Francis Poulenc’s Quatre Motets pour le temps de Noël, completed in 1952, are inspired by four scenes from the Nativity story.
The first, O magnum mysterium, captures the awe and mystery of the birth of Jesus, and praises the Virgin Mary with a hushed reverence. The second, Quem vidistis, asks the shepherds, “Whom did you see?” The third, Videntes stellam, transports us to the serene, starlit night through which the Magi travel, bearing their gifts. The final motet, Hodie Chistus natus est, is a proclamation of joy, culminating in the words, “Gloria in excelsis Deo, alleluia.” The Motets for Christmas contain moments of haunting beauty. In other passages, we hear a jazzy nonchalance characteristic of Poulenc- a kind of musical, je ne sais quoi.
Here is a 1998 recording featuring the Netherlands Chamber Choir, conducted by Eric Ericson: