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Poulenc: O magnum mysterium

O magnum mysterium / O great mystery
et admirabile sacramentum / and wonderful sacrament
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum / that animals should see the new-born Lord
jacentem in praesepio! / lying in a manger!

Beata Virgo, cujus viscera / Blessed is the Virgin, whose womb
meruerunt portare / was worthy to carry
Dominum Christum. / Christ the Lord.

O magnum mysterium originated as a responsorial chant in the Christmas Matins. It has long been a favorite text for motets—two of the best known settings are those by the Spanish Renaissance master Tom├ís Luis de Victoria and the contemporary American composer Morten Lauridsen. This motet by 20th Century French composer Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) is probably my favorite; its texture is straightforward and unassuming, and the melody and harmony seem to fit the text impeccably well.

This video is nice because you can follow the score as you listen, should you be so inclined. I can’t identify the ensemble, but the use of all male voices gives the piece a becomingly ethereal cast.