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Volume 26, Number 6 — June 2019

Lauridsen: Passionate About Poetry & the Human Voice

 Lauridsen's best-known works — the large choral work
Lauridsen's best-known works — the large choral work "Lux aeterna" and the beautiful setting of "O Magnum Mysterium" — were finished at his San Juan Island cabin on Puget Sound — on this old $50 piano.
Additional photos below »

By Angela Wampler | November 25, 2008

"I am constantly urging my listeners to read poetry, to read it every day. I start all my classes with a poem every day that we meet," says composer Morten Lauridsen. "There are so many unfortunate distractions in our life, and poetry is one of the great antidotes to that." — From an article in the Los Angeles Times

Speaking of his undergraduate days, Lauridsen said, "It was a natural thing for me to blend poetry and the human voice, which is the most wonderful and personal of all musical instruments. I ended up writing a great deal of choral music and haven't stopped. There is nothing I love more than the sound of the human voice and ensembles of human voices. The voice is the original instrument and the most expressive. The choral sound is dearest to my heart."

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, Lauridsen's affection for the human voice "has not gone unrequited. Choirs buy upward of 150,000 copies of his scores every year now. His motet 'O Magnum Mysterium' has had more than 3,000 performances and 20 recordings in fewer than five years."
"My passion, second to music, is poetry," said Lauridsen, who has a large collection, gathered by prowling bookstores for signed and first editions of poetry.

He explained, "It is always a text that fires my imagination and shapes the styles and forms of my music. I've devoted my creative life to setting texts to music, uniting my two passions. I'm very sensitive to the texts I set. I design my musical settings so that they will complement the style and content of the poetry...The opening of the 'Lux aeterna' is like light emerging from the darkness. The piece is meant to transport the listener to a place of inner peace, understanding, and enlightenment."

Of his compositional technique, he said, "I constantly sing each line as I am composing to make sure that each part is lyrical and gracious for the singer. It is important to me that my music be communicative. I choose texts very carefully — Rilke, Lorca, Graves, and sacred texts centuries old. These are words that communicate to me and touch me very deeply. I become part of the poetry."

When composing music using text from Italian or French poems, Lauridsen said, "I am not a linguist, so I get together with people who are to make sure my musical settings are appropriate." For example, someone fluent in French reads French poems to Lauridsen, who records the reading and listens to it while composing the music. Lauridsen recently finished a duet version of a French poem. "I love dialogues between a man and a woman," he noted.


About the Composer

— Back to the Main Story: "Inspired by Nature, Passionate about Poetry"

Last year Lauridsen moved a Steinway grand piano (c. 1800s) to the cabin.