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To mark the new release of the National Youth Choir’s recording of O magnum mysterium by Morten Lauridsen, NYCGB (National Youth Choirs of Great Britain) Artistic Director Ben Parry spoke to the composer recently.
This is an extract from the full interview on the NYCGB website.
Morten, it’s such a privilege to talk to you – I know you only by your reputation, which is huge! I wanted to ask you about the writing of O magnum mysterium – did the music come easily to you?
I actually took a long time writing the piece – around six months in all – as I wanted to get it exactly right. I wrote much of the piece in the seclusion on Waldron Island off the coast of Seattle, Washington State – no mobile phones or internet to disturb me.
The piece was commissioned by the wonderful American choir, the Los Angeles Master Chorale in 1994 and the first performance was given by the choir under the direction of Paul Salamunovich. I drew my inspiration from a 17th century painting – Zurbarán’s Still Life with Lemons, Oranges and a Rose, which contains much symbolism of the Virgin Mary – and the simplicity of the original plainchant. My principal aim was to re-create a profound reaction musically, an illumination through sound, which moves the listener to the core.
When I’d finally finished the composition, I posted off a manuscript to Paul the conductor, a little boat picking up the mail from the island just once or twice a week. The première performance was intensely moving and profound – the conductor announced at that performance that my piece would become a defining piece of sacred choral music in the 20th century. After the performance I sat alone in my car thinking ‘what just happened?’.
Header photo: Morton Lauridsen
Want to listen?
National Youth Choir’s performance of O magnum mysterium is available NOW on Spotify, Apple Music and other major platforms.