O Sapientia
An a cappella setting for mixed chorus of a sonnet by Malcolm Guite.

Duration: 5' 15"
Difficulty: 4/5

Click here to view the score.

Mixed Chorus (a cappella, divisi, no solos)
“In the first centuries the Church had a beautiful custom of praying seven great prayers calling afresh on Christ to come, calling him by the mysterious titles he has in Isaiah, calling to him; O Wisdom. O Root! O Key. O Light! come to us! I have responded to these seven ‘Great O’ Antiphons, as they are called, with seven sonnets, revoicing them for our own age now, but preserving the heart of each, which is a prayer for Christ's Advent for his coming, now in us, and at the end of time, in and for all. These Sonnets form the opening sequence of my larger cycle of sonnets for the church year....The first one [is] O Sapientia (O Wisdom)...The first Sunday in the Church’s year. The beginning of a holy season in which we connect again with our ‘inconsolable longing’, as C. S. Lewis called it, our yearning for the One who is to come and is also, mysteriously, the One who has come already, come as child, come as fellow-sufferer, come as Saviour, and yet whose coming, already achieved, we hold at bay from ourselves, so that we have to learn afresh each year, even each day, how to let him come to us again.” (Malcolm Guite, 1 December 2012)

The music is grounded in chant and the new sonnet is framed by solo and unison versions of the old Latin antiphon, underscoring a conversation between ancient and contemporary, in languages both verbal and musical. A continuum of praise.
The Great ‘O’ Antiphons (Traditional Latin Chants)
Sonnets by Malcolm Guite

O Sapientia (Chant)

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem,
fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other mightily,
and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.

O Sapientia

I cannot think unless I have been thought
Nor can I speak unless I have been spoken
I cannot teach except as I am taught
Or break the bread except as I am broken.
O Mind behind the mind through which I seek,
O Light within the light by which I see,
O Word beneath the words with which I speak
O founding, unfound Wisdom, finding me
O sounding Song whose depth is sounding me
O Memory of time, reminding me
My Ground of Being, always grounding me
My Maker’s Bounding Line, defining me
     Come, hidden Wisdom, come with all you bring
     Come to me now, disguised as everything.

Text used by permission.
Commission & Performance History
O Sapientia was commissioned by Stan Mattson and the C. S. Lewis Foundation for performance at its Oxbridge 2011 Conference. The work was premiered in Great St. Mary’s Church, Cambridge on 2 August by the C. S. Lewis Summer Institute Chorale, directed by John Dickson.
Reviews & Responses
“As a poet I can only write and read one line at a time, in a single voice. But as I write I can sense myriad possibilities, many voices, which I can only suggest by summoning the wider penumbra of connotations and the multivalent possibilities and latent energies in words themselves. I was particularly conscious of this linear constraint as I was writing O Sapientia, which moves from the opening single voiced word ‘I’ and ends with the multitudinous word ‘everything’. Well when I heard JAC’s piece it came as a gift and a revelation! At last I was hearing aloud something of the rich layering of many voices and possibilities I could hear in my head.” (Malcolm Guite, 3 December 2012)