Friday, April 18, 2014

Montage # 152 – Méditations sur le mystère de la Sainte Trinité

As of  May 16, 2014, 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:


For our Good Friday podcast, I chose to program a modern piece of organ music: Olivier Messiaen’s Méditations sur le mystère de la Sainte Trinité. The work's title is also loaded wit elements quite relevan to the composer: his spiritual nature, the chrch and organ that he was associate with for 60 years, and the number 3...

The lightly veiled reference to the Paris Church of the Trinity is important; it is there that Mesiaen explored, developed and composed the manyu intricate elements of this composition, and where he gave the first provate performance in 1971. He later gave the first public  performance at the Basillica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC on March 20, 1972.

Be warned: this is not your typical piece of organ music – it is modern, rythmically complex and at times hard to grasp… The Méditations contain virtually all of the touchstones of Messiaen's compositional style, including the use of modes, plainsong, birdsong, Hindu and Greek rhythms, careful coloration, and the religious symbolism of the number three, resulting in the work's nine-movement structure.

For Messiaen, music was a kind of language, one that could be made equivalent to spoken language. At the time of the Méditations, Messiaen invented a system, a "communicable language" in which notes corresponded to individual letters of the alphabet, and specific motives were connected to certain verbs and nouns. This language makes its appearance in parts of the Méditations. Though not really comprehensible to the listener it is nonetheless important to note, for it exemplifies the composer's fascination with numbers and patterns and with the notion of communicating a universal message.

For an exhaustive and learned discussion on the subject, including specific notations and examples, please refer to Olivier Messiaen's System of Signs: Notes Towards Understanding His Music by Andrew Shenton (Google Books reference:

The work is concerned thematically with the Trinity, and in exploring this theme Messiaen juxtaposes unaltered Gregorian chant melodies and moments of suspended time with virtuosic, jubilant, rhythmically vivacious passages. Messiaen “meditates” on the following words:

Méditation I :« Le Père des étoiles » (The Father of the Stars)
Méditation II :« Dieu est Saint » (God is Holy)
Méditation III  « La relation réelle en Dieu est réellement identique à l'essence » (The true relationship with God is the same as the Essence)
Méditation IV :« Dieu est » (God is)
Méditation V :« Dieu est immense », « Dieu est éternel », « Dieu est immuable », « le Souffle de l'Esprit », « Dieu le Père tout-puissant », « Notre Père », « Dieu est amour » (God is immense, eternal, immutable. The gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Almighty, Our Father, God is Love)
Méditation VI :« Dans le Verbe était la Vie et la Vie était la Lumière... » [Jn, 1 4] (God is Life and Life is Light)
Méditation VII :« Le Père et le Fils aiment, par le Saint-Esprit, eux-mêmes et nous » (The Father and Son love themselves and us, through the Holy Spirit)
Méditation VIII :« Dieu est simple », «Les Trois sont Un » (God is simple, three in one.)
Méditation IX :« Je suis Celui qui suis » [Exodus, 3:14] (I am He who is)

I think you will love this music too!

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