Best Advent Songs – Classical Music


The Advent period begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve and marks the beginning of Christmas. It is believed that the tradition of celebrating Advent was started by Bishop Perpetuus in the fifth century, when he ordered people to fast three times a week from Midsummer’s Day on November 11 until Christmas. The St John’s College Choir, Cambridge Music Director Andrew Nethsingha is the perfect person to ask for his favorite Advent works as his choir is renowned for their annual Advent service, broadcast on BBC Radio 3.

The word Advent comes from Latin aventus meaning ‘to come; arrival’.

The best Advent songs

John Joubert: There is no rose

Without doubt the most perfect Advent song of the 20th century. Exquisitely crafted, with charming simplicity.

Herbert Howells: A flawless rose

An emblematic work of the beginning of Advent, written some 25 years before its most famous hymns. One of the gems of the season!

We named ‘A flawless rose‘ a die best christmas carols ever

James Burton: Tomorrow will be my dance day

When St John’s College Cambridge commissioned this piece for Advent, I asked the composer “Something fun, wacky, quirky, catchy, quick …” and he certainly checked these boxes! It’s a favorite of our choir, using well-known text that describes much of the life of Jesus.

* St John’s College, Cambridge Advent Commission

Orlando Gibbons: This is John’s record

John the Baptist plays an important role in the season of Advent. This elegant 17th century hymn in verse is a model of captivating storytelling.

* Will be featured in St John’s College, Cambridge 2020 Advent to air on BBC Radio 3

Cecilia McDowall: A Prayer to Saint John the Baptist

An attractive new Advent work combining two texts from the 8th and 20th centuries, on an undulating organ accompaniment representing the water of baptism.

* St John’s College, Cambridge Advent Commission
* Will be featured in St John’s College, Cambridge 2020 Advent to air on BBC Radio 3

Elizabeth Poston: Jesus Christ, the apple tree

A traditional American text set to music of sublime simplicity, by a composer who loved folk songs.

Jonathan Harvey: The Annunciation

A deep and spiritual work: one of Harvey’s last compositions, in which he looks back on the poem by Edwin Muir which he had composed for the first time more than 40 years earlier.

* St John’s College, Cambridge Advent Commission

Giles Swayne: Adam lay ybounden

A virtuoso, captivating and very original staging for double choir and cello. A whole world seems to be contained in just five minutes!

* St John’s College, Cambridge Advent Commission

Roxanna Panufnik: The Call

A setting reminiscent of the famous poem by George Herbert, composed for choir and harp.

* St John’s College, Cambridge Advent Commission

Otto Goldschmidt: A tender shoot

Another perfect miniature, composed by the founder of the Bach Choir in London. It was included on St John’s debut LP in 1958.

come on, come on, Emmanuel

The Carol ‘O come, O come, Emmanuel’ is particularly poignant for the Advent period because it owes its origins to monastic life in the 8th and 9th centuries, when the monks sang Great Advent antiphons before and in anticipation of Christmas Eve.


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