The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: On Christmas Day, YOU MUST HEAR THIS – “The Shepherd’s Farewell” chorus from the oratorio “L’Enfance du Christ” by Hector Berlioz. | December 25, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Christmas Day, 2014.

As this year’s gift, The Ear wants to share something special.

It is a work that usually gets drowned out at Christmas time by more familiar works — from “Messiah” by George Frideric Handel, the “Christmas Oratorio” by Johann Sebastian Bach, “The Nutcracker” by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, “Amahl and the Night Visitors” by Gian Carlo Menotti and the “Christmas Concerto” by Arcangelo Corelli.

The work I am talking about is the “Shepherd’s Farewell” to the infant Jesus whose family — Virgin Mary and father Joseph — must flee its homeland in face of the death threats posed by King Herod.

It comes from “L’Enfance du Christ” (The Childhood of Jesus) by the early French Romantic composer Hector Berlioz (below). The story goes that he was bored at a dinner party and sketched it out on a linen napkin.


True story or not, the music is gloriously beautiful, calm and reassuring — in an appropriately pastoral way. This neglected chorus -– in fact, the whole neglected oratorio — deserves to be a much more integral part of Christmas celebrations.

Maybe in future years, Hector Berlioz’ “L’Enfance du Christ” could be performed, in part or in its entirety, by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Choral Union and UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra. It would make a wonderful holiday addition, or even tradition.

Anyway, you listen and you decide.

Then tell us what you think in the COMMENTS section.

The Ear wants to hear.

So here is the music, in a YouTube video at the bottom, running just under 5 minutes.




  1. love L’enfance du Christ and have been hoping since 1975 for a local performance. seems like a long time to wait. singing it in college with munch conducting was a great experience. seems like a more dramatic christmas depiction than many of the more familiar works.

    Comment by Gretta Gribble — December 28, 2014 @ 9:34 pm

  2. Hi Jake and Merry Christmas. Michele and I attended the Lessons and Carols service at St Thomas yesterday afternoon and were touched by the music performed by the choirs (especially the Boy Choir) and by the organist/choirmaster, playing the fabulous new organ. A piece by John Rutter — All Bells in Paradise — was especially sweet and worth a listen. All the best. Bruce

    Comment by Bruce Croushore — December 25, 2014 @ 5:54 pm

  3. Merry Christmas, Ear! And all musicians and music lovers!

    Comment by slfiore — December 25, 2014 @ 9:11 am

  4. So beautiful and calming!You must have heard this, as I did , on “Nine Lessons and Carols” from King’s College, yesterday. My son recorded it so we had the pleasure of listening to it again last night. It really stuck in my head. I especially loved the rich harmonies and the sound of shepherds’ pipes from the woodwinds (?).

    Comment by Ann Boyer — December 25, 2014 @ 6:11 am

  5. Merry Christmas, Ann!

    Warm wishes for a happy 2015!


    Sent from my iPhone

    Comment by Kathleen Harker — December 25, 2014 @ 1:26 am

    • And a very merry Christmas to you, Kathy. As Tiny Tim would say: God bless us, every one!

      Comment by Ann Boyer — December 25, 2014 @ 6:17 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,268 other followers

    Blog Stats

    • 2,374,499 hits
%d bloggers like this: