Morten Lauridsen

O Magnum Mysterium, for chorus

    Description by Thomas Oram

    One of the best-selling pieces of choral music of the late twentieth century, the motet "O Magnum Mysterium" ("O Great Mystery") epitomizes the style of its composer, American Morten Lauridsen. In this four-part a cappella chorus work, Lauridsen takes a centuries-old Latin text describing the Nativity scene, imbues it with closely-voiced chords, colored by suspensions or quietly dissonant tones, and creates a restrained, simple setting that develops at an unhurried pace.

    Against a chord sustained by the soprano, tenor, and bass voices, the alto introduces the disjunct melodic line for the title phrase, a melody of which Lauridsen was fond enough to bring back in his later composition "Lux Aeterna". The phrase is transposed and repeated, and the melody is now heard from the tenors.

    The heavily homophonic nature of the piece gives it the feel of chant at times, and as the title phrase overlaps into the next section, "et admirabile sacramentum" ("and miraculous sacrament") the voices, particularly the soprano, are indeed melismatic. After this longer section, the opening material returns intact, and again leads smoothly into the subsequent text, "ut animalia viderent Dominum" ("that the animals should see the Lord"), and again is heard the music from "et admirabile sacramentum". The section is closed by a hushed "jacentem in praesipio" ("lying in the manger").

    For the final section of text, beginning "Beata Virgo" ("Blessed Virgin"), Lauridsen shifts to triple meter, and a gradual swell begins, finally culminating in a return to the opening music. This time, however, the parts are divisi and the texture is more majestic, the mood more deliberately passionate; before a sense of wonder, here a sense of joy. A brief coda on "Alleluia" is grafted seamlessly onto the section; its melody is clearly drawn from the "O magnum mysterium" motive. The piece subsides into a hushed close.

    Apart from the lack of counterpoint, the setting uses all Lauridsen's touchstones: chord voicing, formal organization, even his favorite key, D major. The first work performed by the Los Angeles Master Chorale after Lauridsen was appointed their Composer in Residence, "O Magnum Mysterium" was premiered by the chorus at their Christmas concert in 1994.

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 Paraclete GDWR 05
    2016 Mark Records 51710 MCD
    2016 Coro COR 16146
    2016 Genuin GEN 15381
    2016 BYU Records YCD 0116TWB
    2015 Carus CV 83473
    2015 ABC Classics 4811633
    2015 Regent REGCD 427
    2014 BYU Music Group YCD 0614LIW
    2014 ABC Classics 4821693
    2014 Decca 4785703
    2014 Decca / London
    2014 Mark / Mark Records 50836 MCD
    2014 Signum Classics SIGCD 386
    2013 Coro COR 16117
    2012 Gloriae Dei Cantores GDCD 054
    2012 Priory Records PRCD 1076
    2012 Decca 2758053
    2012 Naxos 8503264
    2012 ABC Classics ABC 4765054
    2012 Valley Entertainment 2 VLT-15241
    2012 ABC Classics ABC 4810033
    2011 Naxos 857819697
    2011 Regent REGCD 350
    2011 Signum Classics SIGCD 262
    2011 ATMA Classique ACD 22631
    2011 Harmonia Mundi 807556
    2011 Raven OAR 924
    2010 Seraphic Fire Media 07
    2010 BBC Music Magazine 326
    2010 Aca Digital 30007
    2010 ABC Classics 4764075
    2009 Naxos 559304
    2009 Signum Classics / Signum UK 180
    2009 Naxos 5722342
    2008 Four Winds 3029
    2008 AVI (REISSUES) 53013
    2008 Universal Classics 5305692
    2008 GIA Publications / Gia 723
    2008 Proprius-AudioSource 2035
    2008 Highscore / Zebralution
    2008 Guild 7314
    2008 ABC Classics 4766830
    2008 Sea Breeze 4003
    2007 Avie 2086
    2007 Gothic Records 49252
    2007 Reference Recordings 110
    2006 Hyperion 67576
    2006 K&K Verlagsanstalt 99
    2006 Audite 92565
    2006 Haenssler 98272
    2006 2L 26
    2006 Hearts Of Space / Valley Entertainment 411116
    2006 Telarc Distribution CD 80671
    2006 Arsis 150
    2006 Goldenrod / Turtle Creek Chorale 1260
    2006 Griffin 4055
    2005 Opus 3 OPUS3CD 22041
    2005 Summit Education 414
    2005 Dal Segno 600
    2005 Albany Music Distribution 801
    2005 Hyperion 67449SACD
    2005 Hyperion 67449
    2005 MSR Classics 1108
    2005 ABC Classics 465824
    2005 Summit Records 397
    2004 Hyperion NOEL 2
    2004 Equilibrium 66
    2004 Cantus Recordings CTS 1204
    2004 Avie 0039
    2004 Mark Custom Recording 5438
    2003 Clarion 909
    2002 Chicago A Cappe 2005
    2002 Turtle Creek Chorale 1220
    2001 National Lutheran Choir / NLCA 01622
    2001 New World Records 80592
    2001 Pro Organo 7079
    2001 Delos 3267
    2001 Pro Organo 7034
    2001 Priory Records PRCD-768
    2000 Pro Organo / Zarex 7078
    2000 Pro Organo 7134
    2000 Delos 3267
    2000 Bayer Records 100305
    2000 Telarc Distribution 80531
    1999 Dorian DOR93191
    1997 Telarc Distribution 80461
    1996 RCM 19605
    Measure for Measure
    Octarium 0523
    Da Chiesa
    Jubilate
    Valpraiso University 1013
    Khorikos
    Quire of Voyces 005
    Northwest Chamber Chorus 2411
    Princeton High School Choir
    Disc Makers
    ABC Classics 4763682
    American Bach Soloists
    Mark 6011
    Mark 6030