Program Note for Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna
to be performed during Luminous: Songs of Fire & Light
Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna, written in 1997 for the Los Angeles Master Chorale, is a 25-minute work in five movements set to various Latin texts about light. It is a poignant, modern requiem rich in unashamed consonant harmonies and lush haunting melodies. Lauridsen 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.” The piece is often compared to Brahms’ Requiem, also written after the passing of the composer’s mother, but “without the 19th century guilt”—no Day of Judgment or gloom here, just generosity and radiance throughout. Lauridsen uses the chant-like melodies and sophisticated counterpoint of the high Renaissance, especially the music of Josquin, for his inspiration in this composition.
The work opens with the beginning of the Requiem Mass and introduces several themes that occur throughout the work. The second movement, In te Domine, Speravi, speaks to the hope and trust the composer has for life eternal after death, and includes the most angular melodies of the entire work and an inverted canon between sopranos/altos and tenors/basses at its center. The central movement, O Nata Lux, is an a cappella motet that asks the “Light of Light” to accept the speaker’s praises and prayers. It is paired with the fourth movement, Veni, Sancte Spiritus, which begins with praise and moves into supplication (“grant us everlasting joy!”). The final movement is a quiet setting of Agnus Dei, followed by a reiteration of the opening Lux Aeterna. The work closes with a glorious “Alleluia”—the angels joyfully summoning the soul to heaven.
Morten Lauridsen (b. 1943) has long been a professor of composition at University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music and was Composer-in-Residence of the Los Angeles Master Chorale when Lux Aeterna was written. His music consists primarily of choral works, which have become a staple to choirs around the world. Of his seven vocal cycles and handful of a cappella motets, O Magnum Mysterium, Sure on this Shining Night, Dirait-on, and O Nata Lux (the center movement of Lux Aeterna) are by far his most popular.