Easter Music Everyone Should Know

Music is frequently written for or about holidays. Easter is no different. This week I want to highlight music that was made to celebrate Easter. Here are seven works by great composers of all ages. Let me know which you liked and which you didn’t care for. Also, share these with your kids.

Spotify Playlist with all selections

1. Johann Sebastian Bach: St. Matthew’s Passion

St. Matthew’s Passion is one of Bach’s late works and regarded as a masterpiece of counterpoint and harmony. Many historians mark it as the highest point in the composer’s illustrious career making edits to the score just years before his death.

2. Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov: Russian Easter Festival Overture

From the land where Easter eggs originated, Rimsky-Korsakov blends the sacred with the secular.

3. Gustav Mahler: Symphony Number 2, Resurrection

Mahler’s second was the first of his really, really big symphonies and it comes from a times when all music seemed to be programed. Every composer after Beethoven who sought to write symphonies lived in a shadow and had to consider what to do that would drive the form forward. Bigger was one answer. Adding vocalist and choir was another. If you want a shorter version to listen to, limit your time to the last two movements.

4. George Frederic Handel: The Messiah

This is simply a great work. Many of the works written about or for Easter use choir to connect something so abstract to a story that is so concrete. Most people know the famous Hallelujah chorus. Fewer people know that is being sung about the resurrection.

5. Franz Joseph Haydn:  The Seven Last Words of Christ.

Haydn didn’t write much sacred music, but here is one of the examples. An orchestral setting of something that is so related to words. 

6. Carlo Gesualdo: Tenebrae Responsoria

As the prince of Venosa, Carlo Gesualdo didn’t need to worry about pleasing patrons (because he was rich) so he developed a very unique use of chromaticism in this medieval music setting of the passion.

7. Arvo Pärt: Passio

The only living composer on the list, Estonian born Arvo Pärt approaches Easter from an Eastern Orthodox perspective and a minimalist style. 

Enjoy the music and have a wonderful Easter celebration.