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Top Tunes for Easter

A piano with Easter Eggs
A piano with Easter Eggs

From classic nursery tunes, through to beloved hymns and great works of classical music, Easter, like Christmas has some great music. Luckily, here at 8notes, we have you covered at Easter time, with a great selection of seasonal sheet music. Here are some of our favourites!

Hot Cross Buns

This classic English nursery tune started life as a street cry from vendors selling hot cross buns, a type of spicy and sweetened bread, sometimes toasted and usually spread with butter. Hot cross buns are associated with the end of the fasting period of Lent and are usually eaten around Good Friday. This simple tune is perfect to sing with young children, or for beginning players.

Easter Hymn

There are a number of great hymns associated with Easter. One of the most beloved is the 'Easter Hymn,' also known as 'Jesus Christ is Risen Today' or 'Christ the Lord is Risen Today.' The tune is from a 1708 German collection, with the poetic name 'Lyra Davidica' (Harp of David). Its rousing repetition of the 'Alleluia' after each line, makes it an exhilarating piece to sing, especially in a great arrangement like this:

Mascagni: Easter Hymn from Cavalleria Rusticana

A different sort of Easter hymn. Taken from Mascagni's opera 'Cavalleria Rusticana', it features a chorus of villagers singing a solemn hymn before they enter the church for the Easter service, leaving the main protagonists outside to continue the drama. Along with the Intermezzo, it is one of the best-known moment in the opera.

Pergolesi: Stabat Mater

Pergolesi's Stabat Mater was one of his last works, written whist he was ill with tuberculosis. The text takes the perspective of the Virgin Mary as she suffers whilst her son is being crucified. It has been set by many composers over the centuries, but Pergolesi's, for soprano, alto and strings is probably the most well-known. The final movement Cuando Corpus (including the final 'Amen') was used for childhood scenes featuring the composer Antonio Salieri in the 1984 movie 'Amadeus':

Mahler: Urlicht from Symphony No 2, ‘Resurrection’

Mahler's Second Symphony was written in response to the death of friend and conducting colleague Hans von Bülow. It was inspired by Mahler hearing the words 'Rise again, yes, you shall rise again / My dust' at Bülow's funeral. This led to the creation of a work whose central themes are redemption and resurrection, though the work itself is not explicitly related to Easter. The beautiful song 'Urlicht' forms the fourth movement and serves as prelude to the work's finale. In it the soloist yearns for release from worldly woes and instead the bliss of heaven.

Handel: Messiah

Part 1 of Handel's celebrated oratorio deals with the prelude to the Christmas story and one scene from the Christmas story itself ('There were shepherds abiding in their fields'). Part 2 tells the story of Easter, culminating in the exhilarating Hallelujah chorus.

Other great moments include the arias Behold and see, But Thou Didst Not Leave and Why do the Nations so Furiously Rage Together?. There are also a phenomenal number of great choruses that seem to gather in momentum as work progresses towards the 'Hallelujah' chorus. Singers can practice every one of these choruses with our Choral Parts with Playback' feature, here.

Miserere: Allegri

An Easter work that was considered so precious by the papal authorities that the sheet music was not allowed to leave the hallowed precincts of the Vatican. This famously led to other composers writing down the piece by ear—Mozart is rumoured to have done so after just one hearing. These days, happily, the sheet music is not so closely guarded, so we can all enjoy one of the most spine-chillingly beautiful choral works ever written.

J.S.Bach: St. Matthew Passion and St. John Passion

Bach's musical dramatisations of the Easter story are among Western music's greatest achievements. He is rumoured to have written a setting for each of the four gospels, though only two survive, the St. Matthew and St. John Passions. Though they tell the same story, they are very different in musical character. The St. John Passion is shorter, tauter and more dramatic. The St. Matthew emphasises the more meditative side of the Passion story and is generally considered the greater of the two:

There are numerous great moments in both works, for example the arias Können Tränen meiner Wangen, Erbarme dich and Betrachte, meine Seele. There are also many great choruses, all of which can practised with our ‘Choral Parts with Playback' feature for the St. John Passion and for the St. Matthew Passion.