O Magnum Mysterium, Frank La Rocca

The O magnum mysterium is a one of the most beloved ancient Christmas texts in the Christian tradition. It is properly found in the liturgy as a responsory for Matins of Christmas, but through the choral settings of Victoria, Palestrina, Poulenc, and – perhaps most popularly in our time – Morten Lauridsen, it has become a standard part of the Christmas choral repertoire, especially for Midnight Mass.

Composer Frank La Rocca has now given the Church a setting of his own, which powerfully penetrates the mystery of the incarnation. It is not overly flashy or florid, but is pregnant with mystery and humility, much like text which it carries. His O magnum surely will surely be regarded among the greats for years to come.

O magnum mysterium, et admirabile sacramentum, 
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum, jacentem in praesepio! 
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera meruerunt portare Dominum Christum. Alleluia.

O great mystery, and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord, lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb was worthy to bear Christ the Lord. Alleluia!

4 Replies to “O Magnum Mysterium, Frank La Rocca”

  1. Any critiques out there of Morten Lauridson's O Magnum Mysterium? The tonalities just seem a little schmaltzy to me, less sacred sounding than the stalwart composers' versions (eg. Palestrina and Victoria). I would like to be able to articulate WHY! Please help-

  2. This is my review from Amazon:

    Frank LaRocca is the real deal as a bona fides contemporary/classical composer who lays his personal faith on the line with his sacred choral and vocal works. Too often great composers of the past and present use the "sacred treasury" of Latin (Catholic) texts as mere vehicles carrying their muses. And that's not bad, you can get a Bugatti Veyron work from a non-believer as well as a K-car version.
    But LaRocca's masterpiece, "O magnum mysterium," goes toe to toe with the great Morton Lauridsen setting and prevails because a careful listening to each and every compositional movement has an inherently sacred raison d'etre coming from LaRocca's muse informed by deeper elements of the faith experience he gleans from not only the wonder of the text, but also profound devotional rationality.
    The ensemble is superb, and a solo soprano aria is sheer perfection.

  3. Lisa – I think a good setting of O Magnum Mysterium has to spring from an awareness that the Incarnation is really Chapter One of the Passion of Jesus Christ. Pretty as it is, I think this is where Lauridsen's setting (and other similarly pretty or pleasant ones) falls short of the mark.

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