A CHRISTMAS BLESSED AND FESTIVE
Oct 10, 2022
“My wish on this double album is to share and celebrate with you my own very personal Christmas, as I experienced it as a child. For me, as well as being the festival of love, Christmas also means magic, balm for the soul and a host of enchanting memories. Every year we celebrate this miraculous time once again with our families and children, pausing to reflect upon the original Christmas.
As a little girl, during the Christmas season I often used to sit on the window ledge, which was heated from below, cushions all around me and with a few Christmas cookies to nibble on. I would gaze out at the dancing snowflakes while listening to recordings of Christmas stories, poems and carols. All my childhood memories and my favourite carols – from the joyful ones such as Fröhliche Weihnacht (“Merry Christmas”) and Morgen Kinder wird’s was geben (“Tomorrow, children, we’re getting something”) to the gentler ones like Leise rieselt der Schnee (“Snow softly falling”) – I’ve included on this album. The sense of peace and contemplativeness that I used to feel then has shaped me to this day. And it is my sincere wish, particularly in these troubled times of ours, that this sense of inner peace flows into the hearts of all of us and the Christmas message is implanted there.
For me, Christmas is a hugely important festival, imbued with a sense of beatitude, something that is also manifested very strongly in music. And this is the inspiration behind this double album, which I have divided into a Christmas blessed and a Christmas festive.
My wonderful colleague and fantastic arranger, Richard Whilds from the Bavarian State Opera, has arranged and orchestrated the ‘blessed’ songs for me, also grouping them by theme. The result is a varied mix of art songs, traditional carols and medleys, with a children’s choir and me as solo vocalist – although very much for singing along to. It was especially important for me that this first CD was infused with the spirit of Christmas as well as a sense of simplicity. Large orchestra, smaller ensembles and the inclusion of solo instruments are all part of Richard’s overall conception, by means of which he achieves a wonderful range of colours.
You can perhaps imagine how Süßer die Glocken nie klingen (“Bells never sound sweeter”) takes me back to Christmas Eve and how, with a sense of excitement, I used to wait until the little bell finally rang and we gathered at the not-yet-open door to the living room where my mother, assisted by the angels (of this we were convinced as children), had been decorating the tree. Once I sneaked a peek through the keyhole and was sure I had seen a silver-haired angel in a red dress. It was magical. My mother would then put on an LP, which had church bells playing on it, and open the door. From out of the darkened living room we would be greeted by the candlelight emanating from the Christmas tree; the air was filled with the scent of mandarins and Christmas cookies and everyone was given a sparkler to hold. After the bells chimed, we all sang Silent Night, Holy Night – Grandma, Grandpa, the whole lot of us, large and small – and wished each other a happy and joyful Christmas.
Only then did things proceed gently to the unwrapping of presents and the exchange of thanks and good wishes, after which we sat down together for our meal. The rest of the evening was celebrated with Christmas carols in the background.
Silent Night, probably the most internationally known of all Christmas carols, is given special prominence on this recording. Anyone who’s seen the film Das ewige Lied with Tobias Moretti will know how this wonderful carol came about. We’ve made two arrangements of it for this album: an ‘international’ version, in the carol’s original guise, and the other incorporating the church bells as in my Christmas Eves back home – something for you either to relive or to try out with your family.
After the celebrations at home, I used to go with my family to the ‘Christmette’ or Midnight Mass – the grand finale of Christmas Eve and the culmination of the Christmas festivities. I have always loved church music and that sense of eternity or, you might say, the sense of Heaven on earth that it imparts. In church, Heaven really is all around us. A musical expression of jubilation is what I wanted to convey on the second CD, with an adult choir, large orchestra and the (heavenly!) trumpet playing of Matthias Höfs, and featuring baroque and classical works ranging from George Frideric Handel and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to Adolphe Adam. Also featured is a real rarity, Laudate pueri Dominum for soprano and solo trumpet by the Czech composer Jan Dismas Zelenka, which I chanced upon and is an absolute gem.
Christmas without music is and always has been unthinkable for me. A celebration of giving and gratitude, it touches our hearts and fills us with love. Besides that, it’s a celebration of hope and faith, sentiments that we pass on to our children to enrich and fortify them – an important tool, in short, to help us recognise the essential and truly important things in life.
Beauty, harmony, truthfulness and balance are essential for our sense of equilibrium and to muster the strength to adjust to our lives in a rapidly changing world. For me, art resides in simplicity – the greatest things are the simplest. And Christmas shows us this too: the naked new-born babe in the manger, the king and saviour of the world. I wish you much joy listening to this album and I hope it affords you a glimpse of my ideal Christmas.
Wishing you a wonderful and truly blessed Christmas!” – Diana Damrau