Eternal Light

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This week, Kent Tritle explores the depiction of both life and light within choral compositions. Among the highlights is György Ligeti's Lux Aeterna or "Everlasting Light."

The inspiration for Lux Aeterna comes from the Latin mass for the dead. Scored for sixteen singers, the piece is translucent in texture and a superb example of text painting. Ligeti said the following about his work: "(Lux Aeterna) represented for me an experiment with harmonic Klangfarben (tone color) music, by which I broke with my preceding style of chromatic tone-clusters."

Ligeti's harmonies are unquestionably modern, but a much older influence is present -- that of composer, organist and choirmaster Johannes Ockeghem (1410–1497). Ligeti's writing and Ockeghem's canons for multiple voices both involve imitation, and are texturally complex. In Ockeghem's prolation canons, the voices sing the same melody at different speeds. Ligeti uses this technique, having each voice perform different subdivisions of the same beat, all while staggering their entrances. This creates a polyphonic texture that Ligeti describes as "so thickly woven that the individual voices become indistinguishable and only the resulting harmonies, blending seamlessly into one another, can be clearly perceived."

One of the notable colors used by Ligeti are the basses in their tender falsetto voices singing, "Let eternal light shine on them, Lord, as with your saints in eternity, because you are merciful."
As we explore the theme of eternal light, we also hear works by Hildegarde von Bingen, Rautavaara, Tallis and Tchaikovsky, among others.   
What piece of choral music do you feel best depicts life or light?