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ClassicsOnline Home » LAURIDSEN, M.: Choral Works (Elora Festival Singers, N. Edison)
Morten Lauridsen is America’s preeminent composer of choral music. Characterized by long, arching and highly expressive lines, his works are enjoyed by performers and audiences worldwide. O nata lux, perhaps Lauridsen’s most popular work, is a serene evocation of heavenly light, while the searingly intense and technically demanding Madrigali inhabit a more feverish and earthy realm. The refined Les Chansons des Roses employ a design reminiscent of
the formal gardens, filled with roses, found in the grounds of the great French châteaux. The unforgettable final movement is the now-famous Dirait-on. The Mid-Winter Songs for chorus and piano are a stunning example of compositional virtuosity. O magnum mysterium, for a cappella chorus, is a setting of a Christmas text that has inspired composers from Victoria to Poulenc.
Morten Lauridsen (b. 1943)
Morten Lauridsen is America’s pre-eminent composer of choral music, a creator whose work has entered into the hearts of countless singers, performers and audiences. He has reached beyond the borders of his native land to an international audience; his work has been the focus of a number of superb recordings devoted exclusively to his music, and these recordings featuring his works have garnered critical acclaim as well as honors, including three Grammy nominations for recordings of his music. Lauridsen, who is a distinguished professor of composition at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, is a meticulous craftsman, whose work radiates the uncanny quality of art that has always seemed to exist in its own perfection. He is a composer whose primary emphasis is upon the voice: Lauridsen writes long, arching and highly expressive lines. He has made a close and profitable study of vocal music from all historical periods, including plainchant, Renaissance polyphony, and classical art song.
In particular, Lauridsen has studied the choral music of the high Renaissance, and this study has had a decided influence on the development of his inimitable sound. From the Renaissance composers such as Marenzio and Monteverdi, Lauridsen has assimilated such techniques as canon, flexible imitation, and, in particular, a deeply sensitive response to textual images. These influences never result in pastiche, however, but are assimilated into a personal idiom that is simultaneously timeless and contemporary. His music is direct and clear, lively and pensive, emotional but disciplined. Lauridsen is emphatically a composer of the present day who takes his technical mastery from a searching investigation of the past.
The first work included here is an excerpt from Lauridsen’s Lux aeterna for chorus and orchestra, O nata lux. The composer contemplated the composition of the Lux aeterna for some years before the score began to take shape in 1995, and thus this work is the product of many years of thought, care and loving devotion to detail. Lauridsen’s Lux aeterna is, as its title suggests, suffused with light and warmth; it is a requiem that is a meditation on the themes of love and repose. Unlike the fiery Requiem Masses by Mozart, Berlioz and Verdi, Lauridsen, like Faurè, paints a picture of celestial habitations far removed from strife and pain. Thus O nata lux is a serene evocation of heavenly light. Drawn not from the liturgy of the Requiem Mass, but rather from a hymn sung during the Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ, this a cappella excerpt from Lauridsen’s Lux aeterna is a refulgent portrait of spiritual repose. The Lux aeterna, with O nata lux at its heart, was given an unforgettable beautiful première on 13 April 1997 by Paul Salamunovich conducting the Los Angeles Master Chorale.
Lauridsen’s choral cycle entitled Madrigali: Six Fire Songs on Italian Renaissance Texts inhabits a more feverish and earthy realm than the other-worldly O nata lux. In these madrigals, Lauridsen expresses passion, yearning, and at times, romantic despair. Of great difficulty, the Madrigali test the mettle of any chorus, especially in the demands the composer makes upon the ensemble as regards the precise tuning of highly chromatic harmony, which must at times be sung with great fervor—and in some of the madrigals this must be done rapidly indeed. The composer derived the musical material for the Madrigali from a single chord, a dissonant (but triadic) “fire chord” whose sonority pervades the entire score. Not content with merely providing a series of moods, Lauridsen has organized the various madrigals as an arch form, with recurring harmonic and melodic material, especially between movements one and six, and two and five. Just as O nata lux is the heart of the Lux aeterna, so the molten core of the Madrigali is the fourth movement, Io piango. This madrigal is a cry of pain, and takes the measure of the emotional commitment of both conductor and chorus, especially when this movement reaches its climax on a dissonant chord of searing intensity.
Like the Madrigali, the elegant choral cycle Les Chansons des Roses is designed as an arch form. For Les Chansons des Roses, Lauridsen employed a formal design reminiscent of the sort of formal gardens, filled with roses, found in the grounds of the great French châteaux. He does so in the manner by which the themes of the opening movement, ‘En une seule fleur’, reoccur in the third, ‘De ton rêve trop plein’, while the melodies and harmonic progressions of the second movement, ‘Contre qui, rose’, are further developed in the fourth chanson, ‘La rose complète’. The unforgettable final movement, the famous ‘Dirait-on’, was in fact the first movement to be created but is placed last, so as to provide a radiant conclusion for the entire score. Lauridsen accentuates the formal summation of ‘Dirait-on’ by introducing the piano only for this rapturous final movement, its sonority casting a glow over the entire chanson.
With the Mid-Winter Songs, published in 1983, Lauridsen enriched and reinvented the genre of the choral cycle. The Mid-Winter Songs constitute a five-movement choral work for chorus and piano that is a stunning example of compositional virtuosity: all of the main themes are articulated in the dramatic opening measures. The Mid-Winter Songs are cast in a form that facilitates both musical consistency and great expressive intensity. Both of these elements are found in the first movement, the searing ‘Lament for Pasiphaë’. The second movement, ‘She then like snow’, is a virtuosic scherzo-like etude for chorus and piano, whose diction must be as perfect as their articulation and tuning. The next movement, the deeply touching ‘She tells her love while half asleep’, forms the score’s emotional and formal climax. Another fast choral etude then follows, filled with lively syncopations reminiscent of jazz. The finale of the Mid-Winter Songs, ‘Intercession in late October’, is a meditation on the nature of the heart, especially its enduring desire for the warmth that only love can provide.
The last work on this recording, O magnum mysterium for a cappella chorus, is a setting of a Christmas text that has inspired such varied composers as Victoria and Poulenc. Lauridsen’s music adorns the words with an aura of ineffable tenderness and joy. Given its première in 1994 for Paul Salamunovich and the Los Angeles Master Chorale, this lovely work has now become a treasured part of the choral repertory for the Christmas season.
Byron Adams, 2007
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