Monday, May 25, 2020

Messiaen disc 9

Le Banquet céleste (1928), Offrande au Saint-Sacrement (1930), Diptyque (1929), Les Corps glorieux (1939).

More Messiaen organ music.

A tangent, with a point. In 1958, Iannis Xenakis created the piece Concret PH. It's an assemblage of recordings of charcoal burning, processed through filters. Also in 1958, Xenakis designed the Philips Pavilion for the Brussels World's Fair. It's an irregular building, based on hyperbolic paraboloids. There were 400+ speakers scattered through the space. Inside, for every two playings of Edgard Varèse's Poème électronique, there would be one playing of Concret PH. 

Why do I mention this?

I play Concret PH for students, and a point I make is that they nor I will ever experience what it was like to listen to that work in its original presentation. I may enjoy or even love the work now, but it's not the same was walking into a strangely shaped building, a random slide show projected on the walls, with this unidentifiable music playing.

I've written this story because, well, I don't find the much of the music on this disc especially interesting. Oh, it's pretty, eerily creepy sometimes. I don't hate it, it's fine, I don't love it.

But I'm going to give Messiaen something of a pass in that, I'm not experiencing these works in their original presentation. I think this was music meant to be heard, and contemplated on, in a grand Catholic cathedral.

I've written before that I am an irreligious person. As such, I'm not going to contemplate "The Almighty" in a church with this music playing. But I do believe that listening to these works in a grand setting, stained glass shining down, would transform the experience.

These works do have moments I find exciting, such as the grand contrabassoon-like opening to the fourth movement Les Corps ("Combat of Death and Life"), or the clusters of chords in that movement. Wow, okay, bring me to Jesus, Olivier!

Well, not so much. Even my love and respect for Messiaen's music is not going to convert me. But it's one of the greatest arguments in favor of Catholicism I can imagine.

These organ works, generally early in his career, do demonstrate his love of harmonic possibilities, and show a sense of orchestration too (various stop settings are often dramatically different).

There are four CDs worth of organ music to go in this box set. I know particular pieces I will love, but this will seem slower than the solo piano music.

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