Sunday, June 21, 2009

O Nata Lux by Thomas Tallis

Now I have come to love this beautiful work by Thomas Tallis.

O Nata Lux de lumine
Jesu redemptor saeculi
Dignare clemens supplicum
Laudes preces que sumere

Qui carne quondam 'contegi
Dignatus est pro perditis
Nos membra confer effici
Tui beati corporis

(English Translation)
O Light born of light
Jesus, redeemer of the world
Mercifully deem us worthy
To offer prayers and praise

You who once deigned to become flesh
For the sake of your lost ones
Grant that we become members
Of your holy Body

My dream now is to one day sing this song in a choir.

I reproduced this from yesterday's programme sheet:
"The intimate and prayerful text of O Nata Lux comes from an anonymous hymn from the 10th century. The hymn, in its full seven-verse glory, served the Office of Lauds during the morning of the Feast of the Transfiguration. Tallis chose to set only two verses from the hymn in his single through-composed work. He did retain, however, the mystical fervour of the feast. The Transfiguration recalls the moment in the Gospels when the disciples suddenly receive a vision of Jesus, shimmering with light and robed in angelic garb, conversing with the similarly radiant figures of Moses and Elijah. The fragment of hymn text in Tallis set opens with devoted invocation, and closes with the believer's prayer to be one with Christ's "blessed body" as seen in that vision. True to the text's mystical intensity, Tallis creates a passionate and harmonically vibrant setting. Superficially, O Nata Lux is mostly homophonic and chordal; the final passage repeats twice, a common Tallis gambit. Yet the harmonic language bristles with ‘cross relations’, rapid juxtapositions of chromatically opposite notes such as F and F sharp. The very last cadence of the motet presents the most famous and pungent dissonance in all English music—one voice moves to F sharp right at the same time a second sings F natural; the second then moves to E flat, another shocking dissonance with the bass D. The mystical union with Christ’s body is not painless!"

The last section is absolutely profound--it suggests the quality of the language of music. In a sense, there are notes that cannot go together and yet if properly thought out and composed, it sounds beautiful. In the same way, we in our own ugliness cannot abide with Christ and yet we are called to, and when we avail ourselves to the Lord, we become one in the body of Christ, beautiful in the sight of God.



  1. Great discussion of the masterpiece.

    If you live near Belleville Il, you can come sing it with us. We rehearse on Monday evenings.

    Robert Howard conductor, conductor
    Belleville Philharmonic Choral.


  2. I wish I could just come and sing with you, except that I am almost ten thousands of miles away! Nonetheless, thanks and all the best to you and your choral team.