An a cappella cycle for mixed chorus of sonnets by Malcolm Guite.

Duration: 25'
Difficulty: 4/5

  • O Sapientia (5:15)
  • O Adonai (2:30)
  • O Radix (2:00)
  • O Clavis (2:45)
  • O Oriens (3:30)
  • O Rex Gentium (4:00)
  • O Emmanuel (4:00)

Click here to view the score.

O Sapientia

O Adonai
(mp3 coming soon)

O Radix
(mp3 coming soon)

O Clavis
(mp3 coming soon)

O Oriens
(mp3 coming soon)

O Rex Gentium
(mp3 coming soon)

O Emmanuel
(mp3 coming soon)


Mixed Chorus (a cappella, divisi)
“In the first centuries the Church had a beautiful custom of praying seven great prayers calling afresh on Christ to come, calling him by the mysterious titles he has in Isaiah, calling to him; O Wisdom! O Root! O Key! O Light! come to us! I have responded to these seven ‘Great O’ Antiphons, as they are called, with seven sonnets, revoicing them for our own age now, but preserving the heart of each, which is a prayer for Christ's Advent for his coming, now in us, and at the end of time, in and for all.” (Malcolm Guite, 1 December 2012)

“The music is grounded in chant and each new sonnet is framed by versions of the old antiphon, either in Latin or in English, underscoring a conversation between ancient and contemporary, in languages both verbal and musical. A continuum of praise.

The Great O Antiphons are still sung each year in Christian churches as the seven verses of the familiar Advent hymn, O Come, O Come Emmanuel. I underlined this relationship in the last setting of the cycle. It begins with a tenor solo, singing the opening lines of the sonnet. As the music unfolds, it is revealed that this melody is actually counterpoint to the melody of the hymn, which rises up out of the texture and takes over for the climax near the end of the setting.”

––J.A.C. Redford, from the program notes to the world premiere, 5 December 2013
The Great ‘O’ Antiphons (Traditional Latin Chants)
Sonnets by Malcolm Guite

O Sapientia (Chant)

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem,
fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other mightily,
and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.

O Sapientia

I cannot think unless I have been thought
Nor can I speak unless I have been spoken
I cannot teach except as I am taught
Or break the bread except as I am broken.
O Mind behind the mind through which I seek,
O Light within the light by which I see,
O Word beneath the words with which I speak
O founding, unfound Wisdom, finding me
O sounding Song whose depth is sounding me
O Memory of time, reminding me
My Ground of Being, always grounding me
My Maker’s Bounding Line, defining me
     Come, hidden Wisdom, come with all you bring
     Come to me now, disguised as everything.

O Adonai (Chant)

O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel,
qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti,
et ei in Sina legem dedisti:
veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento

O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm

O Adonai

Unsayable, you chose to speak one tongue
Unseeable, you gave yourself away,
The Adonai, the Tetragramaton
Grew by a wayside in the light of day.
O you who dared to be a tribal God,
To own a language, people and a place,
Who chose to be exploited and betrayed,
If so you might be met with face to face,
Come to us here, who would not find you there,
Who chose to know the skin and not the pith,
Who heard no more than thunder in the air,
Who marked the mere events and not the myth.
Touch the bare branches of our unbelief
And blaze again like fire in every leaf.

O Radix (Chant)

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

O Root of Jesse, stand as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us,
and delay no longer

O Radix

All of us sprung from one deep-hidden seed,
Rose from a root invisible to all.
We knew the virtues once of every weed,
But, severed from the roots of ritual,
We surf the surface of a wide-screen world
And find no virtue in the virtual.
We shrivel on the edges of a wood
Whose heart we once inhabited in love,
Now we have need of you, forgotten Root
The stock and stem of every living thing
Whom once we worshiped in the sacred grove,
For now is winter, now is withering
Unless we let you root us deep within,
Under the ground of being, graft us in.

O Clavis (Chant)

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel;
qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
claudis, et nemo aperit:
veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death

O Clavis

Even in the darkness where I sit
And huddle in the midst of misery
I can remember freedom, but forget
That every lock must answer to a key
That each dark clasp, sharp and intricate,
Must find a counter-clasp to meet its guard.
Particular, exact and intimate,
The clutch and catch that meshes with its ward.

I cry out for the key I threw away
That turned and over turned with certain touch
And with the lovely lifting of a latch
Opened my darkness to the light of day.
O come again, come quickly, set me free
Cut to the quick to fit, the master key.

O Oriens (Chant)

O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae:
veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis

O Morning Star,
splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

O Oriens
E vidi lume in forme de riviera (Dante, Divina Commedia, Paradiso XXX: 61)

First light and then first lines along the east
To touch and brush a sheen of light on water
As though behind the sky itself they traced

The shift and shimmer of another river
Flowing unbidden from its hidden source;
The Day-Spring, the eternal Prima Vera.

Blake saw it too. Dante and Beatrice
Are bathing in it now, away upstream…
So every trace of light begins a grace

In me, a beckoning. The smallest gleam
Is somehow a beginning and a calling;
“Sleeper awake, the darkness was a dream

For you will see the Dayspring at your waking,
Beyond your long last line the dawn is breaking”.

O Rex Gentium (Chant)

O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum,
lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem,
quem de limo formasti.

O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from clay

O Rex Gentium

O King of our desire whom we despise,
King of the nations never on the throne,
Unfound foundation, cast-off cornerstone,
Rejected joiner, making many one,
You have no form or beauty for our eyes,
A King who comes to give away his crown,
A King within our rags of flesh and bone.
We pierce the flesh that pierces our disguise,
For we ourselves are found in you alone.
Come to us now and find in us your throne,
O King within the child within the clay,
O hidden King who shapes us in the play
Of all creation. Shape us for the day
Your coming Kingdom comes into its own.

O Emmanuel (Chant)

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster

O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

O Emmanuel

O come, O come, and be our God-with-us
O long-sought With-ness for a world without,
O secret seed, O hidden spring of light.
Come to us Wisdom, come unspoken Name
Come Root, and Key, and King, and holy Flame,
O quickened little wick so tightly curled,
Be folded with us into time and place,
Unfold for us the mystery of grace
And make a womb of all this wounded world.
O heart of heaven beating in the earth,
O tiny hope within our hopelessness
Come to be born, to bear us to our birth,
To touch a dying world with new-made hands
And make these rags of time our swaddling bands.

Copyright © 2012 by Malcolm Guite. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Commission & Performance History
O Sapientia was commissioned by Stan Mattson and the C. S. Lewis Foundation for performance at its Oxbridge 2011 Conference. The work was premiered in Great St. Mary’s Church, Cambridge, on 2 August by the C. S. Lewis Summer Institute Chorale, directed by John Dickson. In 2013, O Sapientia was performed on 15 October by the LSU A Cappella Choir, also led by John Dickson. O Sapientia and O Emmanuel, were performed on 1 December 2013 at the annual Advent Carol Service at Girton College, Cambridge, and the world premiere of the complete cycle took place on 5 December 2013 at the Church of St. Edward King and Martyr, Cambridge. Both performances were by the Girton College Chapel Choir under the direction of Nicholas Mulroy.
Reviews & Responses
“As a poet I can only write and read one line at a time, in a single voice. But as I write I can sense myriad possibilities, many voices, which I can only suggest by summoning the wider penumbra of connotations and the multivalent possibilities and latent energies in words themselves. I was particularly conscious of this linear constraint as I was writing O Sapientia, which moves from the opening single voiced word ‘I’ and ends with the multitudinous word ‘everything’. Well when I heard JAC’s piece it came as a gift and a revelation! At last I was hearing aloud something of the rich layering of many voices and possibilities I could hear in my head.” (Malcolm Guite, 3 December 2012)