At the core of my work as a composer over the past 45 years are seven multimovement vocal cycles, each centered on a single poetic theme, most often by one author -- for example, "Les Chansons des Roses" on Rainer Maria Rilke's delightful poems penned in 1924; the "Madrigali 'Fire-Songs'" on Renaissance Italian poems; "Cuatro Canciones," my chamber settings of Federico García Lorca's poems about time and night; and the "Lux Aeterna" on sacred texts about "light." And for each cycle I've selected my musical materials -- harmonies, melodies, rhythm, formal construction, orchestration, etc. -- to complement aspects of the texts I've chosen, including their style, content, language and historical context. The musical settings range from accessible and direct to atonal, abstract and highly coloristic.The piece he is talking about in this essay is "O Magnum Mysterium" premiered in 1994 by the Los Angeles Master Chorale under the baton of Paul Salamunovich. Here is a performance from YouTube:
Somehow he manages to make the harmonies sound fresh and interesting, which is a pretty neat trick (no, not a trick, a method).
I ran across this reading an article in American Digest titled “O Magnum Mysterium:” The Persistence of Sacred Beauty
It is a commonplace that the overwhelming mass of our contemporary art that is “exhibited” has devolved into mere “exhibitionism.” Vapid, disposable and preening the works are doomed to be buried in the gaping garbage pits of marketing-driven museums, and crapulous galleries that hold most contemporary American and European art. Still, great souls persist among us and great art, though it is often obscured by poseurs and perverts and pallid imitators of all stripes, can still emerge when talent and skill are wedded to inspiration and belief.It is too easy to simply condemn most contemporary art as garbage even though a great deal of it may be. The Lauridsen piece is absolutely lovely in a way that slightly reminds me of Arvo Pärt, but it does exist in a delimited realm. All I mean by that is that it renders homage to great vocal music of the past a bit too literally. If we set all ideology to one side, as we should, then music like this deserves a place in our contemporary musical world. But so does, for example, Lux Aeterna by Ligeti:
Yes, that is a bit disquieting, but we do live in disquieting times so we need music like this as well as music that soothes. We also need music that explores, like this piece by Morton Feldman, Rothko Chapel:
Perhaps we even need music that challenges us, like this piece, Poem No 1 (1959), by Galina Ustvolskaya:
Is there any reason that we can't make a place for all of these different kinds of musics?