Episode 5: 'O Magnum Mysterium', by the Cathedral Choir of St. John the Divine

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O Magnum Mysterium (O Wondrous Mystery)
Arr. by Morten Lauridsen
Choir of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine
Conducted by Kent Tritle

The nativity scene is one of the oldest and richest images of Christmas: Mary and Joseph with the newborn baby Jesus, whose maternity ward was a stable, because all the hotels in Bethlehem had their “no vacancy” signs out. And of course there are animals in that stable – a very unusual royal court for a very unusual king.

That is the image that has been contemplated literally for centuries in the monastic chant, O Magnum Mysterium – "O great mystery and wonderful sacrament" – that animals should see the newborn Lord lying in a manger. The words have been set by many choral composers, but one of the newest settings, from the early 1990s, is by composer Morten Lauridsen. The mystery and wonder of this nativity picture appear in the first chord the chorus sings, and the music has that particular quality of making time seem to stop. It’s terrific for a moment of contemplation, and it’s performed here by the Choir of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, conducted by Kent Tritle.

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