Saturday, May 30, 2020

Messiaen disc 12

Livre d'orgue (1950); Le Livre du Saint Sacrement parts 1-6 (1984)

I've been reflecting on my comments on Messiaen's music thus far, and in particular the organ works. I think I haven't necessarily taken the right attitude with some of it. If the organ works are at times works of meditation, particularly of religious contemplation, then I don't think I approached some of the music properly.

Messiaen can be super-dramatic, even thrilling. But it's not everything he does. Sit back, allow things to happen, it doesn't need to be exciting.

I'm not trying to make myself like all of his works. I do find him to be among the most consistent of composers. I'm saying that if I expect the dramatic Messiaen and come across the contemplative Messiaen, perhaps I'm going in with the wrong expectations.

Livre d'Orgue, in seven movements, falls somewhere in between. The chromaticism of the quieter, more contemplative movements (i.e #2) gives the work an eerie sound. The first movement is a monophonic melody, no doubt one of his modes of values and intensities. I wouldn't mind being in the room with the instrument when the organist hits those immense pedal tones.

The birdsongs are back, specifically in the fourth movement.

Then there are some of massive cluster-ish chords, such as the opening and closing of movement 3, and there's that drama again.

As a whole it's a curious piece. The second through sixth movements all have some stated Catholic subtext, but the first and final movements are more formalist in nature. It seems gone are the times he wants to let the clouds open up with a huge major chord any longer (at least at this particular time in his career).

It would probably be more fair for me to listen to all of Le Livre du Saint Sacrement in one sitting, but I'm going to have to leave most of the movements for tomorrow, on the following disc. All combined, it's about 101 minutes.

It's a late work, and immediately feels like a mature, confident composition. As it should, by this time in his life. Generally gone, as far as I can hear, are the more severe formalist/modalist/serialist leanings mentioned earlier. Even if it's all clearly Messiaen, it doesn't sound much like his early music. It's not all big and dramatic, but it is generally more engaging than some of the organ music I previously listened to.

But again, I might need to check that opinion at a future date, re-evaluate some of the earlier works.

If I think of anything more to write about this work, I'll do that tomorrow. Or, more likely, go on other tangents.

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