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Regifting Some Gems From Holidays Long Past

We're all familiar with the famous holiday songs like "Silent Night" and "Joy to the World" -- sometimes too familiar. But just like that box of misfit toys up in the attic, there are countless songs that no one plays anymore. Tom Manoff looks at some music he's listening to this season that never made it to the favorites list, from the medieval Hungarian to the early American.

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Misfit Tunes: Little Known Holiday Music

Christmas Music From Medieval Hungary

"Omnes Unanimiter"

By Anonymous 4

The haunting, cerebral sounds in this tune reach back to a tradition at least a thousand years old, and most likely far older. Written by an unknown composer in medieval Hungary, it's performed to perfection by the vocal group Anonymous 4.

Carols From The Old And New Worlds, Vol. II


By The Pro Arte Singers

Born in Boston before the American Revolution, composer William Billings is regarded today as the father of American choral music. His style was often criticized as rough-hewn in comparison with European music. It is unmistakably American with its sturdy New England hymn influence. This energetic Christmas piece is conducted by the legendary choral conductor Paul Hillier.

A Festival Of Nine Lessons & Carols

"A Tender Shoot"

By King's College Choir of Cambridge

The Kings' College Cambridge Choir is one of the finest choral groups in the world. I play them endlessly throughout the holiday season. Here's a little-known carol  called "A Tender Shoot," which, as the words tell us: "Blooms in the cold bleak winter, turning out darkness into light."

A Feast of Songs: Holiday Music From The Middle Ages


By Barry Hall

Barry and Beth Hall are folk musicians who play medieval music with exuberance. This instrumental piece is based on the old Christmas carol "Patapan."

Tom Manoff
Composer and author Tom Manoff has been the classical music critic for NPR's All Things Considered since 1985.