The joy of the Christmas season is an unending fountain of creativity for musicians. I reviewed over fifty new organ collections for the Christmas/Advent/Epiphany season from several publishing houses. The spirit of the season is alive and well in the writing of new organ music. The following collections are those I found most rewarding for worship and inspiring for congregational singing. Each is marked E (Easy), M (Moderate), or D (Difficult).
SOLO ORGAN MUSIC
FOR THE SEASON
Behnke, John A. Three Global Songs. Hope Publishing Co., 1999. #8057. 17 pp. $9.95. E.
Behnke sets three Epiphany songs of the world church for organ: Siyahamba (“We Are Singing for the Lord Is Our Light”), “Halle, Halle, Halle,” and linstead, also known as “Let Us Talents and Tongues Employ.” These are artfully arranged for organ—with optional percussion!
Behnke, John A. The Nativity: Five Hymn Preludes for the Christmas Season. Hope Publishing Co., 1998. #2019. 14 pp. $7.95. E-M.
Here are five settings of familiar Christmas carols that can be easily learned and effectively performed. Behnke uses a nice variety of writing styles, and his registrations would work well even on a smaller instrument. I especially liked his energetic setting of “Angels We Have Heard on High,” which would work well as an introduction to the hymn.
Blersch, Jeffrey. Fanfare and Processional. Concordia Publishing House, 1998. #97-6722. 8 pp. $4.00. M (if solo organ); E (if you let a trumpeter play the melody).
For those fortunate to have a trumpet stop or a good solo trumpeter, this new fanfare and processional is a winner. Stately and pompous, this tune will leave you humming it all day long! Useful for capturing the festive and grand event of Advent, but also tuck it away in your wedding file for new and useful wedding music.
Burkhardt, Michael. Five Christmas Hymn Improvisations, Set Three. Morning Star Publishers, 1999. #10-137. 20 pp. $9.50. M.
How gratifying to have Burkhardt continue this series of Christmas hymn improvisations—both previous collections should be in your file. These work well for festive hymn introductions or solo works for organ, or to help you craft your own hymn concertato with congregation and choir.
Callahan, Charles. Christmas Music for Manuals. Morning Star Publishers, 1998. #10-135. 10 pp. $7.00. E.
Callahan creates interesting textures and effective settings of carols for manuals alone. Each of the eight settings has its own flair. Very useful.
Cherwien, David. Prelude for Christmas: Five Familiar Carols arranged for Organ with Unison Voices or Instrument. AMSI Art Masters Studios Inc., 1997. #SP-201. 15 pp. $9.50. E.
This is a great resource for a junior choir director. Cherwien has arranged five familiar carols with colorful organ accompaniments. Most children would hopefully already know the tunes, so preparation time would be minimal. Also would work for organ and solo instrument playing the vocal line.
Cherwien, David. Seasonal Interpretations: Advent-Christmas. AMSI Art Masters Studios Inc., 1997. #SP-110. 25 pp. $9.75. M-D.
In the same style of his popular series Interpretations, Cherwien uses the text of each Christmas hymn to inspire an appropriate hymn introduction.
Copely, Evan. Five Christmas Fantasies. Concordia Publishing House, 1998. #97-6723. 20 pp. $8.00. E.
While the first and last pieces of this collection were a bit too formulaic, I loved the middle pieces—especially the lovely setting of “What Child Is This.” These settings would work well for smaller organs.
Diemer, Emma Lou. Seasonal Psalms for Organ, Volume One. Sacred Music Press, 1999. #70/1258S-4. 32 pp. $12.50. D.
For those daring to try an unexpected take on hymn tunes, look no further! Have you ever seen a fortissimo fantasia on “Silent Night” (my favorite of the bunch)? Diemer is always fresh, and this latest collection, mediations on psalm texts freely using hymn tunes, is no exception. The first two pieces would be useful for the Advent season.
Farlee, Robert Buckley. Carols for Organ and Oboe. Augsburg Fortress, 1998. #11-10865. 36 pp. $15.00. M-D.
For those fortunate to have an oboe player in their congregation, this would be a valuable resource.
Held, Wilbur. Four Advent Hymn Preludes, Set Two. Morning Star Publishers, 1998. #10-012. 16 pp. $8.00. M.
This is the continuation of Set One by the same title. The first two settings (“Come, Thou Long-Expected
Jesus” and “Creator of the Stars of Night”) would work well as preludes, the last two (“O Savior, Rend the Heavens Wide” and “Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying”) as postludes.
Leavitt, John. Christmas Suite: Six Carols for Organ. Augsburg Fortress, 1998. #11-10857. 18 pp. $15.00. M.
Interesting settings that are well-written and include good suggestions for registration. A fresh take on often-used tunes.
Lovelace, Austin C. Fantasy, Trio, and Toccata on O, Come, O, Come, Emmanuel. Concordia Publishing House, 1998. #97-6724. 11 pp. $6.00. E
Lovelace does a great job of avoiding cliché writing with, arguably, the most often-set tune of Advent. This is a nice length for a prelude; or each of the three movements could be used as a prelude, offertory and postlude, respectively. Easily learned. Highly recommended.
Lovelace, Austin C. Joyful Tidings: Four Easy Preludes on Christmas Hymns. AMSI Art Masters Studios Inc., 1997. #OR-27. 16 pp. $9.50. E.
Many church musicians are familiar with the consistently high-quality work of Austin Lovelace. These four miniatures are no exception—well-crafted and useful. Think of the entire collection as a suite with four movements, and use it as a Christmas prelude.
Manz, Paul. Three Hymn Settings for Organ. Morning Star Publishers, 1999. #10-522. 16 pp. $8.50. M.
We’re always excited to have new works published by Paul Manz. This collection is three previously-unpublished hymn settings. The quiet setting of “Beautiful Savior” would make a lovely Advent offertory.
Nelson, Ronald A. Three French Carols. AMSI Art Masters Studio Inc., 1998. #OR-28. $4.95. E.
This collection is for manuals only, and all three settings together would work well as a prelude. However, none of the carols are in most hymnals: “Here We Are in Bethlehem,” “What Is This Lovely Fragrance?” and “He Is Born.”
Osterland, Karl. I Wonder and I Wander: Seasonal Hymn Preludes. Augsburg Publishing Co., 1998. #11-10858. 28 pp. $15.00. E-M.
Look at the energetic setting of “Rise Up Shepherd and Follow!”
Sedio, Mark. How Blessed This Place: Hymn Preludes for Organ. Augsburg Publishing Co., 1998. #11-10934. 27 pp. $15.00. M.
For the Advent season, the Triptych, Canon, and Quodlibet on “Savior of the Nations, Come” would work well as a prelude.
Wegner, Richard. Christmas Meditation on an Old French Melody. Morning Star Publishers, 1998. #10-138. 7 pp. $6.00. E.
Here is a rare find: a work long enough to be a prelude by itself. This is a lovely tune we don’t see set often. Highly recommended and useful.
Wood, Dale. Wind Through the Olive Trees (for organ, handbells, harp or piano, and unison voices). Sacred Music Press, 1999. #70/1275S. 7 pp. $15.00. M.
I am excited to use this setting for Nine Lessons and Carols. The choir could frame the piece by singing the hymn melody, and Wood has composed a lush instrumental setting of the tune. I can’t wait to try this!
Albrecht, Timothy. Grace Notes VI. Augsburg Fortress, 1997. #11-10825. 22 pp. $15.00. M.
Seventeen hymn settings for organ. Many are followed by a hymn accompaniment that matches the style of the hymn setting. What is so valuable about this collection is the way Albrecht captures the spirit of the hymn text in the settings. Highly recommended.
Behnke, John A. Creative Hymn Accompaniments for Organ, Volume One. Concordia Publishing House, 1998. #97-6767. 51 pp. $25.00. E-M.
Each of these settings is intended to be used, judiciously, as an alternative accompaniment for selected stanzas of a hymn. Therefore, they’re not overly discordant, or musically jarring. They work well, and oftentimes Behnke sets the same composition in many different keys, ensuring a match with the key in your hymnal. As an added bonus, the book is spiral-bound!
I especially like the four different settings of “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come.” I suggest using these settings not as hymn accompaniments but as musical responses to the singing of each stanza. Used responsively, the first setting is joyful, the second and third more contemplative, and the final more grand—a nice complement to the stanzas of the hymn.
Kosnik, James W., editor. Laudate! Volumes One through Five. Concordia Publishing House, 1996. #97-6487; 97-6508; 97-6591; 97-6665; 97-6713. $15.00 each. M.
Kosnik has gathered over one hundred hymn settings for tunes found in Worship III and Gather, hymnals published by G.I.A. for the Catholic Church, though most of the tunes are found in other hymnals as well. These settings, spread over five volumes, are composed by some of the notable composers of our day: Charles Callahan, Richard Proulx, Austin Lovelace, Carl Shalk, Jacobus Kloppers, and many others. Useful, brief settings that will enrich congregational singing.
It was difficult to keep the book open on the music rack and have enough room for the open hymnal. It would be nice if this were spiral-bound, or if the hymn would be printed after the setting.