“O Antiphons,” III
Arvo Pärt
O sproß aus Isais Wurzel

While the second of Arvo Pärt’s Magnificat antiphons employed low voices to proclaim the power and authority of Yahweh, the third — O Sproß aus Isais Wurzel — uses dissonant upper voices to express the crisis precipitated among the nations by the prophesied Messiah. Here is the Latin of the original antiphon:

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
before you kings will shut their mouths,
quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
to you the nations will make their prayer:
veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

The Messiah is addressed in this text with an image drawn from the prophecy of Isaiah 11:1: “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.” (The German title of Pärt’s setting may suggest to non-German speakers a reference to the prophet Isaiah, but it is simply a translation of the name of Jesse, the father of David.)

This is the shortest of the seven movements of Pärt’s work, and the score indicates that in performance it should be followed immediately with the dramatic opening chord of the fourth antiphon. That’s why the ending of the movement sounds so abrupt. Tune in tomorrow! (On Christmas Eve, I’ll post a recording of the entire work, so the flow from one movement to another can be better appreciated.)

Here is O Sproß aus Isais Wurzel sung by the Bavarian Radio Chorus conducted by Peter Dijkstra.

O Sproß aus Isais Wurzel, gesetzt zum Zeichen für die Völker,
O shoot of Jesse’s root, predestined to be a sign for the nations,
vor dir verstummen die Herrscher der Erde, dich flehen an die Völker:
The rulers of the earth fall silent before thee, the nations cry unto thee:
o komm und errette uns, erhebe dich, säume nicht länger.
O come and save us, bestir thyself, delay no longer.