The Mixed Duets of Composer Morten Lauridsen

Cover Image of Morten Lauridsen’s Six Duets for Mixed Voices and Piano. Copyright © 2021 by Peermusic Classical.

A very special part of Morten Lauridsen’s oeuvre may be found in his art songs and mixed duets. When we listen to his duets, we might imagine them on the Broadway stage, because the composer sees them as paying tribute to that genre, especially in terms of how the Broadway musical often has two people singing together, as they reflect on their emotional and spiritual place in the midst of a larger story. I think of Lauridsen’s duets in just that way, and of course, as the composer often remarks, there are many other influences on them–the art song of Schubert, Brahms, and Hugo Wolf, for example. We can hear certain chords that are beautifully burnished with jazz and popular song. However, all these forms are artfully integrated into a whole. We get no seams in this music: the sheer beauty of the long lyrical line and the subtle harmonies are artfully woven together. In this video from August 2, 2018 on San Juan Island, WA, Welsh baritone Jeremy Huw Williams, American soprano Maria Lindsey, and American pianist Paula Fan, offer four of Lauridsen’s mixed duets. The video was created by filmmaker Michael Stillwater. Hampered by problematic lighting at the San Juan Community Theatre, the filmmaker nonetheless successfully recorded the audio, so that we can enjoy these fine performances and get a sense of what it means to act out these songs on the stage.

A Duet for Healing and Wholeness. In the midst of the COVID pandemic in fall 2020, Grant Gershon, Kiki & David Gindler Artistic Director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, and soprano Elissa Johnston of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, recorded Morten Lauridsen’s mixed duet Sure on this Shining Night, which is a setting of a poem by the American poet James Agee. This remarkable version reminds us of the power of music and poetry. When we reflect on the meaning of the words and the music, we remember to turn to our inner being, and outward to nature and the divine, as we seek to heal body, mind, and spirit throughout the journey of life.

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