Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Great "O" Antiphons

As you'll notice in the Church Calendar of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (still the Book of Common Prayer in England and other places around the world), December 16 is designated "O Sapientia." This is the Antiphon Upon Magnificat at Vespers for the 16th - and the first of 8 "Great 'O' Antiphons" for this octave before Christmas.  The texts for the Great "O"s come in large part from the Prophets and from the Wisdom literature, and become mystical  proclamations, made daily during those eight days, of the coming of Christ.  They are over a thousand years old.

As I've posted them on this site for the past 4 years, I'll simply link to them all via this post this year; you'll find chant scores and audio files - and also some discussion of each antiphon - at each of the links.  (There are different years' versions linked in the sidebar, too.  Here's a good longish article about these antiphons, and some other related ones.  As well, this article contains a bit of historical information about the Great "O"s.)   These antiphons are beautiful - I'd love to find audio versions in English of them all, but haven't yet - and really do make the 8 days before Christmas something truly special.  I take a few minutes out of each day in the late afternoon or evening and sing each one as it occurs in the cycle. (EDIT: Scott has kindly left links to Healy Willan arrangements of the Great "O"s, in English, here. Many thanks to him.)

Blessed Sapientia-tide to you.

Here are mp3s of the first seven of the Antiphons, sung on either side of the Magnificat, (itself sung to the Solemn Tone) as they would be at Vespers, from MusicaSacra:

Here are the Latin and modern English (US BCP 1979) versions of the Magnificat, so that you can sing along if you wish.

Magnificat: anima mea Dominum.
Et exultavit spiritus meus: in Deo salutari meo.
Quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae:
ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent omnes generationes.
Quia fecit mihi magna, qui potens est:
et sanctum nomen eius.
Et misericordia eius, a progenie et progenies:
timentibus eum.
Fecit potentiam in brachio suo:
dispersit superbos mente cordis sui.
Deposuit potentes de sede:
et exaltavit humiles.
Esurientes implevit bonis:
et divites dimisit inanes.
Suscepit Israel puerum suum:
recordatus misericordiae suae.
Sicut locutus est ad patres nostros:
Abraham, et semini eius in saecula.

Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto,
Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; *
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed: *
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him *
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm, *
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel, *
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
The promise he made to our fathers, *
to Abraham and his children for ever.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: *
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

And here's Zoltán Kodály's gorgeous "Veni, veni, Emmanuel," sung here by L'Accorche-Choeur, Ensemble vocal Fribourg:
Veni, Veni Emmanuel is a synthesis of the great "O Antiphons" that are used for Vespers during the octave before Christmas (Dec. 17-23). These antiphons are of ancient origin and date back to at least the ninth century.

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