MARS HILL AUDIO Conversation 32
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel: Malcolm Guite and J. A. C. Redford on the Advent O Antiphons
The familiar Advent hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” itself a translation of the Latin hymn Veni, veni, Emmanuel, is a summary of the early liturgical plainchant antiphons that were traditionally sung during the week before Christmas. Known as the “O Antiphons,” these chants were sung in vespers services as liturgical responses on either side of Mary’s Magnificat. Each antiphon highlights a scriptural reference to Christ — O Sapientia, O Adonai, O Radix Jesse, O Clavis David, O Oriens, O Rex Gentium, and O Emmanuel — by way of preparation for Christ’s coming.
The original order of the antiphons is a bit different than the order of verses that appears in the hymn we sing today. Emmanuel is, in the traditional structure, the name invoked on the last of these seven nights. O Sapientia was originally the first of the seven, and the Latin text translates as: “O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from one end to the other mightily, and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence.”
In this Conversation, poet and priest Malcolm Guite talks about his seven sonnets corresponding to the seven “O Antiphons.” Also included in this Conversation is an interview with composer J. A. C. Redford who collaborated with Malcolm Guite to set Guite’s seven “O Antiphons” to music for unaccompanied choir. In these interviews, we discuss how poetry and liturgy invite repetition, and also how music can be an interpretation of a text so as to aid how one inhabits poetry over time.