O Oriens - William Armiger

Duration: 2'45"
Ensemble: double SATB unaccompanied
Grading: Medium
CMP396 Full score £2.50
MP3 performance (Sibelius Sounds, prepared by the compsoer)

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Of all the seasons in the church year, the period of Advent, with its powerful combination of hope, anticipation and yearning, carries for me, as a cathedral musician, an indefinable yet indelible spectrum of memory ranging from early childhood to the present day. Who cannot but be moved and even spiritually shaken by the impact of Palestrina's glorious Advent Responsory, or the strength of those hymns?

But at its apex come the magnificent texts and plainsong chant of The Great O's those antiphons which bring to a climax in the few days before Christmas Eve all that this penitential season encapsulates. O Oriens, that wonderful text set for December 21st, offers up, from the depths of darkness and despair, a plea for some bright gleam of hope.

In this setting, the two choirs can be set as far apart as is practicable for the building, so that the antiphonal properties of the choral forces sound against each other, beginning with an almost wistful and misty introduction which, gathering strength from the text, increases in vigour and power to the fortissimo tutti of "Splendor lucis aeterna". The choral volume then gradually fades away to almost nothing in a quiet repeat of the opening, and draws to a gentle conclusion in the bare, open 5th of two upper voices, in a re-statement of the slow, plaintive O Oriens.