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Morten Lauridsen On "Lux Aeterna"

Reflections on Lux Aeterna: A Tribute to Paul Salamunovich (1927-2014), excerpted from the award-winning documentary, 'Shining Night: A Portrait of Composer Morten Lauridsen'.

My passion second to music is poetry. I read and study it constantly--every day. It is a fundamental part of my life. I have profound admiration for poets who seek deeper meanings and truths and are able to express themselves elegantly through the written word. Consequently, it has been a natural development for me as a composer to wed these two passions and to set texts to music.

I have set poems from several historical eras in a variety of languages, and I am especially attracted to the idea of the cycle, which, in my usage, is a multi-movement piece unified by both a central poetic theme by one or more authors tied together by recurring musical elements. Historical precedents for this are found in the music of Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann and others, including a number of excellent examples in our century by Rorem, Copland, Barber, to name a few. This cyclical idea, an overall organic architectural structure melded together by common poetic and musical ideas, I find very appealing. In addition to many single songs, instrumental pieces and choral works I have composed, the six vocal cycles form the core of my creative output.

The poetry I have chosen for these cycles is by first-class poets--Graves, Rilke, Moss, Lorca--on themes that are universal. The musical approach to these settings complements the style of the poetry and content. The Madrigali, for example, are an homage to Monteverdi and blend 16th-Century madrigalisms with contemporary practices, underlaying the Italian texts concerning unrequited love. These settings are passionate, earthy, dramatic--red wine music. The Graves settings are cooler, crisper, classic in design to complement Graves' foundations of classical poetry and mythology. The Chansons are pastels, delicate and hopefully charming and elegant settings, hinting at the broad repertoire of French chansons and incorporating stylistic elements of that literature. My settings of the Lorca poems are abstract, atonal, colorful and dramatic.

Each of these cycles exhibits a fondness for lyricism, the long melodic line. I admire those composers who have left us unforgettable melodies--Schubert, Brahms, Schumann, and others in the classical world as well as those composers of the great American standard song and the Broadway stage--Kern, Gershwin, Rodgers, Porter, to name a few. This is music I grew up with and have never ceased loving. I constantly sing each line as I am composing to make sure each vocal part is lyrical and gracious for the singer.

Lux Aeterna--Eternal Light--is an intimate work of quiet serenity centered around a universal symbol of hope, reassurance, goodness and illumination at all levels. This work formed in my mind over several years, and I began serious work on the piece shortly following the completion of Les Chansons des Roses in 1993. I put aside the Lux in early 1994 to compose the Christmas canticle, O Magnum Mysterium. The serenity and the uncomplicated and lyric style of O Magnum Mysterium are continued in Lux Aeterna, which is fashioned on texts from several different Latin sources, including the requiem mass, each containing a reference to Light.

Paul Salamunovich, conductor of the Los Angeles Master Chorale for whom I composed this cycle, considers Lux Aeterna to be one long chant. That did not happen by accident--I was writing for one of the world's foremost experts not only on Gregorian chant but of Renaissance music in general--and while I do not incorporate an overt reference to the single line chant anywhere in the piece, the conjunct and flowing melodic lines contributing to the works' overall lyricism and the chant-like phrase structures creating a seamlessness throughout certainly have their underpinnings in the chant literature. Renaissance procedures abound throughout Lux Aeterna.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine:       Rest eternal grant them, O Lord:
et lux perpetua luceat eis,       and let perpetual light shine on them.
Te decet hymnus Deus in Zion,       To thee praise is due, O God, in Zion,
et tibi redetur votum       and to thee vows are recited
in Jerusalem:       in Jerusalem:
exaudi orationem meam,       hear my prayer,
ad te omnis caro veniet.       unto thee shall all flesh come.
Requiem aeterman dona eis, Domine:       Rest eternal grant them, O Lord:
et lux perpetua luceat eis.       and let perpetual light shine on them.

The Introitus introduces a complex of themes that are used throughout the cycle. Many of the themes in the Introitus are constructed on the ecclesiastical modes found in Medieval and Renaissance music, especially the mixolydian and dorian.

The chordal vocabulary is primarily consonant, reflecting the purity and directness of Renaissance sacred music vocabulary as seen in the music of Palestrina and Victoria. A subsidiary theme on "Te decet hymnus" is reformulated to become the principal theme of the later "Agnus Dei".

My esteem for Renaissance contrapuntal procedures is manifested in a four-part canon on "et lux perpetua", a method of portraying musically, or painting, the textual meaning of perpetual light.

Tu ad liberandum suscepturas hominem Thou, having delivered mankind,
non horruisti Virginis uterum. did not disdain the Virgin's womb.
Tu devicto mortis aculeo, Thou overcame the sting of death,
aperuisti credentibus regna coelorum. and opened to believers the
kingdom of heaven.
Exortum est in tenebris lumen rectis. To the righteous a light is
risen up in darkness.
Miserere nostri, Domine, Have mercy on us, O Lord,
miserere nostri. have mercy on us.
Fiat misericordia tua, Domine, super nos Let thy mercy be upon us, O Lord,
quemadmodum speravimus in te. for we have hoped in thee.
In te Domine, speravi: O Lord, in Thee have I hoped:
non confundar in aeternum. let me never be confounded.

The second movement most clearly exemplifies my use of Renaissance formal procedures and textures. The masses of Josquin, for example, often contain sections of paired voices. That particular device is used in In Te, Domine Speravi--sopranos paired with altos, tenors paired with basses on the lengthy two-part mirror canon "fiat misericordia" at the center of the movement, incorporating the idea of self-reflection as well as a dialogue between Man and Creator.

I also employ the idea of cantus firmus in the hymn tune "Herzliebster Jesu" from the Nuremberg Songbook of 1677, stated in full in solo brass instruments, as an underpinning to the paired voice treatment. The second movement is particularly introspective, personal, complex, reflective, and thoughtful.

O nata lux de lumine, O born light of light,
Jesu redemptor saeculi Jesu redeemer of the world,
dignare clemens supplicum mercifully deem worthy and accept
laudes preces que sumere. praises and prayers from your supplicants.
Qui carne quondam contegi Who once was clothed in the flesh
dignatus es pro perditis. for those who are lost.
Nos membra confer effici, Allow us to become members of
tui beati corporis. your holy body.

The central movement of the work, O Nata Lux , is an unaccompanied motet. The motet form itself can be traced back for centuries. Here is an opportunity in the middle of an choral/orchestral composition for the chorus to sing without any orchestral accompaniment--a pure vocal sound.

Without your grace, Nihil est in homine, There is nothing in us,
Veni, Sancte Spiritus Come, Holy Spirit,
Et emitte coelitus And send from heaven
Lucis tuae radium. Your ray of light.
Veni, pater pauperum, Come, Father of the poor,
Veni, dator munerum, Come, giver of gifts,
Veni, lumen cordium Come, light of hearts.
Consolator optime, The best of Consolers,
Dulcis hospes animae, Sweet guest of the soul,
Dulce refrigerium. Sweet refreshment.
In labore requies, In labor, thou art rest,
In aestu temperies, In heat, thou art the tempering,
In fletu solatium In grief, thour art the consolation.
O lux beatissima, O light most blessed,
Reple cordis intima Fill the inmost heart
Tuorum fidelium. Of all thy faithful.
Sine tuo nomine,
Nihil est innoxium. Nothing that is not harmful.
Lava quod est sordidum, Clease what is dirty,
Riga quod est aridum, Moisten what is dry,
Sana quod est saucium. Heal what is hurt.
Flecte quod est rigidum, Flex what is rigid,
Fove quod est frigidum, Heat what is frigid,
Rege quod est devium Correct what goes astray.
Da tuis fidelibus, Grant to thy faithful,
In te confidentibus, Those that trust in thee,
Sacrum septenarium. Thy sacred seven-fold gifts.
Da virtutis meritum, Grant the reward of virtue,
Da salutis exitum, Grant the deliverance of salvation,
Da perenne gaudium. Grant joy everlasting.

Immediately following the conclusion of O Nata Lux is the exuberant song, Veni, Sancte Spiritus. This movement is as outgoing and joyous as O Nata Lux is introspective. It is cast in a five-part, rondo form, another form traced back to the Medieval and Renaissance periods.

Agnus Dei, Lamb of God,
qui tollis peccata mundi who takes away the sins of the world,
dona eis requiem. grant them rest.
Agnus Dei, Lamb of God,
qui tollis peccata mundi who takes away the sins of the world,
dona eis requiem. grant them rest.
Agnus Dei, Lamb of God,
qui tollis peccata mundi who takes away the sins of the world,
dona eis requiem sempiternam. grant them rest everlasting.
Lux aeterna luceat eis, Domine: May eternal light shine on them, O Lord:
cum sanctis tuis in aeternum: with the company of thy saints for ever and ever:
quia pius es. for thou art merciful.
Requiem aeternum done eis, Rest eternal grant them,
Domine, O Lord,
et lux perpetua luceat eis. And let perpetual light shine on them.
Alleluia. Amen. Alleluia. Amen.

The closing movement combines the Agnus Dei and the Lux Aeterna, which reprises the opening section of the Introitus, creating a musical arch, a form that is found in a number of my cycles.

The idea of the retrograde in music, again common in the masses of Josquin is also found here--the wind progression at the opening of the Agnus Dei is answered by the strings in an exact retrograde several measures later.

The musical material of the Agnus Dei is reformulated for a third time to become the basis of a short joyful Alleluia which also combines motivic fragments from other preceding movements. The piece closes softly, as it began, with a concluding amen.