The jury finds the defendant to be a poor composer.

November 8, 2011 Comments Off on The jury finds the defendant to be a poor composer.

Last night at Choral Union we rehearsed again the fourth movement of Morten Lauridsen’s “Lux Aeterna,” “Veni, Sancte Spiritus.” Now, the rest of the piece isn’t bad; it’s not very original, and if you want to hear this material you may as well listen to his “Ave Maria” (which is the exact same experience except with better text underlay and six minutes instead of twenty-five), but it is pleasant and reasonably enjoyable to sing. But the fourth movement is a shining example of piss-poor writing, and it makes me so upset I want to write and publish an alternative fourth movement.

The trouble is, all Lauridsen (except “Les Chansons des Roses,” which are inexplicably excellent) sounds the same: his music is characterized by something I’d sooner call a chord inversion than a style, and almost all of it is smooth and flowing. But someone obviously said to him, say, Morten, maybe one of your movements should be different. And he thought, by gum, I could write something fast! And in three! And so he did, god help us. Although the texts were assembled by Lauridsen himself, he seems impatient to get this one over with as fast as possible. It is set in 3/4, where a dotted half note is 56. It’s a waltz tempo, quite fast if you’re counting quarter notes. And on every fast quarter note and sometimes on faster eighth notes is a different syllable; the choir has to do so much work to get them all out in time that it sounds more like Latin vomit than music. It takes away any possibility of musicality. And then Lauridsen has thoughtfully inserted breath marks every three or four measures or so, which, at this tempo, would not necessarily be easy to observe even if we weren’t trying to spit out words as fast as possible; essentially he has halved the time in which we have to get a syllable out. So it’s difficult to sing. AND the music is dull. Mediocre to begin with, and then all he does is have us repeat the same verses over and over. I think if you’re setting a text this long, you should be obligated to switch it up a little. What appears to have happened is that Lauridsen was sitting at his piano one day—that’s another thing: everything he writes sounds great on a piano and not so great in voices or instruments. For me, part of the wonder of truly great music is that it simply doesn’t sound as good if it is not played/sung by its intended instrument. Good composers are good at calling their instruments. Lauridsen is obviously very comfortable with a piano, and has no clear vision of what his piano music would sound like not on a piano. Anyway, he was sitting at his piano and was so satisfied by what he was playing that he thought, I’ll just have them do it over and over again! It’s so good they can’t possibly get tired of it!

He writes with such blatant disregard for how the human voice in general and a choir in particular works that I am frequently rendered speechless. He writes like a pianist and only a pianist. He is boring and he is unoriginal and from everything I have heard he is extremely arrogant, so, in short, nothing disposes me to like him and I (clearly) have no compunction about outlining exactly what I dislike about his music. Although it will be more productive to rewrite his stuff instead.

You thought I was kidding.


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