MortenLauridsen "The only American composer in history who can be called a mystic, whose probing, serene work contains an elusive and indefinable ingredient which leaves the impression that all the questions have been answered" -Nick Strimple, musicologist
The Myth… • Morten Johannes Lauridsen (born February 27, 1943) is an American composer. • A National Medal of Arts recipient (2007), he was composer-in-residence of the Los Angeles Master Chorale (1994–2001) and has been a professor of composition at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music for more than 40 years. • A native of the Pacific Northwest, Lauridsen worked as a Forest Service firefighter and lookout (on an isolated tower near Mt. St. Helens) and attended Whitman College before traveling south to study composition at the University of Southern California with Ingolf Dahl, Halsey Stevens, Robert Linn, and Harold Owen. He began teaching at USC in 1967 and has been on their faculty ever since.
The Man… • In 2006, Lauridsen was named an 'American Choral Master' by the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2007 he received the National Medal of Arts from the President in a White House ceremony, "for his composition of radiant choral works combining musical beauty, power and spiritual depth that have thrilled audiences worldwide.” • His works have been recorded on more than 200 CDs, five of which have received Grammy Award nominations, including O Magnum Mysterium by the Tiffany Consort,A Company of Voices by Conspirare, Sound The Bells by The Bay Brass and two all-Lauridsen discs entitled LuxAeterna by the Los Angeles Master Chorale led by Paul Salamunovich and Polyphony with the Britten Sinfonia conducted by Stephen Layton. His principal publishers are Peermusic (New York/Hamburg) and Faber Music (London).
The Legend. • A recipient of numerous grants, prizes, and commissions, Lauridsen chaired the Composition department at the USC Thornton School of Music from 1990–2002 and founded the School’s Advanced Studies program in Film Scoring. He has held residencies as guest composer/lecturer at over seventy universities and has received honorary doctorates from Whitman College, Oklahoma State University, Westminster Choir College and King’s College, University of Aberdeen, Scotland. • Lauridsennow divides his time between Los Angeles and his summer residence on a remote island off the northern coast of Washington State.
Compositions • His eight vocal cycles and two collections—Les Chansons des Roses (Rilke), Mid-Winter Songs (Graves), A Winter Come (Moss), A Backyard Universe, Madrigali: Six "FireSongs" on Italian Renaissance Poems, Nocturnes (Rilke, Neruda and Agee), CuatroCanciones (Lorca), Four Madrigals on Renaissance Texts, Five Songs on American Poems (Moss, Witt, Gioia and Agee) and LuxAeterna—his series of sacred a cappella motets (O Magnum Mysterium, Ave Maria, O NataLux, Ubi Caritas et Amor, and Ave Dulcissima Maria) and numerous instrumental works are featured regularly in concert by distinguished artists and ensembles throughout the world. O Magnum Mysterium, Dirait-on (from Les Chansons des Roses), O NataLux (fromLuxAeterna) and Sure On This Shining Night (from Nocturnes) have become the all-time best-selling choral octavos distributed by Theodore Presser, in business since 1783.
His Approach • His musical approaches are very diverse, ranging from direct to abstract in response to various characteristics (subject matter, language, style, structure, historical era, etc.) of the texts he sets. His Latin sacred settings, such as the LuxAeterna and motets, often reference Gregorian chant plus Medieval and Renaissance procedures while blending them within a freshly contemporary sound while other works such as the MadrigaliandCuatroCanciones are highly chromatic or atonal. His music has an overall lyricism and is tightly constructed around melodic and harmonic motives.
Contre qui, Rose • In 1993 Lauridsen’s publisher released Les Chansons des Roses, a cycle of five settings of French poems by Rainer Maria Rilke. • While Rilke is known mostly for German verse, these French poems made a strong impression on Lauridsen. • It is in this cycle that the chord voicing now associated with Lauridsen (which, in technical terms, is a 2nd-inversion or “6/4” chord) first made its powerful stamp.
Contre qui, Rose • In the second movement, “Contre qui, rose,” what starts out sounding like a melody in the sopranos with harmonic support from the lower lines then becomes more and more contrapuntal, with each voice part having something distinctive to say.
Rilke • Rilke’s poetry is often multi-layered and frequently ambiguous, forcing his reader to use his or her own imagination to grasp the text. • This wonderful little poem poses a series of questions and the corresponding musical phrases all end with unresolved harmonies as the questions remain unanswered.
Translation Contrequi, rose. Avéz-vousadopté Césépines? Voltre joie trop fine Vous a-t-élleforcé De devenircette chose armée? Mais de qui vous protégé Cettearmeexagéree? Combiend’ennemisvoiusai-je enlevés Qui ne la craignaient point? Aue contraire, d’été en automne Vous blesses les soins Qu’onvousdonne. Against whom, rose, Have you assumed These thorns? Is it your too fragile joy That forced you to become This armed thing? But from whom does it protect you, This exaggerated defense? How many enemies have I lifted from you Who did not fear it at all? On the contrary, from summer to autumn You wound the affection That is given to you.
What is happening in the music? • We have all been in situations where we have given affection and not had it returned, where attempts at communication have been unsuccessful, met by resistance or defenses of some kind. • A sense of quiet resignation begins the setting as the stark harmony and melodic line, filled with unresolved suspensions and appoggiaturas, gradually build to a nine-part chord on “au contraire” and then the music folds back on itself, ending on a cluster that simply fades away as does the hope of understanding the reasons for the rose’s thorny protection.
You have a cool chorus teacher We’re tight, obviously.
Complete the questions you received in rehearsal and turn in tomorrow morning. Be prepared to answer questions in class about Lauridsen and Contre qui, Rose.