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Olivier Messiaen & Bach

Bach & Messiaen

Ed Myskowski wrote (May 13, 2008):
Once the camel gets his nose under the tent (or spits in your face), the food is gone [something like that]. Old saying, I believe, but no camels in my environs.

There are many college radio traditions in USA which are doing a very nice job keeping up with the times (if not THE Times). In Cambridge MA, WHRB (www.whrb.org) has an Orgy(r) season twice a year, during exam prep period. Draw your own conclusions.

Sidebar to TNT, thanks for keeping us informed of your web-radio activities, re Bach (or Bach & anything).

Beginning Sunday, through today, Tuesday, we are hearing complete Messiaen, with breaks for ear and mind retuning. Even sleep, for the wimps.

So on what I would call a Super Tuesday (USA pun, where we vote on Tuesdays. Almost every Tuesday. Go figure.):

(1) I can start my day with the morning routine, including catching up on BCML loose ends.

(2) Listen to an afternoon radio broadcast of mostly <St. Francis of Assissi>. I have the CD, but there is still something special, to me, about sharing the radio broadcast experience in real time, with unknown others. Un <Mystere de la Sainte Ttinite>? Messiaen might have agreed. Or perhaps not, sheer speculation on my part. I did have the memorable privelege of hearing his music, with him in attendance, late in his life.

(3) Later on this evening we will have additional intermediate USA election results, and then time to begin on BWV 197, all with late Messiaen ending at 10 PM.

I think it is relevant, and helpful, to have a contemporary composer who was equally as devoted, as Bach apparently was, to dedicating his music to a religious tradition. I think it is also relevant, with a pause for deep thought, that those religious traditions are very similar, except for the minor detail that one was in revolt against the other (on the micro ((Europe)) scale).

Despite my proximity (humor intended) to Messiaen, I would not venture an opinion as to whether his devotion to Catholicism, and the uniquely individual nature of his music, was:
(1) making a statement in regard to his source of income (possible)
(2) in revolt against Luthers (hence Bachs) reformation agenda (not impossible)
(3) out of deep and personal spiritual belief (SDG, very believable).
Or various combinations of the above.

I wonder if there are folks around who would argue the relative merits of the spiritual systems, based on their personal opinions of the relative merits of the music? Actually, I do not wonder, I am sure they are around.

St. Francis (Messiaen text): <O weakness!..Contemtible soul!...O my unworthy body!...Can I Lord offer them to thee?> Now playing.

Bach (or Picander, whomever), squared.

Bob Brennan wrote (May 14, 2008):
[To Ed myskowski] An anecdote: I experienced Bach and Messiaen together at a Riverside Church (NYC) New Year's service several years ago along with a number of other works by the choir, unaccompanied and accompanied by organ. The Messiaen harmonizations (on "Dieu parmi nous") floored me as it thundered through the pipes. I later read up on his use of "modes of limited transposition" to try and get a cursory understanding of it.

Bach, of course, was Bach. What a way to start a new year!

James Atkins Pritchard wrote (May 14, 2008):
[To Ed myskowski] With regard to your three choices, while it's true that Messiaen was paid to play the organ in church it does seem to me implausible that this fact would account for his professing Catholic views. People like Howells and Vaughan Williams were not believers, and they wrote lots of very fine music for the church without feeling the need to pretend to convictions they didn't hold. And they certainly didn't fill their non-church-related works with references to Christianity in the way Messiaen did.

As for number 2, Messiaen said of Bach's music that it "reaches all times, all places, touches on the material as well as spiritual, and finally finds God everywhere". I don't sense any particular hostility there.

I think we're looking at number 3.

Ed Myskowski wrote (May 14, 2008):
James Atkins Pritchard wrote:
>As for number 2, Messiaen said of Bach's music that it "reaches all times, all places, touches on the material as well as spiritual, and finally finds God everywhere". I don't sense any particular hostility there.
I think we're looking at number 3.<
I did not intend to imply hostility, simply motivation for Messiaen creating music which is so distinctly his own. I quite agree that the most attractive choice is simply to take Messiaen (and Bach) at his word (option 3). I was simply acknowledging that there are other possibilities which are not easily disproven, in both cases, sometimes expressed with respect to Bach on BCML.

Thanks for your interest. I wondered if I was stretching the <Bach &> option, but I see that Aryeh already has a section for Bach and Modern Composers.

 

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Last update: żNovember 13, 2008 ż12:58:15