Sunday, 26 February 2012

Lauridsen - 'O Magnum Mysterium'

Morten Lauridsen
Born 1943
As an American composer, Lauridsen worked as a professor of composition at the University of Southern California, and his music is well-known and often performed in concerts around the world. As well as 'O Magnum Mysterium', other popular works include, 'Contre-Qui' and 'O Nata Lux'. Perhaps best known for his chant-like and floating harmonies, Lauridsen was influenced by some of the great composers in history such as Monteverdi, Palestrina and even Debussy (particularly his experimental use of open fifths and chant form). One of his most famous choral works, 'Sure On This Shining Night' (which my school choir regularly sings in our carol service...) was even created out of influence from American musical theatre. Conductor Nick Strimple describes Lauridsen as, 'the only American composer in history who can be called a mystic, and whose probing and serene work contains an elusive and indefinable ingredient which leaves the impression that all the questions have been answered...' - and I couldn't have described his music better myself!

I first discovered Morten Lauridsen on a course during the summer called, 'The Eton Choral Course'. The course was designed by conductor and director of music at Eton college: Ralph Alwood, and provides vocal training and choral singing experience to enthusiastic young musicians. It was my first time on the course, and I was curious as to what we were going to be singing. To my surprise it was a great line-up, including Morten Lauridsen's 'O Magnum Mysterium' (as well as Herbert Howells' 'I Love All Beauteous Things' which I posted about earlier this month).

Eton Choral Course 2011 in Cheltenham, performing 'O Magnum Mysterium'
(I'm somewhere on the left...)
By the time we had sight-read through the first couple of pages, I knew I was going to love this piece. Not only is it one of few choral works that actually has a decent tune for the poor altos, but the harmonies that he uses are effortlessly beautiful, and join the different sections of the piece together without interruption. As well as this, there are particular moments (clashes of vocal parts) that really give a unique personality to Lauridsen's quite widely used style of choral composition. For instance at 3.35, where we can hear a semi-tone clash between soprano and alto parts. These are the moments where it only works if you have the the volume up, your feet up and your eyes closed. Enjoy!

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