Morten Lauridsen’s O Nata Lux, Ave Maria, and O Magnum Mysterium are easy favorites among choral music
nerds aficionados. They are relatively new pieces, so they might not be as widely known as more traditional Lessons and Carols standards. However, I feel that his compositional style perfectly captures the essence of the Advent season–a balance between exultant and somber.
In each piece, listen for dissonance. He often has different voice parts sustain intervals of a second. In many works, these close intervals are a challenge to listen to, but in his, they add richness, depth, a blend of bitterness and sweetness. (Yes, Advent is a glorious thing, but we know that it brings us closer to Lent and to remembering His sacrifice.)
Listen also for a melody. It’s there, of course, but it’s kind of hard to sing back, isn’t it? His pieces almost saunter through the text. It’s not just about arriving at a cadence; it’s about what happens along the way. These works invite the listener to sit and muse for a bit on what it’s all about–the mystery of the Incarnation, the devotion of Mary and Joseph, the humility that caused the King of Kings to take the form of a helpless baby–it’s almost as if Lauridsen wants us to hit the pause button and just sit for a minute. (And during this busy season, couldn’t we all afford to just sit for a while?)
So I hope these pieces bring you some joy–and a little stillness–as you go about your Christmas preparations. Enjoy!
O Nata Lux
O Light born of Light
Jesus, Redeemer of the World
with loving-kindness deign to receive
suppliant praise and prayer.
Thou who once deigned to be clothed in flesh
for the sake of the lost,
grant us to be members
of Thy blessed body.
O Magnum Mysterium
O great mystery
and wonderful sacrament
that animals should see the new-born Lord
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
Christ the Lord.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and in the hour of our death. Amen.