Lux Aeterna for chorus and chamber orchestra was composed for the Los Angeles Master Chorale and its Maestro Paul Salamunovich, who premiered the work at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on April 13, 1997. Each of the five connected movements in this choral cycle contains references to ‘Light’ assembled from various sacred Latin texts. I composed Lux Aeterna in response to my Mother’s final illness and found great personal comfort and solace in setting to music these timeless and wondrous words about Light, a universal symbol of illumination at all levels—spiritual, artistic and intellectual.
In each of my seven vocal cycles I have designed the musical materials to complement the style and content of the texts, ranging from atonal songs on abstract Lorca poems about time and night to the complex, thorny harmonies of the passionate Madrigali to the softer chords and tuneful melodies of Rilke’s Les Chansons des Roses. For the Lux Aeterna I chose as my point of departure the sacred music of the late Renaissance, especially that of Josquin des Prez, to create a quiet, direct and introspective meditation on Light, using primarily the consonant harmonies, intricate counterpoint, formal procedures and chant-like melodic lines of that era.
The work opens and closes with the beginning and ending of the Requiem Mass, with the central three movements drawn respectively from the Te Deum, O Nata Lux and Veni, Sancte Spiritus. The opening Introitus introduces several themes that recur later in the work and includes an extended canon on “et lux perpetua.” In Te, Domine, Speravi contains, among other musical elements, the cantus firmus “Herzliebster Jesu” (from the Nuremberg Songbook, 1677) and a lengthy inverted canon on “fiat misericordia.” O Nata Lux and Veni, Sancte Spiritus are paired songs, the former an a cappella motet at the center of the work and the latter a spirited, jubilant canticle. A quiet setting of the Agnus Dei precedes the final Lux Aeterna, which reprises the opening section of the Introitus and concludes with a joyful and celebratory Alleluia. I would like to express my gratitude to organist James Paul Buonemani of St. James’ Episcopal Church, Los Angeles, for his invaluable assistance in realizing the organ score.
Over the years I have received dozens of letters about Lux Aeterna, often from those experiencing deep sorrow. One listener wrote that “Lux Aeterna has become a rock in my sea of grief” that he turns to each day to gain strength and solace. It is my hope that this quiet meditation