Audio: A Christmas symphony

I give you herewith “Santa Claus (Christmas Symphony)” by William Henry Fry, an American composer and critic who lived from 1813-1864. He was a most interesting musician and writer, and is often credited as the first native-born American to write a grand opera and to compose for large symphony orchestra. As a critic, he advocated for the performance of American music and encouraged composers to look to our folk music for inspiration long before Dvorak did so in the 1890s.

The symphony posted above is perhaps not a masterpiece, but neither is it anything to sniff at. You will hear a distinctly American touch here and there. The piece was given its premiere on Christmas Eve, 1853, in New York. It is performed here by the Royal Scottish Orchestra conducted by Tony Rowe.

“Santa Claus (Christmas Symphony)” is a programmatic work in one movement, which, according to George Templeton Strong, consisted of,

“an Introduction, Slow Movement, Christmas Merrymakings, Juvenile Dances and Songs, Separation of the Merrymakers as midnight approaches. Prayers of the Children, Lullaby, Stillness (all being hushed in slumber), A Snow Storm and Episode of a Perishing Traveler, The Church Bell tolls midnight, Santa Claus comes in his sleigh and distributes Christmas Gifts, Visions of happy sleep. Angels chanting the glad tidings. Sunrise, Joy of Children on discovering their toys, Christmas Hymn, Adeste fidelis—and Grand Finale—Hallelujah Chorus!”

Fry passed out a detailed program of the work for the opening night audience. A scholarly, but clearly written, discussion of the premiere, and the ensuing controversy, is here.

Merry Christmas.