Christmas in July: Piano/Organ Repertoire for Advent/Christmas

by Tim Shaw

I love the holiday season—even though it can be a stressful time—and I love the music that accompanies Advent and Christmas. Every year, I look forward to taking out my collection of seasonal music and playing through it again, and it always feels like spending time with good friends I haven’t seen for a while. It’s July, so you may (or may not!) be in planning mode for the upcoming year—I hope you’ll consider programming some of the following piano and organ repertoire. These are some of my favorite resources, and I find myself turning to them over and over again. Most of these titles are available through Prelude Music Planner. Some are in the public domain and are available (for free!) through the International Music Score Library Project (*

Piano Selections

  • Piano Reflections on Advent Tunes, by Anne Krentz Organ (Augsburg Fortress). This lovely collection of eight Advent tunes includes some not commonly arranged for piano, like Star of County Down (“Canticle of the Turning”) and Lucent (“As the Dark Awaits the Dawn”).
  • Advent Piano Variations, by Lee Dengler (Concordia). In this collection, each tune is given three settings, which can be played individually or together. I find that kind of versatility to be extremely useful in “real life” situations where music may need to be extended or abbreviated. Tunes include: Veni Emmanuel, Bereden väg för Herran, and Freu dich sehr.
  • Hymn Settings for the Year: 55 Piano Gems, by Timothy Shaw (Augsburg Fortress). The pieces in this collection span the liturgical calendar, and all of them are relatively short. They make good interludes and hymn introductions. Eight Advent/Christmas tunes are in this book: Besançon, Greensleeves, Il est né, Mendelssohn (hymn accompaniment), Picardy, Sussex Carol, Veni Emmanuel, and W żłobie leży.
  • Christmas Jazz: Suite for Piano, by John Carter (Augsburg Fortress). There are ten tunes in this delightful collection that has a jazzy flare. Chord voicings and subtle syncopations make these settings really sparkle. My two favorites are Veni Emmanuel and Es ist ein Ros.
  • Christmas Piano Variations, by Lee Dengler (Concordia). Like the Advent collection above, this book includes three settings on three tunes: W żłobie leży, Personent hodie, and Es ist ein Ros. Each one features excellent, idiomatic writing for the piano.
  • Miscellaneous titles
  • Franz Liszt wrote a suite of twelve pieces titled Weihenachtsbaum (“Christmas Tree”). There are two that I often play, and neither is difficult to learn: no. 3, The Shepherds at the Manger (In dulci jubilo) and no. 4, Adeste fidelis (March of the Three Holy Kings).
  • The ninth movement of Max Reger’s Aus der Jugendzeit (op. 17) is titled Weihnachtstraum, and it is a fantasy on Stille Nacht. While Reger is better known for his organ compositions, this delicate piano piece is a beautiful choice for Christmas Eve services.

Organ Selections

  • For Manuals Only: Advent and Christmas, by Edwin T. Childs (Augsburg Fortress). These eleven settings are well-written yet easy to play. This is a great choice for organists who are unable to invest a lot of time in rehearsal.
  • Partita on Savoir of the Nations, Come, by Timothy Shaw (Concordia). This partita is quite effective on modest instruments with limited tonal colors. The movements include: I. Chorale, II. Aria, III. Duo, IV. Variation, V. Canon, and VI. Major.
  • Simply Christmas, by John Leavitt (Concordia). You can use this volume in its entirety in one Christmas worship service or separately throughout the season. The pieces are designed as prelude, offertory, communion meditation, and postlude (there are two postludes). With minimal pedal, you won’t need to invest a lot of time learning these settings: Fum Fum Fum, Puer Natus in Bethlehem, Divinum mysterium, Gloria, and The First Nowell.
  • A Quiet Christmas, by Douglas Wagner (Hope). The six settings in this collection are perfect for reflective moments in Christmas services. My favorites from this book are Il est né and Noël nouvelet.
  • The Oxford Book of Christmas Organ Music, compiled by Robert Gower (Oxford). This anthology should be on every church organist’s bookshelf. Ranging from easy to difficult, the pieces in this collection span the centuries—Buxtehude and Bach are well-represented, alongside David Willcocks and John Rutter. While not suggested by the title, there are a couple Advent tunes included, too.
  • Miscellaneous titles
  • Johann Pachelbel wrote some fascinating chorale preludes. One of my favorites to use during Advent, and one that is not too difficult to learn, is Nun komm’ der Heiden Heiland (P. 386).
  • Near the end of his life, Johannes Brahms (uncharacteristically) wrote Eleven Chorale Preludes (op. 122) for organ. The eighth is a tender, manuals-only setting of Es ist ein Ros. Sometimes, I play this on piano, which works equally well.

*Please obey the copyright laws of your country. IMSLP does not assume any sort of legal responsibility or liability for the consequences of downloading files that are not in the public domain in your country.

Posted on Jul 10, 2018 4:19:00 PM
Filed Under: review-prelude,

Tim Shaw

Written by Tim Shaw

Timothy Shaw was born and raised in idyllic Keene, New Hampshire. He studied theology and music (theory, history, composition, piano) in college and graduate school, and he has enjoyed a multi-faceted career as professor, composer, church musician, and author. As a clinician and scholar, he has presented workshops, academic papers, hymn festivals, music reading sessions, and master classes at numerous universities, conferences, music societies, and churches throughout the United States. As a composer, he is the recipient of the 2019 ALCM Raabe Prize for Excellence in Sacred Composition. He has written extensively for the church and is published by Augsburg Fortress, Beckenhorst, Choristers Guild, Concordia, Fred Bock, Hope, MorningStar Music, Neil A. Kjos, and Shawnee Press. He also composes on commission, and he has written for David Kim (Philadelphia Orchestra concertmaster), Anne Martindale-Williams (Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra principal cellist), and Abington Presbyterian Church (Abington, Pennsylvania), among others.