Born in Colfax, Washington, Morten Lauridsen came to USC to study with Ingolf Dahl, Halsey Stevens, and others. He joined the USC faculty in 1967 and has taught there ever since. He was composer-in-residence for the Los Angeles Master Chorale, which premiered Lux Aeterna in 1997. He was designated “American Choral Master” by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2006 and he received the National Medal for the Arts in 2007. A new recording of Lux Aeterna by the Chamber Choir of Europe was recently released on Deutsche Grammophon.
Each of the five connected movements in this choral cycle contains references to “Light,” assembled from various sacred Latin texts. I composed Lux Aeterna in response to my mother’s final illness and found great personal comfort and solace in setting to music these timeless and wondrous words about Light, a universal symbol of illumination at all levels - spiritual, artistic, and intellectual.
The work opens and closes with the beginning and ending of the Requiem Mass, with the central three movements drawn respectively from the Te Deum, 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 Nuremburg Songbook, 1677) and a lengthy inverted canon on “fiat misericordia.” O Nata Lux and Veni, Sancte Spiritus are paired songs, the former an a cappella motet at the center of the work 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 celebratory Alleluia. — Morten Lauridsen