Richard Lambert Music

O Magnum mysterium (Op.46 No.2)

A mystical Christmas motet for a cappella SSATB choir

Composed in 2012, as the second of two Christmas motets, this short work for unaccompanied five-part choir is a setting of the responsorial chant from the Matins of Christmas. It is dedicated to Brian Armfield.

Set in a simple ternary structure, the outer sections make use of the E Lydian mode, with semitonal chord clusters and hushed, motivic echoes to evoke an other-worldly ambience. The short central section (Beata Virgo…) is largely homophonic and rises to a fortissimo climax on the words “Dominum Christum”.

The reprise of “O magnum mysterium” is even quieter, initially, but concludes with an extended return of the first climax, this time to a single triumphant statement, with unresolved Lydian effect, of “Alleluia”.

O magnum mysterium,
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
jacentem in praesepio!
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera
meruerunt portare
Dominum Christum.

O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
Christ the Lord.


The chord clusters within the motets is certainly a change of style for you. I like very much the frequent use of echoing and staggered entries. As you know, I always have in mind the mechanics of performance and I wondered how difficult to sing the clusters would be. I listened to each line individually and in fact each part moves fairly diatonically so the clusters are created by the counterpoint which cleverly makes them so much easier to perform.

I like O, Magnum very much, maybe one of my favourite things you have ever done.

Malcolm Crane

I was overwhelmed to receive your anthem and dedication to me. It is a lovely piece and in the same bracket as other settings of the piece – particularly the French versions. It will sound great in a nice resonant acoustic.

Brian Armfield, 12 March 2012



This recording of O Magnum mysterium was produced using computer software called Sibelius: it is not a live recording.


You can purchase the score of O Magnum mysterium from Encore Publications.


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