“O Antiphons,” II
Arvo Pärt
O Adonai

The “O antiphon” for December 18th is O Adonai.

Adonai” is a Hebrew word based on the word adon, which means “Lord.” “Adon” in turn comes from a root that means to make firm, to determine, to command, or to rule. “Adonai” is plural, so literally, the word means “lords,” which some have suggested may hint at a Trinitarian allusion. But in Hebrew, a plural can be used as an intensifier — “superlord,” the Lord with a uniquely concentrated repository of lordliness. “Adonai” is used about 450 times in the Old Testament to refer to Yahweh, but sometimes the word refers to human masters.

O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel,
O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,
qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
et ei in Sina legem dedisti:
and gave him the law on Sinai:
veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.

This post is the second in our survey of settings of the “O Antiphons” by the contemporary Estonian composer Arvo Pärt (the first was here). The performers today are the Theatre of Voices, conducted by Paul Hillier. Hillier has worked closely with Pärt for many years and wrote one of the earliest studies of Pärt’s work. In that book, Hillier commented on Pärt’s use of silence in his music:

“All music emerges from silence, to which sooner or later it must return. At its simplest we may conceive of music as the relationship between sounds and the silence that surrounds them. Yet silence is an imaginary state in which all sounds are absent, akin perhaps to the infinity of time and space that surrounds us. We cannot ever hear utter silence, nor can we fully imagine such concepts as infinity and eternity. When we create music, we express life. But the source of music is silence, which is the ground of our musical being, the fundamental note of life. How we live depends on our relationship with death; how we make music depends on our relationship with silence.”

Here is Paul Hillier conducting the Theatre of Voices singing Arvo Pärt’s O Adonai, the weightiest and most somber of the seven sections, using lower voices to dramatic effect. The German text sung here is presented below the embedded video.

O Adonai, der Herr und Führer des Hauses Israel,
O Adonai, the Lord and leader of the house of Israel,
im flammender Dornbusch bist du dem Moses erschienen,
In the burning bush hast thou appeared unto Moses
und hast ihm auf dem Berg das Gesetz gegeben.
And given him the law upon the mountain:
O komm und befreie uns mit deinem straken Arm. O Adonai.
O come and deliver us with thy powerful arm. O Adonai.