Oratorio de Noël

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Oratorio de Noël
Cantata by Camille Saint-Saëns
The Aristide Cavaillé-Coll organ at La Madeleine, where the music premiered
EnglishChristmas oratorio
Textfrom the Vulgate
Performed24 December 1858 (1858-12-24): Paris
Published1863 (1863)
  • soprano
  • mezzo-soprano
  • alto
  • tenor
  • baritone
  • mixed chorus
  • organ
  • harp
  • strings

The Oratorio de Noël, Op. 12, by Camille Saint-Saëns, also known as his Christmas Oratorio, is a cantata-like work scored for soloists, chorus, organ, strings and harp. While an organist at La Madeleine, Saint-Saëns wrote the Christmas oratorio in less than a fortnight, completing it ten days before its premiere on Christmas 1858.[1] The vocal score of this oratorio was prepared later by the composer and organist Eugene Gigout, a colleague of Saint-Saëns.

Performing forces[edit]

The work is scored for five soloists (soprano, mezzo-soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone), SATB mixed chorus, organ, harp, and strings in the standard five sections. The women of the chorus divide into four parts in one movement. The organ plays a significant role in the work, often playing alone, while the harp is limited to three movements.


Saint-Saëns chose several verses from the Latin Vulgate Bible for the text of the work. "While these texts are not from a single source, it is clear that the traditional church liturgies surrounding Christmas influenced Saint-Saëns. About half of the texts he chose match different portions of two Christmas Offices: the First Mass at Midnight and the Second Mass at Dawn."[2] One author calls the work "a musical enhancement of the words of the [Christmas] Office, without interest in the human drama."[3]

The narrative portion of the text, taken from the second chapter of St. Luke, appears in the second movement and tells the part of the traditional Christmas story involving the shepherds. The remainder of the texts, taken from John, Isaiah, Lamentations, and the Psalms, reflect upon the meaning and significance of the event.

Structure and style[edit]

Les Petits Chanteurs de Passy sing Tollite Hostias from the Oratorio de Noël

The Oratorio de Noël is structured in a way that "hardly exceeds the limits of a cantata, but musically is constructed in oratorio style."[4] However, "its shorter length and the fact that it was intended for presentation during a worship service place it closer in character and purpose to a traditional sacred cantata."[5] Its structure bears a greater resemblance to oratorios of the early Baroque than to later works of that genre.

Saint-Saëns divided the work into 10 movements, a prelude followed by nine vocal numbers. After the prelude, opening recitatives and chorus, the work gradually builds from a single soloist accompanied by a small ensemble to involve the entire instrumental and vocal forces. The full chorus sings in the second, sixth, and final movements and the women of the chorus accompany the tenor soloist in the fourth.

While there are brief episodes of grandeur in the solo parts and one frenetic section for the chorus, most of the work is subdued and lyrical in character. Saint-Saëns's study of the choral music of Bach, Handel, Mozart, Berlioz, and others had a great influence on the work, with the most significant influences being Part II of J. S. Bach's Christmas Oratorio and Gounod's St. Cecilia Mass.


  1. Prélude (dans le style de Seb. Bach), for organ and strings
  2. Recitative: “Et pastores erant”, for Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Baritone soloists, organ and strings; Chorus: "Gloria in altissimis," for mixed chorus, organ and strings
  3. Air: "Exspectans expectavi," for Mezzo-soprano soloist, organ and strings
  4. Air and chorus: “Domine, ego credidi,” for Tenor solo, women's chorus, organ and strings
  5. Duet: “Benedictus,” for Soprano and Baritone soloists, organ and harp
  6. Chorus: “Quare fremuerunt gentes,” mixed chorus, organ and strings
  7. Trio: “Tecum principium,” for Soprano, Tenor, and Baritone soloists, organ and harp
  8. Quartet: “Laudate coeli,” for Soprano, Mezzo-soprano, Alto, and Baritone soloists, organ and strings
  9. Quintet and chorus: “Consurge, filia Sion,” for all five soloists, chorus, organ, strings, and harp
  10. Chorus: “Tollite hostias,” for mixed chorus, organ and strings


Conductor Soloists Choir and orchestra Organ Harp date Label
Diethard Hellman Verena Schweizer, Soprano

Edith Wiens, Soprano

Helena Jungwirth, Alto

Friederich Melzer, Ténor

Kurt Widmer, Bass

Bachchor & Bachcorchester Mainz Hans-Joachim Bartsch Barbara Biermann 1976 Calig

report Profil

(Édition Günter Hänssler) 2005

Sylvain Cambreling Michèle Lagrange, Soprano

Annie Tasset, Mezzo-soprano

Georges Gauthier, Ténor

Hanna Schaer, Contralto

Paul Guigue, Baryton

Le Madrigal de Lyon

Orchestre de Chambre de Lyon

Paul Coueffé Germaine Lorenzini 1981 Arion

Grand Prix de l'Académie du Disque Lyrique

Anders Eby Anne Sophie von Otter, Mezzo-soprano

Britt-Marie Aruhn, Soprano

Erland Hagegård, Ténor

Ulf Lundmark, Bass

Ing-Mari Landin, Alto

Royal Opera Theater Orchestra

Mikaeli Chamber Choir

Lars Hagström Karin Langebo 1981 Proprius Musik AB


Piet Kiel Jr Marja Pool, Alto

Arthur Schildmeyer, Bass

Hélène Verslot, Mezzo-soprano

Wendela Bronsgeet, Soprano

Jos Van Der Lans, Ténor

L'Estro Armonico Piet Halsema Frieda Kahn 1983 Larigot
Martin Flämig Elisabeth Wilke

Armin Ude

Egbert Junghanns

Annette Market

Juta Zoff

Ute Selbig

Dresdner Kreuzchor

Dresdner Philarmonie

Michael-Christfried Winkler 1987 Capriccio
Jean-Louis Petit Claire Louchet, Soprano

Marie-Madelein Lauvin, Mezzo-soprano

Danielle Michel, Alto

Hervé Lamy, Ténor

Marc Thoron, Bass

Ensemble Polyphonique de Versailles

Ensemble instrumental de Ville d'Avray

Jean-Michel Louchart 1993 REM
Michael Weber Hendrik Ritter, Ténor

Steffen-Friedl-Schneider, Baritone

Traudl Well, Soprano

Andrea Forscher, Mezzo-soprano

Ulla Teich, Alto

Cor der Evangelischen Gemeinde Hemsbach/sulzbach

Lukas Kamerata Mannheim

Andreas Well 10/12/1995 SFS
Alexandros Myrat Julia Souglakou

Marina Fideli, mezzo-soprano

Marina Ferreira

Vanghelis Hatzisimos, tenor

Christoforos Stabogli, bass

Greek Radio and Television Choir

La Camerata

Martin Haselböck Ion Ivan-Roncea 1997 DOM
Sven-Ingvart Mikkelsen Tinebeth Hartkopf, Soprano

Bolette Bruno Hansen et Lilly Schulz, Mezzo-soprano

June Lund, Ténor

Lars Fentz Krogh, Bass

Logumkloster Vokal Ensemble Bent Sorensen Joost Schelling 1998 CD Scandinavian Classics
Jorge-Hannes Hahn Anna Maria Friman, Soprano

Aleksandra Lustig, Mezzo-soprano

Patricia Wagner, Alto

Andreas Wagner, Ténor

Tobias Schabe, Bassel

Cantus Stuttgart

Bachor Stuttgart

Bachorchester Stuttgart

Peter Kranfoed

Rie Hiroe-Lang

2005 Cantate
Holger Speck Antonia Bourvé, Soprano

Gundula Schneider, Mezzo-soprano

Sabine Czinczel, Alto

Marcus Ullman, Ténor

Jens Hamann, Baritone

Vocalensemble Rastatt

Les Favorites

Romano Giefer 2006 Carus
Ralf Otto Simona Houda-Šaturová, soprano

Regina Pätzer, mezzo-soprano

Anke Vondung, alto

Hans Jörg Mammel, tenor

Florian Boesch, baritone

Bachchor Mainz

L'arpa festante München

Petra Morath-Pusinelli Françoise Friedrich 2008 Deutsche Harmonia Mundi
Tim Keyes Justin Connors, Ténor

Victoria Lotkowictz, Mezzo-soprano

Gary Gavula, Baritone

Elisa Rush, Soprano

The Keyes Consort 2008 ALLMUSIC


Roberto Molinelli Orchestra da Camera delle Marche

Coro Colombati Città di Pergola

2009 You Tube


Christoph Poppen Ruth Ziesak, Soprano

Anja Schlosser, Mezzo-soprano

Claudia Mahnke, Mezzo-soprano

James Taylor, Ténor

Nikolai Borchev, Baritone

Saarbrücken, Chor & Orchestra 2008 DVD 16222


  • Music, David W. (1998). "Camille Saint-Saëns's Christmas Oratorio: Description, Accessibility, Comparison". The Choral Journal. American Choral Directors Association. 39 (5): 49–53. ISSN 0009-5028. JSTOR 23552680.
  • Barrow, Lee G. (2014). Camille Saint-Saëns, Christmas Oratorio. BarGraphica. ISBN 978-1-4973-9389-9.


  1. ^ Smither, Howard (2000). Chapel Hill, North Carolina A History of the Oratorio: The Oratorio in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. UNC Press books, p. 566.
  2. ^ Barrow, Lee G. (2014). Camille Saint-Saëns, Christmas Oratorio. BarGraphica, p. 33.
  3. ^ Rees, Brian (1999). Camille Saint-Saëns: a life. London: Chatto & Windus, p. 95.
  4. ^ Upton, George Putnam (1890). Chicago The Standard Oratorios: Their Stories, Their music, and Their Composers; a handbook, p. 269. A. C. McClurg and Company
  5. ^ Barrow (2014), p. 70

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