Oct 12, 2012
One of the privileges of writing this column is that I occasionally get to meet the composers of the music I review. I had a meeting this past year with a musician with whom I have been in correspondence for some time. Morten Lauridsen, the most frequently performed American choral composer, came to Washington, D.C. for the local premiere of the documentary film that Michael Stillwater made about him, titled “Shining Night.” I was delighted when Lauridsen asked me to sit with him during the showing. What I saw – and heard – left me deeply moved.
I already knew that Lauridsen was articulate because I had interviewed him by phone several years ago about the stunningly beautiful Hyperion CD of his “Lux Aeterna” and other choral works. When he wrote this piece in 1997, Lauridsen was facing his mother’s impending death. He told me, “I purposely chose those texts that had the recurring symbol of light.” “Lux Aeterna” is not a liturgical work, strictly speaking, but it is the sacred in sound because beauty of this sort is sacramental. In style, Lauridsen was inspired by Renaissance master Josquin des Pres. He not only draws upon Renaissance forms, he remains true to them, albeit with some modern harmonies. “I did try to create a very beautiful piece,” he said. “We try to get to that point beyond words.”
Also on this CD is an exquisitely beautiful and moving “Ave Maria.” I have seldom encountered anything so suffused with love for Mary. When I asked Lauridsen, a Protestant, about this, he responded, “I don’t have to belong to the Catholic Church to be in love with Mary.”
In the Wall Street Journal, Lauridsen stated something else that I cherish. He explained what he was trying to achieve in his sublime choral work, “O Magnum Mysterium,” also contained on the Hyperion CD. “In composing music to these inspirational words about Christ’s birth and the veneration of the Virgin Mary,” he said, “I sought to impart … 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.” As St. Augustine said, only the lover sings such songs. If you want to hear what St. Augustine meant, you might also listen to this music.