Morten Lauridsen - how he wrote “Dirait-on”
Morten Lauridsen: Well I think it'd be helpful to perhaps demonstrate on how are pieces put together by using Dirait-on, because it's become such a well-known piece. I always designed as a piece that had never been composed, always been there. I designed this piece in the style of a French folk song. And for that I wanted to use a chord that was very French, and I went to the music of Ravel and Debussy for a single sonority from which to gather my materials for a melody and for the harmony and for the overall piece. And this is a chord that's very much a favorite of theirs. I chose Revell and WC because we're talking about early 20th century French music and this is when this French poem was written, in 1924.
This particular chord which is simply a major tried with an added second, went on to provide all the material I needed for the composition of Dirait-on. I decided that the piece would be accompanied by something that would sound like a guitar. And so I took that chord and made it into this kind of passage for a guitar. The same chord, just changed a little bit an inversion. Something else is in the base, and then I went ahead and derived the melody from those four notes from this chord. Here's the melody. It has to be simple. Because one of the characteristics of any folk song is its simplicity. It must be easily sung. It must be able to pass down from generation to generation vocally and catchy as well.
Now I repeat it but make it fresh with a new harmony, and change that last note around a little bit. Here it comes the last time. Now it's time for a fresh note in melody writing. And then I took the idea of Dirait-on so they say as a little repeated repeated refrain. And I do it again, except to make it more interesting I offset it by one beat. That's my song. It is easily memorable. It's got two parts. And through the composition process each one of those two parts is treated in Canon and imitation with itself so someone goes...And someone else goes...Later on...And while that's going on - a tenor will be singing a counter melody, a separate melody but made out of that same material. And later on in the piece where the choir sings...Panel says you know I'm going to play the first theme along with that...The melody, the harmony, all come from this chord. Then it's treated with what I hope is sort of elegant understatement. And yet it retained its simplicity and charm as a simple little song.
I get emails from people saying I love this song how do I get it out of my mind. And I write them back and say there's no cure. It was designed to go into your mind and never leave. But this is where you, for a composer you focus on your idea: “I want to write a folk song. What are the elements of a folk song? How do I tie the poem into history? How do I give it the flavor of the nationality, of the language it's in?”. And there you go, that's just the form number one. Now imagine: a piece having such as in my midwinter songs, having four chords. It's a gold mine for composers. Every one of those chords will be explored, all the facets of that particular passage will be explored compositionally. And this is through learning and technique and an understanding of history and of craft. And that's how dare I told him about.