Lux Aeterna

Since my recent trip to see György Ligeti‘s extraordinary Opera Le Grande Macabre, I’ve been trying to find out a bit more about the composer. I’ve stumbled across a few of his works, including some very strange and difficult piano pieces which I might put up here sometime. However, I thought it would be nice to acknowledge probably his most famous work particularly because it came up in a previous post.

Lux Aeterna is a choral work for sixteen unaccompanied voices which was written in 1966. Along with excerpts from his Requiem (from the Kyrie and Dies Irae) and the orchestral piece Atmospheres (1961), this composition formed part of the soundtrack for Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. What I didn’t know until reading about Lux Aeterna was that Kubrick didn’t bother to ask for permission to use Ligeti’s work in his film and it was only after heated discussions that he agreed to pay the composer a fee. Ligeti doesn’t seem to have minded that much, however, as he subsequently went on record saying that he admired Kubrick’s work enormously.

Lux Aeterna (“Eternal Light”)  can be thought of as a kind of postscript to the Requiem and its text comes from the Roman Catholic Mass for the Dead (in Latin):

Lux aeterna luceat eis, Domine, cum sanctis tuis in aeternum, quia pius es. Requiem aeternum dona eis, Domine; et lux perpetua luceat eis.

 Although the piece is officially dated later than Ligeti’s setting of the rest of the Requiem Mass, the compositional technique he used seems to be similar and its emotional feel seems also  to belong with that longer work. It’s an uncompromisingly avant-garde work, exploiting a dense atonal polyphony to create a strange atmosphere that seems to combine agonised apprehension with a kind of bewildered exhilaration.

Here it is combined with images from the film and various bits of interesting information about Ligeti’s life and music.

I can only speak directly for myself, of course, but I suspect many will agree with me that it’s a remarkably effective piece on its own that has even greater  impact in the context of the movie. However, I wonder how many would say that it is  beautiful? I know I would.

One Response to “Lux Aeterna”

  1. Michael Brooke Says:

    “What I didn’t know until reading about Lux Aeterna was that Kubrick didn’t bother to ask for permission to use Ligeti’s work in his film and it was only after heated discussions that he agreed to pay the composer a fee.”

    That’s not quite true – it seems that it was an administrative oversight at MGM rather than any malice on Kubrick’s part (Kubrick wouldn’t personally have cleared all the relevant rights as major Hollywood studios have entire departments to handle that kind of thing), and so Ligeti’s “heated discussions” were with them rather than Kubrick. The only beef that he had with Kubrick personally was to do with his electronic distortion of bits of ‘Aventures’.

    It’s worth noting that while Ligeti was happy to license his music for two subsequent Kubrick films, neither ‘The Shining’ nor ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ was made by MGM!

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