Morten Lauridsen: O Magnum Mysterium

During the first decade of the twenty-first century, one of the most exciting trends to emerge in classical music was the rediscovery of the relevance of choral music.

From Eric Whitacre to Howard Goodall, Rihards Dubra to Gabriel Jackson, a wealth of contemporary composers have broken new ground in creating ethereal harmonies that are regularly described as ‘heavenly’. And nowhere is this more obvious than in the glorious music of the American composer Morten Lauridsen.

Although composed in 1994, O Magnum Mysterium took a good few years before garnering such widespread praise. and while it is performed all year round, the piece is, at its heart, all about Christmas. The text tells the story of the birth of Jesus, and Lauridsen’s music is as sensitive and spiritual as you could possibly wish for. Dense layers of sustained choral lines placed one on top of the other blend to create indulgent yet deceptively simple harmonies – a hallmark of the composer’s consistently moving output.

Lauridsen has, for a number of years, been one of the most performed composers in America – but the emergence of O Magnum Mysterium spread his music much further afield. As the composer himself has said, "I wanted this piece to resonate immediately and deeply into the core of the listener, to illumine through sound." He certainly achieved just that.

Recommended Recording

Polyphony (choir); Stephen Layton (conductor). Classic FM: CFM CD 44.

Illustration: Mark Millington