If you keep your ear to the ground, you will recently have heard talk of an American composer who is making quite an impact on the international choral scene. His music has been described as ‘luminous’, ‘straight from the heart’ and ‘intensely moving’. This composer is Morten Lauridsen, composer-in-residence with the Los Angeles Master Chorale and Chair of Composition at the University of Southern California.
His tastes are broad, ranging from classical and jazz to the great American songwriters from Broadway. It is those composers who excelled at lyricism, composing beautiful melodic lines while revealing depth of compositional craft and technique, that most influenced Lauridsen. And this can be heard in the music that he writes.
From reading any article or composer’s note by the composer it is clear, however, that music is often driven first and foremost by the text that he sets: ‘Poetry is a source of great beauty and enlightenment, and it has been enormously fulfilling for me to blend these two great loves of mine, music and poetry, throughout my career.’ His six vocal cycles include settings of Rilke, Graves, Lorca, Moss and various Renaissance Italian poets, as well as passages from the Latin sacred liturgy: Lauridsen deliberately choosing universal themes and symbols penned by world-class poets so that listeners and performers world-wide ‘can associate with these ideas in a very personal way’.
The overriding sense one has of Lauridsen’s music is of a celestial calm, of reassurance - and celebration of the human voice. ‘For many years I have spent my summer months at my rustic beach cabin on a remote island off the northwest coast of Washington State. This is a place of pristine beauty and serenity, an abiding calmness and oneness with nature.  The Lux Aeterna, the O Magnum Mysterium and other works were finished there on an old, fifty-dollar piano and musical ideas were often generated on long walks on the beach or through the forest.’  These periods of reflection amidst the beauty of nature, along with a strong grounding in faith from an early age, have been key to the nature of his work.
Perhaps Lauridsen’s best-known works are the large choral work Lux aeterna and the beautiful setting of O Magnum Mysterium: rich in harmonic colour, deeply spiritual and moving. However, his music has an incredible diversity in terms of style, mirroring his background and influences, with his six vocal cycles revealing a particularly wide-ranging approach as they are designed to complement the textual style, content and history. Lauridsen refers to the influences of the French chanson and music of Ravel and Debussy that complement Rilke’s elegant poems in his Les Chansons des Roses; the music of the high Renaissance in the Lux Aeterna and the motets; and the various sixteenth-century ‘madrigalisms’ (intricate counterpoint, bold harmonic changes, modality, word-painting, cadential formulae) of Gesualdo, Monteverdi, Marenzio that combine into the twentieth-century framework of Lauridsen’s own highly passionate Madrigali.
The depth and spiritual nature of Morten Lauridsen’s music provides an extraordinary, and thrilling, experience for both singers and their audiences. This admiration is reciprocal, and assures a wealth of wonderful music in the future from a composer who finishes, ‘nothing is as beautiful or expressive as the singing voice, which I find to be continually inspiring.’