Meet Morten Lauridsen, California-based Danish composer of O Magnum Mysterium, Lux Aeterna, and other choral staples
As well as inspiring generations as a professor at the University of Southern California, Morten Lauridsen is a composer with a global fanbase. His festive O Magnum Mysterium and Lux Aeterna have become staples of choral repertoire, the former featuring on a new recording by the Ebor Singers on Resonus Classics.
Here, Morten tells us about his ways into music, and his compositional process.
I had always thought of music as an avocation. I was a decent pianist, a pretty fair trumpet player and I sang in church choir. I did no music in my first year of college up in Washington, but concentrated on other things. After a summer fighting forest fires, I was alone for ten weeks as a firewatcher on a lookout up by Mount St Helens. I made some major decisions on that lookout; I realised that music needed to be a much larger part of my life.
I’m a tactile person, I like to hear the sound. I write at the piano and I never use a computer. I read poetry all the time. It takes me a long time to find a poem or text that connects with me deeply, and once I find that, it hits me like a thunderbolt and I have to set it.
O Magnum Mysterium was my very first piece for the LA Master Chorale. They had appointed me their composer-in-residence, and asked if I would do my first piece for their Christmas concert. It’s a very difficult piece to do correctly, to get the tuning, tempo and breathing right, but it’s a piece that is sung everywhere in the world these days.
My Lux Aeterna really connected with people. You ought to see the mail I get on that thing! It’s especially true of these troubled times, the pandemic and all this other stuff that’s happening, because it’s a piece that’s hopeful; it’s for the survivors of crisis. I wrote it when my mother was dying and I tried to create something positive and ennobling, something that you can hang on to, light and illumination of all kinds – artistic, intellectual, personal and spiritual.
I need silence. These days we’re so diverted from ourselves, by cellphones and every possible thing, that we lose connection. With pieces like O Magnum Mysterium and the Lux Aeterna, I needed to go very deeply into myself and connect with something very special. So I instil in people, especially young people, to try and find those places where you can do that; places of silence, serenity and pristine beauty. I sought that out and I found it.
Michael is the Reviews Editor of BBC Music Magazine. He was previously a freelance film music journalist and spent 15 years at St George's Bristol. Michael specialises in film and television music and was the Editor of MusicfromtheMovies.com. He has written for the BBC Proms, BBC Concert Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Albert Hall, Hollywood in Vienna and Silva Screen Records.