Friday, March 2, 2012

Montage #45 - Messiaen, the Spiritual Composer/Compositeur Spirituel

As of April 6, 2012, this montage will no longer be available on Pod-O-Matic. It can be heard or downloaded from the Internet Archive at the following address / A compter du 6 avril 2012, ce montage ne sera plus disponible en baladodiffusion Pod-O-Matic. Il peut être téléchargé ou entendu au site Internet Archive à l'adresse suivante:

pcast045 Playlist


English Commentary – le commentaire français suit

This year marks the 20th anniversary oif the passing of French composer, organist and ornithologist Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992). We will honour Messiaen with two dedicated posts (today and next Tuesday), as well as in part in a mid-March post on “birds”.

Where Tuesday’s post will focus exclusively on Messiaen as both an organist and composer of organ music, today we will consider Messiaen’s music for organ, piano and orchestra of a particular flavour.

Messiaen studied at the Paris Conservatoire starting in 1919 (at the tender age of 11), made excellent academic progress: in 1924, aged 15, he was awarded second prize in harmony, in 1926 he gained first prize in counterpoint and fugue, and in 1927 he won first prize in piano accompaniment. He also was awarded first prize for the history of music in 1928.

After a year studying composition with Charles-Marie Widor, in the autumn of 1927 he entered the class of the newly appointed Paul Dukas, who instilled in Messiaen a mastery of orchestration. In 1930 Messiaen won first prize in composition.

It is quite an understatement to say that Messaien's music is rhythmically complex. Messiaen chose to make use of rhythms from ancient Greek and from Hindu sources, and the musical language (and sometimes even the titles of his works) have a strong Mid- and Far-Eastern flavour Many of his compositions depict what he termed "the marvellous aspects of the faith", and drew on his deeply held Roman Catholicism.

Messiaen was 31 years old when France entered the war against Germany. He was captured by the German army during World War II in June 1940 and was imprisoned in a prisoner-of-war camp. His faith and music were the two things that allowed Messiaen to maintain his composure and wits during his POW days, and that is clear in his masterpiece, Quatuor pour la fin du temps, which we featured in a past post.

In my mind, “sacred” music has two main criteria: it is a setting of lithurgical sources that is intended for performance as part – or in support of – religious worship. It would be rather harsh to call “secular” any other kinds of music.

Messiaen’s catalog of works has a significant number of works that are inspired by his religious beliefs, and provide “secular” settings of aspects of his fairth and its teachings falling short of meeting my above  lithurgical standard. That having been said, they are certainly not secular (or non-sacred), which is why I call them “spiritual” – not to be confused with the spiritual genre of popular in Christian North-Amnerica.

The works I chose for today’s montage are examples of this spiritual approach and is merely the “tip of the iceberg” in that regard. I have omitted some of his more ambitious works (they would require two- to three-hour podcasts…). Many of these works were found on the Erato compilation set “Messiaen Edition” which I discussed in my February Chronique du Disque.

I think you will love this music too.


Commentaire français

Cette année marque le 20ie anniversaire du décès d'Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992). Nous commémorerons le compositeur, organiste et ornithologue avec deux billets (aujourd'hui et mardi) ainsi que, partiellement, lors de notre montage sur les oiseaux plus tard ce mois-ci.

Mardi sera consacré à Messiaen composteur et organiste, mais aujourd'hui j'ai choisi des oeuvres d'un genre fort particulier.

Aucun doute que Messiaen était un musicien doué. A un jeune âge, 11 ans, il s'inscrit au Conservatoire où il fait des progrès impressionnants, remportant prix après peix: deuxième en harmonie (1925), premier en contrepoint et fugue (1926), premier comme accompagnateur (1927), premier en histoire (1928). Il étudiera la composition auprès de Widor et de Paul Dukas, et remporte le premier prix en composition en 1930.

De qualifier sa musique de complexe et assortie de rythmes inhabituels serait peu dire - il puise ses inspirations de rythmes de la Grèce et de l'Orient, et même les titres de certaines de ses compositions empruntent de dialectes exotiques. Mais une thématique qui domine la musique de Messiaen est sa catholicité, et ce qu'il appelle "l'aspect merveilleux de la foi".

Prisonnier des Nazis durant la DGM, sa foi et la musique lui ont permis de surmonter l'épreuve, et son  Quatuor pour la fin du temps, présenté l'automne dernier, est un exermple du genre de musique illustré cette semaine.

Lorsqu'on parle de musique sacrée, on parle d'oeuvres à caractère lithurgique, qui sont conçues pour l'église. Toutefois, pas toute musique non-sacrée est nécessairement profane. Messiaen exemplifie ce que j'appelle une musique spirituelle, inspirée par la foi et le sacré, sans toutefois être des spirituals, une musique afro-américaine ancrée dans la tradition chrétienne des états du Sud.

Notre montage ne fait que frotter la surface du sujet - j'aurais besoin de montages de 2 ou 3 heures pour y aller à fond. Toiutefois, le recueil discuté mardi dernier offre sa grande part d'exemples...

Bonne écoute!