O magnum mysterium
is a motet for the Nativity of Our Lord, which takes its text from the first half of the fourth and third Responsories at Matins on Christmas Day. It was included in a collection of motets, for five, six and seven voices, published in Rome in 1569. This exquisite six-part motet conveys superbly the awe and joy of the shepherds at the birth of Christ in a manger. Opening with a series of slow chords announcing the ‘great mystery and wonderful sacrament’, the music proceeds in a mainly homophonic idiom, with differing and well calculated combinations of voices, until it breaks into a lively triple time to represent the ‘chorus of angels praising God’, returning to duple time for a final section of pealing Alleluias; the second half has a similar structure and re-uses some of the material from the first half to very good effect.
from notes by Jon Dixon © 2003