Friday, April 16, 2010

Best Thing I Heard at the Institute of Liturgical Studies: the VU Chorale doing "Veni, Sancte Spiritus" by Morten Lauridsen

Morten Lauridsen's Lux Aeterna contains the most hopeful dissonances I've heard. Nearly everywhere you listen, voice parts are singing a step apart, or crossing each other's lines, yet the music rarely SOUNDS dissonant. Instead, it's full of joy and wonder, rendered complex by its unexpected harmonies. All this is an appropriate setting for the ancient words of "Veni, Sancte Spiritus", which speak of faith in the complex context of fallen humanity:

Without your divine will,
there is nothing in man,
nothing that is harmless.

Wash that which is unclean,
water that which is dry,
heal that which is wounded.

Bend that which is inflexible,
warm that which is chilled,
make right that which is wrong.

The "VSS" is the fourth movement of Lux Aeterna, immediately following the more famous "O Nata Lux", which our church choir is singing Sunday. (Holla!) (This video is NOT the VU Chorale, but the Chorale sounded just as good.) In no way have I given "O Nata Lux" the analysis it deserves, but here's one tentative harmonic observation. Lauridsen seems to realize that a major triad with the second thrown in sounds banal if it's overused--think, maybe, the piano chords in "Bui Doi" from Miss Saigon. (Don't get me wrong, I sort of love that song, but you have to admit it's total schlock.) A couple big arrival points in "ONL" use the major I added 2, but Lauridsen wisely steers clear the rest of the time. Instead, he employs the same chord IN FIRST INVERSION, or with an added fourth instead of a second, and creates eternal chords of mystical wonder. Indeed, Lauridsen's been called "the only American composer in history who can be called a mystic". I might add Morton Feldman, but his mysticism is different, more transcendentalist. Maybe Lauridsen's the only Christian mystic--though I've no idea whether he's a Christian or not.

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