One of the greatest pieces of Advent music is not well known, nor often performed. In this Second Week of Advent, give yourself a half-hour to immerse yourself in the wonderful Christmas Cantata (Une Cantate de Noël) by Swiss composer Arthur Honegger (1892-1955). It begins almost inaudibly with a depiction of the deep darkness of humanity longing for God, with the cry “De profundis” (“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord”), which leads to a wondrous and playful juxtaposition of Christmas carols. The piece concludes with a majestic hymn of praise. I predict it will become one of your favorites. Fortunately, several good recordings are available on YouTube. Here’s one of the best.
Honegger was a Catholic, a man of deep faith in a very troubled and turbulent time in Europe. Perhaps that’s a good reason to promote a revival of his music today. The Christmas Cantata was his last work, completed only a year or so before he died. He had in mind to compose a similar work on the Passion and an Easter cantata, but these plans never materialized.
If you want to read more about this wonderful piece and this fascinating composer, I recommend these excellent program notes by Michael Moore of a concert of the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia and an extensive website devoted to Arthur Honegger, his life and music.