Lux Aeterna

Last week I wrote a little post about some music I rather like working to, a collection of pieces by Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa. This morning something came on the radio and I had to stop working.

I listened to the end, sure I'd heard it before, and indeed I had, a long time ago. It was Lux Aeterna by György Ligeti, a setting for 16 solo singers that uses Latin text from the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass. It was used in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, the part where the monolith is discovered on the moon.

That wonderful film is marvellously soundtracked. But heard out of that setting the Ligeti piece seemed even more powerful. My clever wife is in training for ministry in the Scottish Episcopal Church, so I hear a lot of fine sacred music. But this made the old liturgies seem new. Lux Aeterna uses a compositional technique called micropolyphony, which WikiPedia describes in terms I can't improve upon as 'a type of 20th century musical texture involving the use of sustained dissonant chords that shift slowly over time.' Give it a listen, and that will start to make some sense.