Wednesday, August 16, 2006


The more I learn this guy’s music, the more I regret not being born in time to have met him.

Yesterday was a rough day for me, and it may take me a while to cope. Popping in his opera “Saint François d’Assise” (Nagano conducting, on D-G) is like a balm. He was such an oddball, and as on fire with the faith as it seems any could expect to be in his profession. A genius, he basically won every prize he could have applied for - piano, organ, history, composition, counterpoint, ... and his musical œuvre is (almost) all directed to God.

This opera .... I dunno. It’s hard going down at first, but it’s nothing like Schoenberg. It fills four CDs, and the score is in 8 oversize books - quite heavy.

His was such a joy-filled faith - nothing on pain or suffering in his work, but all about things like the appearance of the Eternal Church, the Ascension - the glory stuff. (Kind of an antithesis of the doom-and-gloom image some paint of the pre-V2 Church.)

He wrote one piece of liturgical music (that I know), an “O sacrum convivium” from the 1930s. It is simply stunning. Simple in form and even in texture - all homophonic, but his harmonic language is so original and passionate. I have begun to think, too, that the “et futuræ gloriæ” is meant to be a musical “orgasm” - tying in the joy of the marital act to the Eucharist and to the “future glory” of salvation. (Decades before JP2’s Theology of the Body!)

I also highly recommend the Turangalila Symphony - the Naxos recording is unusually good.


At Wednesday, August 16, 2006 11:49:00 AM, Anonymous Pes said...

Cantor, good stuff. Can you recommend a recording of the "O sacrum convivium"?

At Wednesday, August 16, 2006 12:27:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...

The best I’ve heard was on a CD whose title and performers I can no longer remember. It was also the first I ever heard - I was just about in tears.

Most, or at least many, recordings I hear are, in my opinion, too bloody fast - Dale Warland falls into this category. Messiaen was all about the slow and meditative - he actually republished his first organ work, “Le banquet céleste”, when he heard people playing it too quickly (and it’s SLOW!). It really should be just over 5 minutes long, but you’ll see recordings that last less than half that time.

It’s not a long piece, so tons of groups have recorded it. I am listening now to the BBC Symphony Chorus, and it’s a good effort, but the sopranos don’t quite pull off the delicate top needed.

At Wednesday, August 16, 2006 10:41:00 PM, Anonymous tadhg seamus said...

For Le Banquet Celeste, Jennifer Bate's recording is quite wonderful (and, as an added bonus, it's available as part of a budge set here:

As for the ravishing O Sacrum Convivium, try the Trinity College (Cambridge) choir under Richard Marlowe. (As a King's College, Cambridge graduate, recommending a recording other than one from my own King's is high praise indeed!) It can be found here:

I have a vague recollection of either St John's College Choir (Cambridge) or King's College (Cambridge) having made a recording of O Sacrum some time ago, but a quick and dirty search shows nothing in the current discographies of either group.

At Thursday, August 17, 2006 9:54:00 AM, Anonymous Pes said...

Thanks, gents.

Dang on the university library here for failing to have the music for O Sacrum. If anyone wants to send me a PDF for personal study, I'd be much obliged.

I'm imagining that it inhabits a similar musical universe to Durufle's "Ubi Caritas" motet, but if I'm wrong, feel free to snort and mock.

Any description of its harmonic approach would be happily read -- by me at least. I can't get enough reading about extending old approaches with C20 harmony.

At Thursday, August 17, 2006 11:14:00 PM, Anonymous tadhg seamus said...


I'm away from my music library (and a scanner) until Tuesday, but if you post your e-mail address, I'll send it along mid week. Recollection is that it's published by Leduc, though I may be mistaken.

As for inhabiting the harmonic universe of Durufle, I'd say no. Messiaen's voice was his own. He even wrote a volume (actually two) entitled 'The Technique of My Musical Language." Fascinating and informative. It's available, in an excellent English translation, from, again, Leduc.

At Friday, August 18, 2006 10:22:00 AM, Anonymous Pes said...

Seamus, you are too kind. My email is Many thanks.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home