Christmas Liszt

When considering sacred Christmas music, Franz Liszt probably isn’t the first composer to come to mind. But Liszt, in fact, wrote a strange outlier of a Christmas Oratorio. It forms the first part of the sprawling Christus, composed between 1862 and 1866, which follows the example of Handel’s Messiah, dramatizing the life of Jesus Christ from birth, to passion, to resurrection.

Liszt’s Christmas Oratorio unfolds over a long, Wagnerian arc. Its five movements feel as much like a collection of tone poems as a choral work. The introductory first movement, the playfully pastoral fourth movement (Song of the Shepherds at the Manger), and the triumphant final movement (The Three Kings) are for orchestra, alone. This is music which unfolds through color and atmosphere rather than plot. There are no recitatives and soloists do not portray specific characters. In his 2005 article in Choral Journal, David Friddle suggests that this music develops in a way that anticipates the twentieth century film score. In 1911, Arnold Schoenberg wrote,

One need think merely of [Liszt’s] Christus to know a work whose effect has still to dawn. Perhaps the day has almost come when contact will be re-established with its tone, its intentions, for our time is again seeking God; this search characterizes it better than do the most outstanding technical achievements.


Liszt’s Weihnachtsbaum (“Christmas Tree”) is a suite of twelve short pieces for solo piano. Some of the movements are based on Christmas carols, while others are believed to depict Liszt’s relationship with the Princess Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein- a Polish noblewoman with whom Liszt pursued a 40-year liaison. There are some incredible moments in this collection which sound strangely contemporary. Drop the needle here and you might guess you were hearing the early Impressionism of Debussy.

Here is a live 2012 performance by Hungarian pianist Balázs Fülei:


  • Liszt: Christus, Hungarian State Orchestra, Antal Doráti Amazon
  • Liszt: Christmas Tree, Claudio Colombo iTunes

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

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