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American Composers and Musicians from A to Z: L (Part 1–Lauridsen, Morten)

Refulgent, luminous, ethereal, mystical. These are words used to describe the choral music of American composer Morten Lauridsen. He was born in 1943 in Washington state to a family of Danish heritage. Upon earning a doctoral degree from the University of Southern California (USC), he joined the faculty of the Department of Music. At USC’s Thornton School of Music he was chair of the composition department from 1990-2002 and established the Advanced Studies Program in Film Scoring. Lauridsen was composer-in-residence for the Los Angeles Master Chorale from 1994-2001 and has become known the world over for his choral compositions. He has said, “It was a natural thing for me to blend poetry and the human voice, which is the most wonderful and personal of all musical instruments. I ended up writing a great deal of choral music, and haven’t stopped.” In 2006 the National Endowment for the Arts named Lauridsen an American Choral Master, and he received the National Medal of Arts in 2007.

In his works, Lauridsen employs compositional styles and techniques from across the sweep of Western choral writing, including Gregorian chant, Renaissance polyphony, and atonality. He displays immense sensitivity and responsiveness to the texts he sets, writing in a 2009 article “…I’ve selected my musical materials — harmonies, melodies, rhythm, formal construction, orchestration, etc. — to complement aspects of the texts I’ve chosen, including their style, content, language and historical context. The musical settings range from accessible and direct to atonal, abstract and highly coloristic.”

I first encountered Lauridsen’s music during my undergraduate years, when I had the privilege to learn and perform O Magnum Mysterium and “Contre qui, rose” (from Lauridsen’s choral cycle Les Chansons des Roses) with a group of 16 singers. These were powerful experiences of harmonization, musical unity, and sublimity. For me, Lauridsen’s lush harmonies evoke meditative wonder and richly enhance the experience of the texts he sets.

The NLS Music Section has scores for two of Lauridsen’s best-loved works available to borrow from our collection of braille music:

Lauridsen, Morten. Lux Aeterna. For chorus and chamber orchestra or organ. Score and parts for chorus (SATB) only. Five volumes. Includes choral score (v. 1-2). In section by section (choral score) and line by line formats (vocal parts). (BRM33641)

Lauridsen, Morten. O Magnum Mysterium. For SATB chorus a cappella. Five volumes. Includes choral score (volume one) and choral parts. (BRM33631)

Lauridsen, Morten. “O Nata Lux” from Lux Aeterna. For SATB choir. Five volumes. Includes choral score (volume one) and choral parts. (BRM33633)

O Magnum Mysterium is a choral motet commissioned in 1993 by the president of the Los Angeles Master Chorale in honor of his second wedding anniversary and premiered at the Chorale’s Christmas concert in 1994. As a basis for the piece, Lauridsen selected the Latin text for the Christmas Day matins responsory “O Magnum Mysterium.” He has said that his overall vision for the piece was to create a “transforming spiritual experience within what I call ‘a quiet song of profound inner joy.’ I wanted this piece to resonate immediately and deeply into the core of the listener, to illumine through sound.” Regarding his compositional decisions, Lauridsen wrote, “I also wanted to convey a sense of the text’s long history and theological importance by referencing the constant purity of sacred music found in High Renaissance polyphony, especially in works by Josquin des Prez and Palestrina. … Further, both the musical themes and phrase shapes in ‘O Magnum Mysterium’ have their roots in Gregorian chant, with a constant metric flow and ebb.”

Lux Aeterna is a requiem scored for SATB choir and chamber orchestra in five movements, each of which sets a different Latin liturgical text about divine light. Lauridsen composed the piece in 1997, when his mother passed away. She had been a musician herself, teaching Lauridsen to play piano, singing to him, and generally encouraging his musical pursuits. In a 2012 documentary film called Shining Night, Lauridsen recalled, “it was a great comfort to me in the two years it took me to write the ‘Lux Aeterna’ to go to those texts each day. … I simply tried to write something very, very beautiful; a meditation, a quiet meditation about illumination.”

If you’d like to borrow any of the materials listed in this blog, or if you have questions about our services, call 1-800-424-8567, then press option 2 for the Music Section. You may also email us at [email protected]

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