazing Alleluia, God Is With Us King's College Cambridge 2014 #18 God is with us, John Tavener - YouTube Stay with it and max up the volume for the three astounding, knee-trembler chords at the end. 

And, finally, Widor's Toccata to see you out https://youtu.be/jtj300j129k, played by Olivier Latry on the organ of Notre Dame de Paris before the fire. Rumour has it that this will be the first piece played on the reopening of the Cathedral after its restoration.


I would add Wexford Carol (if it's in not in the unlabelled links) and Dubois Toccata (too many weddings have Widor!) to that mix

Very good stuff - nice to see it coming from the Fens and not Detroit - with - Colleges.

Also try the LPO’s recording of James Macmillan’s Christmas Oratorio. It’s a work of genius. 

Many thaks The fact it seems very recently Muttley was putting up last year's shows how fast time seems to go for me now compared with when I was about 8 and every year seemed an age.

This is AMAZING, Mutters, thank you. I am singing two of these in my carol concert next week. Bethlehem Down is one of alltime favourites pieces to sing. We are also doing a Messiah work.. :

Also I'm so thrilled you included O Come! O Come! Emmanuel, which usually gets excluded from carol concerts (as an advent carol it's considered "over" by mid December) and is just beautiful. I'll be forwarding this to friends and family!!

We had the Vierne to walk out to at our wedding (Mr XL is an organist who always played it very well) played by his fairly famous  (in those circles) Cathedral organist (and composer) godfather.

O Come! O come! Emmanuel is a great Advent piece with a real wintry feeling. As you say, so, many Karol services are later on in Advent, so the early Advent mediaeval pieces are forgotten in favour of the more common carols.  Same deal with Personent Hodie. 

I am in Guildford cathedral today. It has its own simple, bright beauty inside (outside not so much). I found rhis on the stone floor just short of the choir stalls and thought to myself imagine being the person who left their stamp like this on an edifice for generation upon generation to see. 


Yes lovely just managed to listen. 

Dip in a very frosty advent Thames this morning surrounded by banks of rose hips growing over hawthorn, a mist over the water and a single cormorant. 

A solemn ethereal grounding tune to start the beginning of advent with I believe a narrative role for the solo tenor singer. 

can't wait for tomorrow's one. I will be trudging along to the office uplifted by huge sounds from Tavener.

I love that after many years of shiz here we have learned that Mr Lydia was an accomplished organist.  Bravo. 

Good morning. 

Today may be a grey and damp December day but between the headphones a stunning performance guaranteed to make the hairs on your neck prickle up.

A jolting change of style, volume, power and musical intensity from the delicate opening pieces. This is how Mary felt. One minute she was in the quiet of the night and the next her senses were assaulted by the inexplicable. 

The music starts with the lesser known choir of Clare College, Cambridge, then two from Winchester Cathedral choir. 

I had the privilege of hearing the first performance of these pieces. Sitting in a cathedral hearing this changed everything. 

The Warner Classics recording of the second and third pieces are so accomplished. Big up the sound engineers here. 

Hello!  You had me at four-baller - have just listened to find him and yep, that's a sound all right. 

Today’s choice is Bethlehem Down. I think this particular performance mat have two defects. It should never be sung at the gallop but this one is languid. Too slow. Second, the accoustic is unhelpful because there is a late resonance and given the arrangement the voices therefore sound untidy here and there when higher parts come back to the mics from the roof. The dangers of recording in churches. It can make beautiful performances seem a bit messy. St Paul’s dome is worst for that. You get lines coming back a second or two later as they have been bouncing round the huge inverted bowl and are directed back down onto choristers’ heads. 
It is a lovely piece though 

It is, or a calming one. Depends on mood. 

The words are by his poet friend Bruce Blunt. They are very fine. 

"When He is King we will give him the Kings' gifts,
Myrrh for its sweetness, and gold for a crown,
Beautiful robes," said the young girl to Joseph,
Fair with her first-born on Bethlehem Down.

Bethlehem Down is full of the starlight,
Winds for the spices, and stars for the gold,
Mary for sleep, and for lullaby music
Songs of a shepherd by Bethlehem fold.

When he is King they will clothe him in grave-sheets,
Myrrh for embalming and wood for a crown,
He that lies now in the white arms of Mary
Sleeping so lightly on Bethlehem Down.

Here he has peace and a short while for dreaming,
Close-huddled oxen to keep him from cold,
Mary for love, and for lullaby music
Songs of a shepherd by Bethlehem fold.

Oh MUTTERS!  Love o holy night, in all it’s incarnations. Even the Elvis -esque versions. Lovely choices as always.

I’ve skipped ahead and also love the next one Particularly the solo in In the Bleak. Bravo. 

Ok I have managed some work today, making a coffee and treating myself to Day 8. 

Nice thanks. :) looking forward to keeping up with this list for the next few weeks. 

Currently enjoying fantasia on Christmas carols. ☺️

The counter tenor refrain on the diminuendo at 1.30 is lovely and delivers the piece to a gentle final chord after all that hoo-hah. 

Poor old Elephant is going to get to Thursday evening and think the weekend is upon us. Crushing realisation on Friday morning. 

While we are enjoying the challenge of contemporqry minor key works with difficult flats and complex chord structures with fine but unexpected resolution, per Weir above, can I add a bonus track today of Tavener’s The Lamb. The construction of this piece is glorious. The richer chords that build in the second half after the doubting, questioning, haunting bars, are quite special 


Day 13 is a really pretty piece.  I always thought it seems, musically, to be able to portray the peacefulness of a sleeping child.

Good morning. I really love the first of today’s doubles for energy and musicality but I also adore the gentler arrangement of the second. 
I sense a whittling down of the readership/listenership (to me, one or two loyal others occasionally, and me again) but if you are thinking of checking back in then today would be a good moment for you to do so.  

This was good!  I had never heard the Gardner version (shame on me) so was caught unawares with the first link (also hadn't read it properly and assumed you just couldn't pick your favourite recording).  I love how different it is from the other one but after a bit of crafty desk bopping, can confirm I think Willcocks is an easier dancing day for me.  

yes. both are superb but v contrasting.  There is still power in the second one and it is interesting that the male voices take over the piece in that arrangement.  The Gardner version is borderline evangelistic music but I think it builds very well and is a great way to warm one's heart.

It is a beaut.  I have listened to it twice today.

For those not familiar with today's choice it is by a Dutch composer called Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck who wrote at the end of the Renaissance and just into the beginning of the Baroque period. 

It is so fresh .  It conforms to the structure of motets and fugues of the period but seems to have greater fluidity, which is partly the writing but also down to the voices / accoustic / conducting. At one point the higher voices seem to be bouncing. The effect reminds me of water tumbling over rocks in an upland stream then as the last bars come in it is like reaching the calm stiller water of the estuary.   

Very ahead of its time this piece. Worth reading about the composer if interested.   He seems to have been the father of many things - Northern European baroque keyboard composition for one.  The following link suggests he was the first to write a fugue for organ.   All this was before, yes before, JS Bach.  

Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck - Wikipedia

Indeed indeed. A three verse descant with an HUGE crescendo. Love this one. Am driving alone today and will play this at max and sing along.  

Day 18 and 100 posts of mainly me saying not much. 

Plus ca change plus c’est le meme chose

I hope you like this one