The Great “O” Antiphons

SATB (divisi) a cappella

All recordings of Muehleisen’s English settings of the antiphons begin with the original Gregorian chant in Latin.

Recording credit: Opus 7 Vocal Ensemble, conducted by Loren Pontén, from the CD titled O Rising Dawn

Click here for Order Form  (Each movement of The Great “O” Antiphons is available for sale separately and as a complete set.)


O Sapientia / O Wisdom
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, you came forth from the mouth of the Most High,
and reach from one end of the earth to the other,
mightily and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.

O Adonai
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, ruler of the house of Israel,
you appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush;
on Mount Sinai you gave him your law:
with outstretched arm, come and redeem us.

O Radix Jesse / O Root of Jesse
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, you stand as an ensign to the peoples;
before you kings shall keep silence,
all nations bow in worship:
Come and save us, and do not delay.

O Clavis David / O Key of David
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 scepter of the house of Israel,
what you open no one can close; what you close no one can open.
O come, deliver us from the chains of prison;
we who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

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

O Rising Dawn, brightness of the light eternal,
and sun of righteousness:
come and shine on those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death.

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

O King of nations, and their desire,
you are the cornerstone that binds two into one.
Come and save the creature
whom you have fashioned from clay.

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

O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver,
the desire of all nations and their Salvation:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

Veni, veni Emmanuel,
Captivum solve Israel,
Qui gemit in exilio,
Privatus Dei Filio

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.

Gaude, gaude!
Emmanuel nascetur
pro te, Israel.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel Shall come
to thee, O Israel.


The seven Great “O” Antiphons of the Roman Catholic Church are sung before the Magnificat during Vespers services in Advent, one per night from December 17 through December 23. The texts and music are quite ancient—c. ninth century—and were originally set to Gregorian chant. Muehleisen’s setting joins other late 20th-century treatments of these ancient Advent texts by Peter Hallock (1986), Arvo Pärt (1988/rev. 1991), Pawel Lukaszewski (1995–1999), and Bob Chilcott (2004) to name a few. Muehleisen’s settings were commissioned by Seattle-based Opus 7 Vocal Ensemble in 1996 and were premiered during Advent of the same year. They were written to showcase the extraordinary acoustics of Seattle’s St. James Cathedral and a wide variety of vocal textures and colors that help to illustrate the texts, particularly the theme of light piercing darkness, which is so central to the progression from Advent to Christmas. The acoustics of St. James Cathedral inspired the composer to create an effect in several places in which the choir sings a loud, climactic chord, which then rings into the reverberant acoustic of the church, after which they sing a new chord that combines with the reverberating echo of the previous one, creating the effect of the choir singing with an echo of itself. This is particularly true of the last two lines of O key of David. In the original performances, the antiphons were each preceded by the original Gregorian chants in Latin, whose consistent melodic theme acts as a ritornello or refrain that unites the highly varied contemporary treatments of the English texts.

Muehleisen’s settings of the Great “O” Antiphons are filled with rich musical symbols and text painting. For example, in the first piece—O Wisdom—a single note is gradually transformed into a bright shimmering harmony, like light piercing the darkness, a key image in Advent. In O Root of Jesse the voices rise from the rooted depths of the choir to full bloom on “before you kings shall keep silence,” which is followed by a dramatic, illustrative pause. In O Key of David, a vivid musical image illustrates the text “what you open no one can close; what you close no one can open.” After two variations of the opening music, the voices rise to a climax as they painfully cry “deliver us from the chains of prison.” The setting ends with a vivid musical image of those “who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.” The opening of O Rising Dawn paints a picture of light coming into the world in the person of the Rising Dawn and the Sun of Righteousness. The reiteration of the text “those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” is based on the same music as the parallel text in O Key of David, this time transformed by the “brightness of the light eternal.” O King of Nations begins antiphonally with the women and men echoing one another until they join together at the text, “you are the cornerstone that binds two into one.” Other musical devices used throughout the Antiphons include the use of bass pedal point, cascading entrances, and shimmering harmonies, all of which illuminate the themes that dominate these sacred texts of the Advent season—themes of darkness and light, of watching and waiting, of hope and salvation.

Composer’s Notes

The Great “O” Antiphons—later subtitled Seven Icons of Christ—were commissioned in 1996 by Opus 7 Vocal Ensemble, Loren Pontén, conductor, and were premiered at St. James Cathedral in Seattle, Washington on December 15, 1996. They were recorded by Opus 7 in January/February 1998 for a CD release in late 1998.

In the original performances, each of the English settings was preceded by the original ancient Latin Gregorian chant settings of the texts. For those choral ensembles wishing to include the chants as part of the performance, they are available from the composer in modern notation. If choral ensembles would prefer to read the original neumatic notation, the antiphons can be found in this form in the Liber Usualis of the Roman Catholic Church. The antiphons are appointed to be sung before the Magnificat during Vespers services in Advent from December 17 through December 23.

The seven Great O Antiphons can be performed as a complete set, in part, or individually. The order in which they appear in this score and in which they were originally performed is based on the order in which they are used during Advent as described above, each one assigned to a particular day from December 17 through December 23. If the Antiphons are performed in other than the original order, the composer respectfully requests the following.

• If the setting of O Emmanuel is included in a performance, end the set with O Emmanuel—regardless of the order of the other antiphons—as that setting is intended by the composer as the finale to the whole set and is the most extensive musical treatment of any of the texts in the set.
• If O Emmanuel is not included, but O Root of Jesse is; end the set with O Root of Jesse.
• If neither O Emmanuel nor O Root of Jesse is included, conductors should use their own judgment in the ordering of the pieces.