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Lux aeterna

author of text
from the Requiem Mass

Born in Transylvania, in the border region between Hungary and Romania, Ligeti studied composition at first locally and then at the Budapest Academy, where he became a professor in 1950. Leaving Hungary in 1956, the year of the Uprising, he settled in Vienna, establishing his reputation with a series of avant-garde compositions beginning with Apparitions (1959). His Requiem (1965), a response to the horrors of World War II, made a deep impression, and was swiftly followed by the present Lux aeterna (1966), which can be seen as a pendant to it. The Lux aeterna was commissioned by the conductor of the Stuttgart Schola Cantorum for inclusion in a recording of new music. If the prevailing mood of the Requiem is one of death, the Lux aeterna carries the hope of resurrection, consistent with the eternal light referred to in its text. A sense of harmony and tonality (largely absent in the Requiem) is discernible, with the periodic recurrence of clear unison notes and a three-note ‘rainbow’ chord (E flat, F, A flat on its first appearance). No rhythmic pulse can be detected, because eternity has no sense of time, but the shape and structure of Lux aeterna is lucid and even strict. At the time Ligeti wrote it, he was interested in concepts of space and distance—his next work after the Lux aeterna was called Lontano—and at the top of the score of the Lux aeterna appears the general instruction ‘as if from afar’. Ligeti divides the choir into sixteen parts, which enables him to form, literally, nebulous clusters of notes slowly shifting in subtle and ever-changing patterns. All of this suggests that the ‘eternal light’ of the title may be cosmological rather than spiritual; in 1968 the American film director Stanley Kubrick used portions of the Lux aeterna and the Requiem in his immensely influential film 2001: A Space Odyssey, which further encouraged a ‘galactic’ interpretation of the music. Whether we should think of the eternal light as coming from distant galaxies or from God, there is no doubt that Lux aeterna is a masterpiece, taking choral music—and the listener—into a new and eerie sound-world of the imagination.

from notes by Collegium Records © 1999


COLCD125Download only


Track 18 on COLCD125 [10'02] Download only

Track-specific metadata for COLCD125 track 18

Recording date
Recording venue
Ely Cathedral, United Kingdom
Recording producer
John Rutter
Recording engineer
David Jacob
Hyperion usage
  1. Illumina (COLCD125)
    Disc 1 Track 18
    Release date: November 1999
    Download only
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