Morten Lauridsen: "O Magnum Mysterium"
  • MarkB
    Posts: 975
    Just wanted to share this video of Morten Lauridsen talking about his thought process when composing his "O Magnum Mysterium". Really interesting insight into his mind and that piece.
  • I find Lauridsen's O Magnum to be quite a pleasant piece and certainly worthy of a decent choir's time.

    That being said, I can't stand the man. His accolades have totally gone to his head and he acts like he's the greatest composer ever when he's written maybe a handful of worthy pieces at best. The documentary on his life further illuminated just how arrogant and deluded he is when it comes to music.

    eg. he talks about "Renaissance direct" sonorities in the video, but it's just the same chains of first-inversion added-note chords that feature in each and every one of his pieces. Pretty, but I just don't buy the "depth" he says he puts into his pieces. They are all fundamentally the same.
  • ronkrisman
    Posts: 1,380
    Luke 4:23
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  • francis
    Posts: 10,513
    I don’t know about the man, but his music, to me, is faddish... (similar to Mozart in his day...) and you all know how I ‘love’ Mozart.
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  • I mean, it's not worthy of inclusion in the same breath as the Gabrieli or the Willan or the Victoria...but it's pleasant, if nothing else.
  • MarkS
    Posts: 281
    It's really easy to give facile descriptions of what Lauridsen is doing harmonically (although this fails to take into account what else he is doing compositionally). It is really difficult to write something that actually sounds like Lauridsen. He has developed a unique voice which is unmistakable (Stravinsky comes immediately to mind as a similarly unmistakeable voice). It's instructive to listen to some of Lauridsen's earlier works.

  • MarkS
    Posts: 281
    Thankful that it wasn't a yellow card!
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 9,098
    Anybody who identifies himself as "distinguished" (even when it's his title) does sound a bit silly. I hope the humorous aspect was intended.

    But his "O magnum mysterium" is lovely. He wrote a solo version of it also, in case that might be useful sometime.
  • MarkS
    Posts: 281
    The solo version is lovely (dedicated to Lauridsen's wife) is lovely and my fiancé and I do it every Christmas morning.,
  • ...but it's pleasant...
    Yes, Schonbergian, but does it 'knock your socks off'?
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  • ...but it's pleasant...
    Yes, Schonbergian, but does it 'knock your socks off'?

    It's got a good beat, and I can dance to it!

    (Oh wait, no. I'm thinking of the 3/4 section of Victoria's O Magnum . . .)
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  • No, I was thinking of the 3/4 section of Gabrieli's!
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  • Nisi
    Posts: 133
    I'm keenly aware that we are meant to be kind here in this forum, but does no one else see through Lauridsen and his music? If you think it unkind of me to say this, I will remove my post willingly, but I and most musicians I know can't stand the stuff.
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  • Nisi
    Posts: 133
    If you tire of the Victoria (and who could?), this will come a close second:
  • I agree, Nisi. I regard O Magnum as Lauridsen's greatest piece, and just about worthy of inclusion on a program where something modern is desired. His other music is simply not nearly as good as his reputation makes it out to be. As a singer, I find obvious technical difficulties in his music stemming from a clear lack of compositional skill and, as I mentioned previously, all of his pieces sound the same with pretty much the same structure and harmonies.

    I'll be fair to the man and grant him his one deserved hit (and I understand why modern choir directors like it) but I always wonder how the personality cult developed around this guy in particular. He's simply not that good.

    Poulenc, though - I like to think that his approach to choral music is fundamentally the same as Lauridsen's, but he succeeds to such a greater degree (and no two Poulenc pieces sound exactly alike). Thanks for linking that O Magnum.
  • Cantus67Cantus67
    Posts: 207
    I'm chuckling while I listen to the Lauridsen Magnum. Yep, it's nice......... Nice...........

    I'm thinking of George Carlin when I think of the word..............nice.

    It's not a bad piece, does it sound pretty much like all the rest of his stuff? Yep.

    But it is...........nice.
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  • Liam
    Posts: 4,863
    Another alternative, one might say Byrd (1607) sounding atypically Palestrina-ish:
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 5,121
    The Byrd O magnum mysterium doesn't sound Palestrina-ish to me at all. But it definitely sounds rather English-ish of the period, and it's quite lovely!!
  • ...definitely...
    Definitely 'English-ish'.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,863
    Of course it is lovely. The many colors of William Byrd. For some reason, it strikes me as less emphatically English-ish than other works (when I see the score, it's less striking, but the first few times I heard it I didn't immediately place it as Byrd in the way I can with other things by Byrd).

    I (heart) Byrd.
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  • francis
    Posts: 10,513
    I really like Poulenc. A unique voice in music.
  • MarkS
    Posts: 281
    So, to list some of the most well known works in what we might call his 'mature' style (he is the author of a number of earlier works that had important performances):

    Any of the 'Nocturnes', but particularly the Neruda setting and the Agee 'Sure on this shining night'

    'O nata lux' from 'Lux Eaterna'

    The aforementioned 'O magnum mysterium'

    'Les Chansons des Roses,' and let's take particularly 'Dirait-on'

    These pieces don't sound the same to me! Perhaps my ears work differently! (I'm sure they do.) But on a basic level each piece is going it's own way. In particular I would say that Lauridsen has a melodic gift that is easily overlooked.

    (Of course, Mozart pieces all sound the same. Depending on what you mean by that!)

    And, by the way, these pieces are easy to sing. There are no 'compositional' problems that hinder singing of parts. Unless you mean that Lauridsen doesn't follow Fux-style species counterpoint procedures. Because— why would he? It's the 21st century. His pieces are beautifully worked out. Listen and learn!

    Lauridsen may not go down in history as a heavyweight, but he has written lovely works that will be sung and enjoyed by folks for years. Whether or not you are impressed by the person represented in the video, the work is significant. Lauridsen has added a new voice to the conversation. Not many can say the same!

    For all the folks who are enjoying damning Lauridsen with faint praise, I simply say: go ahead and try to write something as successful! Or even something that sounds like it!
    (Or, for a real challenge, try and write something that sounds like Schoenberg. Easy to make fun of, but real hard to imitate the expressive language!)

    Humility in our opinions is something that is gained over time. The wisest know how much they don't know!

  • By "sounds English-ish", and "of the period" do you perchance mean that it sounds best when sung on the otherside of a fake panel in the wall, a panel which hid a priest hole? (I really like Byrd and Tallis. The expressions caught my fancy, so I wondered what they might mean.)
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 5,121
    The "-ish" suffix is a play on Liam's "Palestrina-ish". I meant simply that Byrd work sounds rather like the English, "of the period" meaning simply or the Renissance era in England. To me, Byrd's style in the Magnificat cited simply did not sound all that much like the style of Palestrina.
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  • Mark, without going into a whole dissertation on vocal writing, it is obvious that Lauridsen composes at the piano without great thought for the character of the voice. He frequently uses highly syllabic passages that simultaneously jump around between registers in the voice. While passable, these are simply not as easy as they sound. I remember singing in one choir which had to rehearse a small, extremely musically straightforward section of Lauridsen for about twenty minutes straight because he had written it in such an unintuitive way that it was torturous to tune. The great composers never had such glaring issues with their writing as to make a simple passage so challenging (with the exception of Beethoven, perhaps)

    No, Mozart doesn't all sound the same. Although Mozart is extremely formulaic (among other things), at least he has a variety of different forms to draw on. I've personally sung three of Lauridsen's works and they all have exactly the same overall structure with a repeated initial section and a build-up to where he finally uses root position harmony. They all use pretty much the same basic characteristic harmonies that aren't even that interesting on their own. I'm not convinced that he can write in anything outside of a very limited range.

    "May not go down in history as a heavyweight?" You and I may agree, but look at what the man thinks of himself!

    All I'm saying is that we should call a spade a spade.
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  • MarkS
    Posts: 281
    Oh goodness!

    a whole dissertation on vocal writing

    That would be fun! Although, in general, I think it's probably a good policy to assume that your colleagues have AT LEAST the background/knowledge/experience that you have.

    Lauridsen composes at the piano

    As did Stravinsky, famously, and Britten and Copland, among well-known 20th century composers. Your point?

    without great thought for the character of the voice.

    So you've actually listened to some Lauridsen pieces, yes?

    with the exception of Beethoven, perhaps

    Or Bach, or Handel ('all we like sheep'?), two composers who definitely deserve a scolding regarding the non-vocal nature of their vocal writing! On the other hand, I am straining to think of a single measure of Lauridsen that poses any particular vocal problem.

    No, Mozart doesn't all sound the same.

    Yes, that was the point! Although some one could argue on a very superficial level that Mozart is just all major/minor scale passages and triadic figures and such-and-such cadential figures and this or that blah blah blah... I've seen it done! But of course that's silly. All composers develop tendencies—my mind just went to Berlioz!—but, Vivaldi, anyone? (In my youth, I thought I was so smart by saying Vivaldi and Haydn (!) were just writing the same piece over and over. True story. Hah. Ah, to be young and have opinions!) But, to return to Lauridsen, I've led performances of all of the above listed works, or the major works from which they are drawn, after having sung/played them all in the past, and I am here to say that they are each different music! And well worth studying by any young musician, especially one with ambitions as a composer. There is much more going on in these pieces than you seem to be aware, 'lightweight' though we may deem Lauridsen's overall output (as compared to more significant composers, which is not to say that Lauridsen's stuff isn't still pretty good!)

    I am reminded of Randall Thompson (sp.? being lazy), whom one might call the Lauridsen of the 40's-60's. It's not late Beethoven, but generations enjoyed singing/listening to his music. It's pretty well-written and interesting stuff, and pretty much always manages to sound like Randall Thompson. It's really quite an admirable achievement.
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  • Mark,

    I'll let Schoenbergian correct me, but I think when he says that Lauridsen composed at the piano, he means that he[Lauridsen]'s thinking in terms of progressive sonority, and not like a vocalist or instrumentalist, who would sing/play a line which had some internal progressive logic (or what we used to call voice leading). The assignment of pitches within a sonority seems not governed by some sort of musical logic, but by an overarching -----"I need that chord, so, pooof, I have that chord."
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,863
    "I need that chord, so, pooof, I have that chord."

    Like Herr Handel's treatment of choral tenor parts - but at least they had more of a (sometimes maddening) line and logic.

    JS Bach could do that, too, but it was not as frequently merely opportunistic.

    I certainly understand what "composed at the [keyboard]" is a condensed symbol of in compositional terms because I've experienced it frequently in the past.

    I am not competent to judge how lively and long Lauridsen's works will remain in repertoire. But I am competent to note that, as a choral singer in the past, I tired of the compositional style (he's hardly the only representative of it). I do think we are living in a time of richness for new choral music (not large works, but lots of commissions of smaller works that may prove to have legs over time if they become more widely known - to put it another way, I'd say new choral music gets out to a wider audience in local terms than new orchestral music), but I don't think of Lauridsen as an exemplar of that.
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  • All I'm saying is that we should call a spade a spade.

    But you have to see clearly enough to recognize the spade to do that.

    I was in Dr. Lauridsen's freshman and sophomore theory classes when I was at USC. I found him to be excellent, very helpful, and not arrogant in the slightest.

    It is true this was in the 1970s, before he became famous. Perhaps his later success has gone to his head, but I spoke with him again about ten years ago and found him to be the same as I remembered him, just older.

    I didn't find anything objectionable in the video referenced above. Keep in mind this video was produced by the USC School of Music for the purpose of honoring him and promoting the school. It is possible he was told to introduce himself as "Distinguished Professor of Music" for marketing purposes. If that is his title, I don't see a problem with him using it in this context.

    I would caution against making negative judgments about a man based on how he appears in a marketing video.

  • dad29
    Posts: 2,206
    without great thought for the character of the voice.'ve sung Beethoven? He may respect "character" but does not think that there are "limits."

    When we did the O Magnum, the 190 voices had no problem with tuning whatsoever, by the way. No, it's not Bruckner, but it's good stuff.
  • I mean, Beethoven's vocal music has serious issues with the idiom...I would argue that it is performed only because many conductors view Beethoven's overpowering genius to overcome the technical limitations of the music. I, personally, have no love for it.

    I don't think Lauridsen's creative oeuvre is up to the same level.
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  • francis
    Posts: 10,513
    Yeah Beethoven is right up there with Mozart
  • MarkS
    Posts: 281
    I so want to interpret Francis' comment as sarcastic/ironic. Mozart operas? Mozart is a supreme vocal composer. And do we really want to dismiss something like the Beethoven 'Missa Solemnis', a masterpiece of art music, because the vocal parts aren't written gratefully for the voice? (Believe me—some instrumentalists also grumble about their part in that piece. But that's really not the point. String players tend to hate playing Bruckner and Sibelius-long tremolos. Doesn't make the music less worthy.)
  • We shouldn't fault any composers of any era for writing music that 'nobody can play' or that doesn't consider the limitations of the performer's medium. Were they to write only music that someone could play at a given time in history we would still be struggling with parallel organum. There were, after all, fewer than half a dozen people in all of Europe in Bach's time who could play some of his organ works, works which now can be rattled off by many a talented student. And didn't Beethoven say, lament, or boast that certain of his works were for future generations? (Yes, he did.) We have nowadays high school seniors and college freshmen who could play circles around many PhD's or virtuosos of a few decades or generations ago. As music becomes more challenging there always will be those who can pick up the gauntlet and reap a laureate's wreath.

    Any given person does not have to like any given music, but 'it's unplayable' is no rational foundation for that dislike. It is, rather, an admission of relative incompetence. Such persons are in a league with teachers and others who assert that 'children (or 'people') can't sing chant'. This, upon reflection, is nothing more than an admission of personal incompetence to perform or teach chant, or whatever.
  • I second the Poulenc
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