Lauridsen’s Lux aeterna

The Renaissance Choir will be performing Lauridsen’s Lux aeterna on 27 February 2016 in Petersfield. When the Renaissance Choir first performed it, it was virtually unknown in the UK. Visit concert page.

Lux aeterna, written in 1997, is a series of sacred motets. It is a requiem, but unlike the better-known requiems by the likes of Verdi and Mozart, Lauridsen’s work is a tranquil, light-filled piece.

Each of the five connected movements in the cycle contains references to Light assembled from various sacred Latin texts. The piece opens and closes with the beginning and end of the Requiem Mass, with the central three movements drawn from the Te Deum, O Nata Lux and Veni, Sancte Spiritus.

Lauridsen had pondered the creation of his Lux aeterna for chorus and orchestra for an extended period before the work began to crystallize in 1995. In an uncanny parallel with both Brahms and Fauré, the composition of Lux aeterna was given an added impetus and poignancy when Lauridsen’s mother died as he began to notate his initial ideas for the score. Written for the distinguished conductor Paul Salamunovich and the Los Angeles Master Chorale, Lux aeterna enjoyed a highly successful premiere on 13 April 1997, and has subsequently been performed widely.

Like Fauré’s Requiem, Lux aeterna is suffused by warmth and consolation; the composer has written that this is an ‘intimate work of quiet serenity’ that expresses ‘hope, reassurance, faith and illumination in all of its manifestations’. Unlike Fauré, however, Lauridsen did not set out to compose a liturgical work, but rather collated texts from a variety of sacred Latin sources.

Lauridsen is first and foremost a composer for the voice, and the creation of beautiful melodic lines is one of his highest priorities; as he once stated, ‘I constantly sing each line as I am composing to make sure that each part is lyrical and gracious for the singer’. Therefore, it is unsurprising that the American composer has immersed himself in plainchant and the music of the Renaissance, and that this ongoing study has had a deep impression upon his style.

Cast as five movements performed without pause, Lux aeterna is organized as an extended motet, for each new portion of the text calls forth a different musical response. Strands of complex counterpoint are interlaced to create the sonorous equivalent of supernal light. Lauridsen unifies Lux aeterna in part through a single recurring chord – comprising a D major triad with an added note, E – that becomes a harmonic symbol of the luminous.

Throughout the opening movement of Lux aeterna, the composer deepens the predominant mood of inner poise and grace with touches of solemnity and inwardness. In the second section of the score, In te, Domine, speravi, the solemn chorale Herzliebster Jesu (from the Nuremberg Songbook of 1677) is introduced as a cantus firmus that underpins the musical discourse as it flows above. This severe chorale casts a shadow over the music that is dispelled by succeeding movement, the radiant O nata lux for a cappella chorus, the text of which is a hymn originally sung during Lauds on the Feast of the Transfiguration. The incandescence of the succeeding section, the hymn Veni, Sancte Spiritus, traditionally chanted at Pentecost Matins, dims gradually into a gentle Agnus Dei that is an introspective prayer for peace. The final Lux aeterna reprises the opening section of the Introitus and concludes with a joyful “Alelluia”.