"Yes, I'm in love with Latin, the sounds of the vowels, the consonants, the logic of it all, the ancient quality it has. It just felt right to translate the text." Thus wrote Eric Whitacre about the seemingly odd decision to translate a text from a "living" language (English) into a "dead" one (Latin) before composing his setting. Whitacre had been struck by the simple power in a few lines of Christmas poetry by reclusive poet Edward Esch: "Light/warm and heavy as pure gold/and angels sing softly/to the new-born babe." But before writing his musical setting, Whitacre asked his friend and frequent collaborator, poet Charles Anthony Silvestri, to translate that evocative bit of English verse into the purer vowels, the "ancient quality," and perhaps the more ritually evocative language of Latin. The result is his shimmering choral anthem Lux aurumque, a perennial favorite among his compositions despite its seasonal specificity. It was commissioned by the Tampa Bay Master Chorale and dedicated to Jo-Michael Scheibe.
The musical essence of Lux aurumque for Whitacre is a "blossoming" of the textures of light, and a "surrender that we must experience in reaction to the purity of this light." The music thus gradually unfolds, with radiant pairs of chords on the first word: the "Lux" (light). The pairs of chords establish a rocking expectancy for the entire piece, in which pairs of chords lean into each successive part of the pair; it is not traditional Western cadences, but rather a musical action of adding shining dissonances, especially major seconds or tones in different musical registers (such as the brilliant soprano pitched far above the third opening set of chords). Subtle shifts in text call forth subtle shifts in texture, including a gentle reach into the musical depths around the word "heavy" and a new simplified duo texture introducing the word "pure"; voices are gradually added again, to add luster to the gold. The soft voices of the singing angels are conjured in newly simplified chords, though the angelic choir is intimately related to the Light by musical similarities in the expectant chord pairs. The final passage finally mentions the newborn Child. To highlight this moment, Whitacre introduces a suddenly bright, full, and pure major sonority (though in a traditionally unresolved inversion). Yet though the change in harmonic content is striking and reverent, the overall music remains utterly related to the beginning revelation of light (in paired chords), and in surrender to it.