Press Play: “Northern Lights” by Ola Gjeilo

Anyone who has ever witnessed the northern lights knows that trying to describe them in words is pretty pointless. They are so magnificent, so overpoweringly everywhere, so deafeningly silent, that they almost make living in Scandinavia sound like a good idea. And even if they can’t be described in words, Norway’s Ola Gjeilo does a pretty good job of setting them to music in this piece.

Key moment: The wonderfully crunchy chord at 2.23.

That makes me think of: The way the altos hold that last note for the final 800 bars or so makes me think of French singer Camille’s 2005 album “Le Fil”, in which one note, sustained in the background of every single song, ties the whole album together.

Andrew Moore is our blogger-in-residence, and author of the music blog Beautiful Song of the Week.”

Press Play: “The Lamb” by John Tavener

I love this piece because despite being simple, it is also changeable. Depending on your mood, it could provide a good soundtrack for Christmas morning, or midnight on Halloween.

Key moment: At 3.00, the piece switches from a homophonic chant to a lovely polyphonic lullaby.

That makes me think of: Bear with me here, but this piece reminds me of “Mouth’s Cradle” by Bjork. That song was written for Bjork’s daughter, while “The Lamb” was written for Tavener’s nephew. Both songs feature lovely harmonies and jarring dissonance.

Tavener and Bjork overlap more than you might think. They were both child prodigies. Both fairly experimental, forward-looking composers. They both sported long flowing hair. And to top it off, the two have actually collaborated. Tavener wrote a piece of music for Bjork, and when asked why, he responded, “…I don’t see why not. She’s far more intelligent than most classical singers.”

Andrew Moore is our blogger-in-residence, and author of the music blog Beautiful Song of the Week.”

Press Play: “Worthy Is The Lamb” by Handel

More than just Christmas music, this is victory music. It’s music that should be installed at the peak of every mountain, and played automatically when anyone reaches the summit.

Key moment: At 3.33, Handel slows things down for one more giant “forever and ever”. And then, leaving just enough time for everyone to catch their breath, he picks up the tempo again before launching into the “amen” section.

That makes me think of: To me, Handel always feels like the baroque version of AC/DC. You know exactly what you’re getting. Big, straightforward, all-out. The kind of music that goes well with fireworks. A cynic might say that it lacks variety, or that it all sounds the same…but when it’s all good, the same isn’t so bad.

Andrew Moore is our blogger-in-residence, and author of the music blog Beautiful Song of the Week.”

Press Play: “Balulalow” by Benjamin Britten

There have been a lot of Britten-related things floating around the interwebs these days, on account of his recent 100th birthday. And while there is plenty of his music to celebrate, I’d like to focus on this tiny yet beautiful little Christmas gem from his “Ceremony of Carols”. The haunting harp, the sublime opening solo, and the constant major-minor chord changes are guaranteed spine-tinglers.

Key moment: The final phrase of the solo, at about 30 seconds, that ends with a wonderful high G as the rest of the choir enters.

That makes me think of: The 6/4 time and the way the key keeps shifting from major to minor reminds me of “Norwegian Wood” by The Beatles. Funnily enough, Britten’s “Ceremony of Carols” was composed in 1942; the same year that Paul McCartney was born.

Andrew Moore is our blogger-in-residence, and author of the music blog Beautiful Song of the Week.”

Press Play: “O Magnum Mysterium” by Francis Poulenc

Francis Poulenc lived from 1899 until 1963, and I think that sometime shortly after he died a law was passed declaring that all Christmas music composed from henceforth was required to be absolutely terrible. Hence songs like this one. And this one. Oh, and let’s not forget this one. Thankfully, during his life, Poulenc gave us some gorgeous Christmas music, like, his haunting “O Magnum Mysterium”.

Key moment: The awesome, unexpected chord change at 2:36. Poulenc’s chord changes are always satisfying surprises, like finding something tucked way down in the toe of your stocking when you thought it was empty.

That makes me think of: Another French creation, “Modular Mix” by Air. The twinkly noises at about 1:16 of Air’s song give it the same sense of wonder as Poulenc’s chord changes.

Andrew Moore is our blogger-in-residence, and author of the music blog Beautiful Song of the Week.”