Morten Lauridsen Composer
Les Chansons des Roses, 5 songs for chorusPerformances: 3
Musicology:Morten Lauridsen's cycle Les chansons des roses (Songs of Roses), while retaining the composer's standard suspension-drenched tonality, displays a lighter, more dance-like feel in addition to slower, poignant numbers. Set to French poems of the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, the five-song cycle for a cappella mixed chorus is a unified study in elegance, as are its poems and the roses they describe.
Les Chansons des Roses, 5 songs for chorusYear: 1993
Genre: Other Choral
Pr. Instrument: Chorus/Choir
- 1.En une seule fleur
- 2.Contre qui, rose
- 3.De ton rêve trop plein
- 4.La Rose Complète
The first song, "En une seule fleur" (In Only One Flower), is a madrigal-like setting that declaims its text quickly and lightly in a homophonic texture. Typical of Lauridsen, each line of poetry swells toward the middle and tapers to the close. In the repeated middle section, an energetic interplay of soprano, alto, and tenor echo and expound upon each other over an extended bass. The piece concludes as it began—a hallmark of Lauridsen's formal structures.
"Contre qui, rose" (Against Whom, Rose), also in D flat major, is described by the composer as "a wistful nocturne." The restrained setting begins extremely softly with a melodic motive that would later be recalled by Lauridsen in the Grammy-winning Lux Aeterna. The music, full of suspensions that do not resolve, is well-suited to a text which asks unanswered questions; it moves inexorably to its quiet peak (only mezzo-piano), a poignant nine-note chord to the words "Au contraire" (On the contrary), and subsides to the close.
The third setting, "De ton reve trop plein" (Of your dream too full), returns to the dance-like madrigal feel. Its counterpoint, however, is at times surprisingly atonal, especially between the soprano and tenor. Their lines are interspersed with slow, mysterious homophonic lines that contrast greatly with the vigorous tempo that precedes and follows. Various pairs of voices play off of each other throughout the setting, the briefest in the cycle and a study in contrasts. The movement, vaguely in C sharp minor, thus sounds very much in the overall tonal vein of the cycle.
"La rose complete" (The Perfect Rose) hearkens back to the second movement; indeed musical material recurs between the two. In this adagio setting, the other voices tend to accompany the melody, typically found in the soprano voice, a more unequal state than found previously. In the middle section, the lower three voices unite to drive the setting, as the soprano spins out lyrical lines above them. The movement ends as it began, but its final chord overlaps with the piano introduction to the final movement, "Dirait-on" (One would say), the only movement to use accompaniment. In a modern folk song style, first the women's voices and then the men's receive the melody; the largely unison setting betrays just how much Lauridsen conceived it as a song; indeed, it was later arranged for solo voice. The tunefulness of this movement helped to make it one of the best-selling choral octavos of the late twentieth century.
Les chansons des roses is unified by the composer's consistent use of the D flat major tonality, particular recurring motives, a tendency to set each phrase independently, and a limited harmonic vocabulary.
© Thomas Oram, All Music Guide