Advent and Christmas music for the organ

I’ve been doing my personal #project5050 at the organ for several years now. This means that I choose music from both female and male composers for all the church services I play, be it the traditional Sunday service, a wedding, a funeral… In my “main” church, I write a small poster with information on the pieces and the composers every time I play and put it up where the congregation can see it. And I’ve had quite a few good conversations about this over time.

Sometimes my 50-50 ideas lead to interesting conclusions among the parishioners. Once I had a piece by Pasi Lyytikäinen in my set, and someone asked, please, could I tell him which country Madam Pasi came from? And I said, well, it might be a lesser known name, but it’s not Madam in this case. 😉

Advent (and Christmas) is approaching and I thought why not share some of the names of female composers whose works could be played and thus made heard and known in one or more of the hopefully many services we organists have on our list.

So, here are some suggestions – and I’d be happy to hear from you if you have any additional names, resources, ideas…

Carlotta Ferrari has written many, many pieces for organ. I especially like her Pastorales, and you will find suitable pieces for both Advent and Christmas in her oeuvre.

Mel Bonis, Pastorale op. 156. A lovely, not too difficult piece in G major, playable on small and large instruments. Get the Edition by Georges Lartigau (Editions Fortin-Armiane) – the pastorale is in volume 2.

In Cécile Chaminade‘s op. 171, La nef sacrée, you will find several pastorales, playable manuals only or with pedals. You can get this opus from B-note.

Emma Louise Ashford has written a lovely piece called “Christmas Chimes” – unfortunately the website where I found the sheet music seems to be offline.

In the “12 Chorale Preludes on Gregorian Chant Themes”, op. 8 by Jeanne Demessieux, there are two pieces for Advent and Christmas: the meditative “Rorate Coeli” and the lively “Adeste fideles”. You need two manuals for both pieces. Op. 8 is available by Alfred Publishing.

Dorothy Wells is the editor of a collection of Christmas hym settings and adaptions published by de Haske and has contributed a version of “Away in a manger” – not too difficult, and you will need two manuals.

Two pieces by Rosalie Bonighton and two pieces by June Nixon can be found in the Kevin Mayhew collection “The Christmas Organist”.

Margaretha Christina de Jong, another prolific contemporary composer, has written several Christmas season pieces, fantasias, variations… for a short manuals-only piece have a look at “Weihnachtsgedanke” (Christmas thoughts) in op. 71 (publisher: Butz).

There’s a fantastic collection of modern Advent and Christmas pieces by Swedish Gehrmans Musikförlag (“Lux Bethlehem”) which includes pieces by Maria Löfberg. Two or more manuals required.

Last but not least the marvellous “Tales of Christmas” published by Certosa with contributions by Elizabeth Austin, Andrea Csollány, Emma Lou Diemer and Julia Schwartz. Some pieces need two manuals, others can be done on smaller organs, too.

This list could probably (hopefully!) be longer, and as I said before, if you would like to contribute, feel free to get in touch.

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