“O Antiphons,” IV
Arvo Pärt
O Schlüssel Davids

The fourth of the O Antiphons is O clavis David — O Key of David. The image of the Messiah as a key is suggested by a passage in Isaiah 22. Poet Malcolm Guite, who has written a series of sonnets inspired by these seven texts, has commented that “of all the mystic titles of Christ, this is the one that connects most closely with our ‘secular’ psychology. We speak of the need on the one hand for ‘closure’ and on the other for ‘unlocking’, for ‘opening’, for ‘liberation’.”

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel;
O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
you open and no one can shut;
claudis, et nemo aperit:
you shut and no one can open:
veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

Arvo Pärt’s setting of the fourth antiphon — O Schlüssel Davids — is best heard as the conclusion (and resolution) of the tension felt in the brief anticipatory phrases of the third antiphon, O Sproß aus Isais Wurzel. Where the second used only lower voices and the third the upper voices, O Schlüssel Davids powerfully employs all of the choral forces in a sequence of thick, descending chords of eight parts (or, more accurately, four parts doubled with octaves).

In this performance, the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir is conducted by Tönu Kaljuste, a team that has had long experience in working with Pärt.


O Schlüssel Davids, Zepter des Hauses Israel,
O David’s key, sceptre of the house of Israel,
du öffnest, und niemand kann schließen,

That which thou openest, none can secure,
du schließt, und keine Macht vermag zu öffnen:

That which thou securest, no power may open;
o komm und öffne den Kerker der Finsternis und die Fessel des Todes.
O come and unlock the prison of darkness and the fetters of death.