Learn More: Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna

Posted on Apr 20, 2015 by

This choral masterpiece will be the feature of our May 9 concert, oneVoice: An Ecumenical Community Celebration in Song, 7:30 pm, Lawrence Memorial Chapel. The work is presented in five movements. 

NewVoices_Dec-2014_031There are rare moments in this world when a piece of art is so alluring it captures your entire existence and takes it on a ride through the infinite. Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna is a perfect example of this exquisite encounter.

He wrote this piece with the primary intent of making connections: a visceral connection to the music and an emotional connection between the audience sharing the performance. NewVoices Artistic Director Phillip Swan has a deep connection with this choral masterpiece.

“The work stirs up great depths of emotion, catapulting one through feelings of loss, sorrow, hope, and rest,” Swan said. “It is a work that I was introduced to and helped to prepare for a church choir in Miami during the Lenten season in 2000 (just three years after the premiere). It made an immediate and lasting impression on the choir, the congregation, and me.” It is our sincere hope that this gorgeous piece also makes a lasting impression with you all at our next concert.

Lux Aeterna may not be the piece most commonly associated with Lauridsen, but the similarities between this masterwork and his most recognizable piece, O Magnum Mysterium. are endless. What’s most interesting is Lauridsen took a break from composing Lux Aeterna in 1994 to write the Christmas Canticle, O Magnum Mysterium. Lauridsen writes about the composing process,“The serenity and the uncomplicated and lyric style of O Magnum Mysterium are continued in Lux Aeterna.” Many in our choir and audience have performed O Magnum Mysterium in high school or collegiate choirs, and will be able to recognize Lauridsen’s musical vocabulary immediately.

For those who have yet to experience Lauridsen’s works, no one can describe them better than the maestro himself. He explains Lux Aeterna “is an intimate work of quiet serenity centered around a universal symbol of hope, reassurance, goodness and illumination at all levels.” His music is truly and intentionally transparent and he writes,

“I didn’t want to write an elitist piece that only the very best choirs in the world could perform. I wanted to write a piece that would be within reach of many people, many performers. It’s a piece with a message, and I didn’t want to complicate that message with complicated musical language.”

While Lauridsen presents a simple harmonic language, Lux Aeterna is not simple to perform. According to Swan, “it’s beautiful, but extremely difficult to accurately execute the tight harmonies. Communicating the long, lyrical Latin lines require emotional understanding is as well.”

There is a sense of vulnerability in performing a work that is so tonal in nature. Lauridsen’s harmonically straightforward language provides the audience with the ability to detect the subtle tuning complications. By contrast, newVoices has performed works by contemporary choral composer Eric Whitacre, characterized by massive chord clusters that fill up the Chapel in a wash of overwhelming colors.

Lauridsen intentionally related Lux Aeterna to Renaissance forms and structures. The piece was commissioned by Paul Salamunovich who is a leading expert on Gregorian chant and Renaissance music. Lauridsen writes

“…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 seamlessness throughout certainly have their underpinnings in the chant literature.”

The intimacy in Lauridsen’s work is due to the deep emotional and personal experiences that inspired him to create Lux Aeterna. He writes

“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.”

“Consequently, the composition is influenced by this emotional period, as he weaves a message of hope through this work about Eternal Light,” Swan said.

Lauridsen’s deep internal connection to this particular work is apparent not only in the notes on the page, but also in the way that it is performed. Loss is a universal theme in our lives, but so is finding solitude in the comfort of music and the company of our loved ones. We can’t wait to share our love for Lux Aeterna with you, so that you can then connect and share it with those that you love as well.

–Authored by Justin Gingrich, newVoices intern



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