Saturday, December 5, 2015

Olivier Messiaen - Twenty Meditations On The Baby Jesus - VI Through Him All Things Were Made

Pierre-Laurent Aimard, piano

Note: In the Youtubes with the score, this meditation is divided in two, I prefer to post it given as a single one.

Olivier Messiaen is a composer who has attracted a number of eminent detractors, some as respectable as the great American composer Elliot Carter who disdained what he regarded as "vulgarity" in the music.  I think that's due to their having had vastly different aesthetics and agendas in their music. Carter's music is an extremely fine exploration of musical technique which transcends that though an extremely well refined sense of which material to explore.  Messiaen's music is no less an exploration of technical resources but his music is always grounded in his  religious, Christian, Catholic and I'd even say French Catholic mysticism.

Another American composer who disdained Messiaen's music was Virgil Thomson.   Which is especially noteworthy as in the imaginary war between "German" and "French" music, Thomson posed as a champion of the French side.  Though Thomson's France was of the flippant and nihilistic cafe society type.  He once said that Eric Satie had invented the only thoroughly modern aesthetic which is as revealing of Thomson's ability to be one of the silliest as well as one of the best music critics of his time as it says anything about modern music.   I don't think Virgil Thomson was capable of getting Messiaen's music because he was entirely unsympathetic to Messiaen's mysticism.   That mysticism put him outside of the realm of fashion - is there anything that could have possibly been more unfashionable than writing twenty meditations on The Baby Jesus in the mid-20th century?

I think  the title of his most famous work, his Quartet For The End of Time was another example to show that independence from time and fasion.  Whereas Mahler dreamed of music that would be big enough to contain the whole universe, Messiaen's vision was larger.  There is something in common with the Austrian composer Anton Webern, whose tiny compositions shared in Messiaen's Catholic mysticism, a mysticism which could see the entire universe and the mind of God in "the smallest bee hive", the heart (Cantata II).   Messiaen's music has more in common with Charles Ives' in his mysticism - another composer Thomson disdained - and, though I have no idea if he would welcome the idea, Ives' finest and most expansive successor in American music, William Bolcom.

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