Sunday, December 11, 2016

Olivier Messiaen - Twenty Shewings Of The Baby Jesus - Through Him All Is Made



Yvonne Loriod, piano

This is the longest piece in the set, I believe.  Considering it is a vision of the relationship of Jesus to the creation of all things you'd expect it to have some sense of the comprehensive about it.  Loriod, Messiaen's wife for many years can probably be regarded as the official interpreter  of his piano music, her sister Jeanne Loriod, played many of the parts for Ondes Martenot which Olivier Messiaen wrote.  I posted this because the set I've been playing, which has the sheet music, divides this movement into two videos, it should be heard as one.


I am not really happy with translating "Vingt regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus" as Twenty Visions on The Baby Jesus.   The French word "regards" doesn't seem to me to translate well as "visions,"   The music gives me more of a sense of the same thing that Julian of Norwich called "shewings" in The Revelation of Divine Love but that word would be even more of a problem.  It is a direct experience, not an intellectual rumination, though not divorced from thinking about it.  The most famous passage of Julian's Shewings is definitely related to this piece:

Also in this He shewed me a little thing, the quantity of an hazel-nut, in the palm of my hand; and it was as round as a ball.  I looked thereupon with an eye of my understanding, and thought:  What may this be?  And it was answered generally thus:  It is all that is made.  I marvelled how it might last, for methought it might suddenly have fallen to naught for littleness.  And I was answered in my understanding:  It lasteth, and ever shall last for that God loveth it.  And so All-thing has the Being by the love of God.

In this Little Thing I saw three properties.  The first is that God made it, the second is that God loveth it,  the third, that God keepth it.  But what is to me verily the Maker, the Keeper, and the Lover,  --- I cannot tell;  for till I am Substantially oned to Him, I may never have full rest nor very bliss:  that is to say,  till I be so fastened to Him, that there is right nought that is made betwixt my God and me.

The score I have only has Messiaen's original, French annotations for both the set of pieces and the individual pieces I wouldn't attempt to translate them.  This site does have a translation of some of those for individual movements.   It translates "regards" as "glances" or, perhaps best of all,  "gazes" and gives some sense of Messiaen's intentions.  A glance is certainly too short to give any sense of what the music is.   "Gazes" is a pretty good translation but Messiaen was a mystic, a Catholic mystic, a French Catholic mystic so you get that kind of explanation.  Considering it's music that's probably more helpful than a philosophical discourse would be.

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