Otto Nicolai

Weinachtsouvertüre über "Vom Himmel Hoch" for orchestra & chorus ad lib

    Description by Joseph Stevenson

    This is more than just an accomplished apprentice work. Although naïve and lacking the sophistication of his later opera overtures, this Christmas overture shows the 23-year-old Otto Nicolai (1810 - 1849) had already become a good orchestrator and was able to live up to his ideal -- gained from Mozart's music -- of achieving formal balance and clarity. He was from the provincial city of Königsberg in Prussia (now Kaliningrad, Russia). The phenomenon of public concerts mostly frequented by the rising middle class meant it was not longer necessary to get an academic job, a position at some court, in a church, or at one of the theaters frequented by the aristocracy. This Christmas overture is obviously targeted at the tastes of Nicolai's audience. It is a 10- or 11-minute concert overture with a choral conclusion. It opens with a slow introduction that is subject to being criticized as overly dark in mood. Then again, it is based on a text from the Bible that reads "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light." The "great light" happens musically when the tempo picks up, but the bass line intones the very familiar Christmas chorale Von Himmel hoch da komm 'ich her (From Heaven Above I Come). This rises to a triumphant conclusion in which the chorus joins singing that chorale, perhaps joined by an optional organ. The overture's first performance was, oddly enough, on May 29, 1833, at the Garnisonkirche in Berlin. There were three more performances, in Leipzig and Vienna, but the work was never published and remained unheard and forgotten for decades.

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2012 MDG / Zebralution
    2011 Denon Records
    2011 Haenssler / Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler CD 98635
    2010 Denon Records
    2010 Denon Records
    2010 Denon Records
    2010 Denon Records
    2010 Virgin Classics 628508
    2010 Virgin Classics
    2005 MDG 1268
    2004 Hänssler Classic / Haenssler 93114
    Digital Masterworks 71855