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Program Notes
In his preface to the published choral score Morten Lauridsen writes, "Lux Aeterna for chorus and chamber orchestra was composed for and is dedicated to the Los Angeles Master Chorale and its superb conductor, Paul Salamunovich, who gave the world premiere in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Los Angeles Music Center on April 13, 1997. The work is in five movements played without pause. Its texts are drawn from sacred Latin sources, each containing references to Light. The piece opens and closes with the beginning and ending of the Requiem Mass, with the three central movements drawn, respectively, from the Te Deum (including a line from the Beatus Vir), O Nata Lux, and Veni, Sancte Spiritus.

"The instrumental introduction to the Introitus softly recalls motivic fragments from two pieces especially close to my heart (my settings of Rilke’s Contre Qui, Rose and O Magnum Mysterium) which recur throughout the work in various forms. Several new themes in the lntroitus are then introduced by the chorus, including an extended canon on et Lux perpetua. In Te, Domine, Speravi contains, among other musical elements, the cantus firmus Herzliebster Jesu (from the Nuremberg Songbook, 1677) and a lengthy inverted canon on fiat misericordia. O Nata Lux and Veni, Sancte Spiritus are paired songs—the former the central a cappella motet, and the latter a spirited, jubilant canticle. A quiet setting of the Agnus Dei precedes the final Lux Aeterna, which reprises the opening section of the Introitus and concludes with a joyful Alleluia.

Reviews of Lux Aeterna:


"The first recording of Lux Aeterna by the Los Angeles based composer Morten Lauridsen demonstrates that it IS possible for important contemporary music to speak directly to the human heart. Composed in 1997 for the Los Angeles Master Chorale, Lux Aeterna is a rich, complex, intensely moving piece that people will be listening to for a long time to come. Paul Salamunovich extracts a brilliant performance from his superbly drilled forces and the recorded sound is superb. If you think that modern music is largely confined to the mindless delights of minimalism or to incomprehensible noise, then this wonderfully human music will prove just how wrong you are. A work like Lauridsen's Lux Aeterna suggests just how appealing contemporary music can be."


– Jim Svejda, "The Record Shelf" (NPR Radio)

On the RCM CD "Lux Aeterna" (RCM 19705):
"This program accomplished the impossible: it actually made me regret not being from Los Angeles so I could join the Master Chorale under Maestro Salamunovich’s direction and spend my days singing Morten Lauridsen’s music. Lauridsen, professor and Chair of the Composition Department at USC, is also Composer-in-Residence of the Chorale. He writes heart-felt, radiant, absolutely gorgeous music; and it is delivered con amore here by everyone concerned. Lux Aeterna is a five-movement non-liturgical Requiem for choir and chamber orchestra that draws from the Mass, plus portions of the Te Deum, O Nata Lux, and Veni Sancte Spiritus. What a powerfully uplifting work it is. ‘Ave Maria’ and ‘O Magnum Mysterium’ are a cappella pieces full of long lines, arching suspensions, shimmering dissonances, and intense spiritual beauty. Lauridsen’s work in the secular realm is represented by two song cycles: Les Chansons des Roses, which employs five flower-inspired texts by Rainer Maria Rilke, and the five orchestrated Mid-Winter Songs, inspired by the poetry of Robert Graves. I don’t want to waste time stringing adjectives together. Suffice it to say this is all music straight from the heart. Emotions churn in warm, gentle ways, and you’d have to be a constipated, curmudgeonly old coot inside not to be moved by it! The choir and orchestra sound like they were deputized by the angels to bring this music to earth. RCM’s sound is warm, and plush, and the notes, once they stop babbling, are helpful. This will be on my Year’s Best List for sure come January. I bet it makes yours too!"


– Philip Greenfield (American Record Guide)

Les Chansons des Roses (Rainer Maria Rilke)

En une seule fleur
Contre qui, rose
De ton rêve trop plein
La rose complete
Dirait-on


In addition to his vast output of German poetry, Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) composed nearly 400 poems in French. His poems on roses struck me as especially charming, filled with gorgeous lyricism, deftly crafted and elegant in their imagery. These exquisite poems are primarily light, joyous and playful, and the musical settings are designed to enhance these characteristics and capture the delicate beauty and sensuousness of the poetry. Distinct melodic and harmonic materials recur throughout the cycle, especially between Rilke's poignant "Contre qui, rose" (set as a wistful nocturne) and his moving "La rose complète." The final piece, "Dirait-on," is composed as a tuneful chanson populaire, or folksong, that weaves together two melodic ideas first heard in fragmentary form in preceding movements.

Les Chansons des Roses was premiered and recorded in 1993 by Portland , Oregon 's celebrated chamber choir, Choral Cross-Ties, conducted by Bruce Browne. The complete cycle has been widely performed since then and also recorded by the Los Angeles Master Chorale, Los Angeles Chamber Singers, Nordic Chamber Choir and tonight's performers, the Donald Brinegar Singers.


-- Morten Lauridsen

Ave Maria

Ave Maria is one of Lauridsen's growing series of a cappella motets on well-known Latin texts, received its world premiere performance by the Los Angeles Master Chorale, conducted by Paul Salamunovich, on December 14, 1997. The composer wrote, "This serene setting was specially composed as a 70th birthday gift to Maestro Salamunovich, who continues to enrich us all through his magnificent and enduring contributions to the art of choral music." The changing moods of the text's two verses are reflected in a pair of strong and evocative themes, and in polyphonic textures enriched with divisis to eight or more parts, and peppered with the composer's trademark "gentle" dissonances.

Copyright © 1998 by Peter Rutenberg. All Rights Reserved.

Mid-Winter Songs on Poems of Robert Graves

Mid-Winter Songs on poems by Robert Graves was commissioned by the University of Southern California to celebrate its Centennial in 1980 and premiered that year by the USC Chamber Singers, conducted by Rodney Eichenberger.  The cycle has since been widely performed in both its original chorus/piano version (recorded by Choral Cross-Ties, conducted by Bruce Browne, on Lauridsen -- The Complete Choral  Cycles) and the subsequent chorus/orchestral setting, commissioned and premiered by the Pasadena Chamber Orchestra in the Ambassador Auditorium in 1983 and recorded by the Los Angeles Master Chorale, conducted by Paul Salamunovich, on Lauridsen -- Lux Aeterna (RCM).  


In reading Graves (1895-1985), I became very much taken with the richness, elegance and extraordinary beauty of his poetry and his insights regarding the human experience.  Five diverse poems with a common "Winter" motif (a particular favorite of mine, rich in the paradoxical symbolism of dying/rejuvenation, light/darkness, sleeping/waking) suggested a cohesive musical cycle.  The principal musical materials for the entire work, especially the intervals of an ascending major ninth and descending major second, are derived from the opening choral setting of "Dying Sun" and recur throughout the piece.  The cycle is cast in an overall arch form, framed by the intensely dramatic and passionate setting of the "Lament for Pasiphaë" and the gentle, prayerful "Intercession in Late October." 


– Morten Lauridsen

O Magnum Mysterium, commissioned by Marshall Rutter in honor of his wife, Terry Knowles, has had several thousand performances throughout the world and dozens of recordings since its 1994 premiere by the Los Angeles Master Chorale.  I have also arranged the work for solo voice and piano or organ (recorded on Northwest Journey by Jane Thorngren accompanied by the composer), men's chorus and brass ensemble; H. Robert Reynold's stunning adaptation for symphonic winds was recently premiered in Minneapolis by the Thornton Wind Symphony.

For centuries, composers have been inspired by the beautiful O Magnum Mysterium text depicting the birth of the new-born King amongst the lowly animals and shepherds.  This affirmation of God's grace to the meek and the adoration of the Blessed Virgin are celebrated in my setting through a quiet song of profound inner joy.

– Morten Lauridsen

Madrigali:  Six "FireSongs" on  Italian Renaissance Poems

Ov'è, Lass', Il Bel Viso?
Quando Son Più Lontan
Amor, Io Sento L'alma
Io Piango
Luci Serene E Chiare
Se Per Havervi, Oime

The choral masterpieces of the High Renaissance, especially the madrigals by Monteverdi and Gesualdo, provided the inspiration for my own Madrigali.   Italian love poems of that era have constituted a rich lyric source for many composers, and while reading them I became increasingly intrigued by the symbolic image of flames, burning and fire that recurred within this context.  I decided to compose an intensely dramatic cycle based on Renaissance love poems employing this fire motive while blending stylistic musical features of the period with a contemporary compositional idiom.  These characteristics include word painting, modality, bold harmonic shifts, intricate counterpoint and augenmusic, or eye music, which occur throughout the cycle.


I wanted this music to emanate (like ripples from a pebble thrown into a pond) from a single, primal sonority – one dramatic chord that would encapsulate the intensity of the entire cycle and which would provide a musical motivic unity to complement the poetic.  This sonority, which I've termed the "Fire-Chord," opens the piece and is found extensively throughout all six movements in myriad forms and manipulations. 

Like several of my cycles, the Madrigali are designed in an arch form with significant sharing of material between movements one and six, two and five,  The cycle has its dramatic high point in movement four, "Io Piango," where the music gradually builds from pianissimo to a fortissimo, seven-part explosion of "Fire-Chord" before settling to a quiet return  of the opening measures.  The "Fire-Chord" returns in its original key and spacing in the final movement, on the word ..."You."   The final cadence in the cycle is left unresolved – this love will forever remain unrequited. 

The Madrigali were premiered in 1987 by the USC Chamber Singers, conducted by Rodney Eichenberger, and the complete cycle been recorded  by the Seattle Pro Musica, Donald Brinegar Singers, Nordic Chamber Choir, University of Alberta Chamber Singers and the Thornton Chamber Choir of the University of Southern California.

 

– Morten Lauridsen

Commentary on Madrigali by Peter Rutenberg:

Morley, Monteverdi and Gesualdo all steep in the font of inspiration for Morten Lauridsen's Madrigali (Six "Fire Songs" on Italian Renaissance Poems). Everything hinges on the first sonority, what Lauridsen calls the "fire chord": it is at once the hitching post and germinal womb which, a thorough analysis would show, informs virtually all that follows. Transformed, or rather forged in passion's fiery furnace, the "fire chord" also sizzles as the final sonority.

To accomplish this, Lauridsen draws on an armory of compositional techniques, not simply in skillful display, but because—like the 16th century composers whose stile rappresentativo he memorializes—the text and its adequate expression require it. A prominent feature of the harmony is polytonality. Ives used it to represent separate musical happenings converging on one location, such as several marching bands arriving simultaneously at the town square. In the Madrigali, it likewise portrays a confluence of memories that coexist in the consciousness. The listener's balanced attention brings these multiple images into clear, audible focus. Many of the explosive climaxes throughout the cycle rely on the compounding of harmonic tension through dissonances and density. The cadences, sectional and final, recall and replay the ubiquitous closing suspension of the period with great interpretive variety.

Melodically speaking, there are the bouncy, light tunes of an Orazio Vecchi or Giovanni Gastoldi, along with Morley's English take on these Italianisms; there are Gesualdo's defiant departures; Monteverdi's soaring, almost Romantic, fantasies and his sharp, snappy turns in equal measure; in places there is even evidence of Heinrich Schuetz's Opus 1 (written in Italy while the composer studied with Monteverdi). With respect to rhythm, a number of dance patterns are represented in duple and triple meters, as well as the resultant hemiola from playing both simultaneously. The texture varies constantly among the historical possibilities, with imitative counterpoint yielding chordal movement and just as soon drifting back into counterpoint, or brief canonic activity between momentarily rival factions in the choir. Vertically, one or two voices may expand rapidly to four or as many as eight. The formal structure follows a variety of older models, although each piece is distinct within the cycle. In brief contour, they are: I-AABBAA; II-ABABCCAB; III-ABBA; IV-ABA; V-AABBAA; VI-AABAA.

In all the Madrigali are a tour-de-force of 20th century a cappella writing whose inventiveness and attention to detail honor their 16th century paragons. Vocally demanding in the best bel canto tradition, they are generously rewarding to perform and should take their place among the few great works that will last into the next millennium.

Copyright © 1995 by Peter Rutenberg. All Rights Reserved.


Cuatro Canciones was commissioned by the Yoav Chamber Ensemble and premiered at the Schoenberg Institute in 1983.  The cycle has since been frequently performed throughout the United States and abroad by contemporary music groups, including numerous performances by the Los Angeles-based Viklarbo Ensemble (with Ann Marie Ketchum), which recorded the work on Lauridsen – Northwest Journey (RCM) .  

 

In keeping with the generally introspective and thoughtful nature of the texts, the vocal part is primarily reflective and expressive while the instrumental ensemble provides color and commentary.  Each song has its own predominate interval or intervallic cell ("Pause of the Clock" – minor second and minor third; "Night" – major second; "The Moon Rising" – perfect fourth and tritone; "Farewell"– major third and perfect fifth), each song adding its own cell to those already presented. These accumulated motives are all referenced in the final song, Lorca's elegant, poignant Despidida.

 

– Morten Lauridsen


When Frost Moves Fast
As Birds Come Nearer
The Racing Waterfall
A Child Lay Down
Who Reads by Starlight
And What Of Love


I was introduced to the poetry of Howard Moss through the fine musical settings of his texts by Ned Rorem and William Flanagan.  A Winter Come (from Moss's collection of the same name) became the first in my series of vocal cycles and was premiered in 1968 by soprano Rose Taylor and pianist Ralph Grierson.  The songs are tuneful and direct with much of the music derived from manipulations of the opening motive:  E-flat, D-flat, C and B-flat. 

Howard Moss (1922-1987) was, for many years, poetry editor of the New Yorker.  His Selected Poems (Atheneum) received the 1972 National Book Award for Poetry.  A Winter Come had its East Coast premiere at the Kennedy Center in 1988 and has been recorded by Jane Thorngren and Mr. Grierson on  Lauridsen – Northwest Journey. 

– Morten Lauridsen