Ascension Day postlude from Ely Cathedral
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,681
    "Transports de joie" from L'Ascension - Olivier Messiaen

    https://youtu.be/FD6ZfgANMWE?t=3942

    This is at 1:05:42 in the following video from the live stream:
    width="1280" height="720">

    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • Messiaen is an acquired taste. Please help me understand what I'm supposed to be listening to/for. I know that he used Gregorian melodies sometimes in his work, and that, being both modern and French he somehow took great inspiration from the Medieval Church (this, for example, I learned from Jeff Morse, whose knowledge and friendship I esteem highly). I still find Messiaen hard on the ears.
    Thanked by 1ServiamScores
  • Schönbergian
    Posts: 849
    L'Ascension is one of his most accessible works, along with La Nativité du Seigneur. It's ecstatically pictorial, meant to conjure up imagery through gesture.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,681
    The dazzling toccata Transports de joie replaced the orchestral movement Allélulia sur la trompette, Alléluia sur la cymbale, which Messiaen believed would transcribe inadequately for the organ. The disparate elements of this movement—the arresting opening chords, the powerful solo pedal lines and the concluding moto perpetuo—root this movement firmly in the improvisatory tradition of the French organ school. Nevertheless, few organ works have come close to the cataclysmic impact of this movement’s vitality—a deep statement of faith in the power of resurrection.
  • M. Jackson Osborn
    Posts: 8,016
    Transports de joie is the most challenging piece by Messiaen that I have learnt and I love it. Like most of his organ music, it is maddening to learn but heavenly to play after having learnt it and 'seen the light'. There is hardly a single note that doesn't have at least on or more sharps or flats on it, and not a single note was the predictable follower of its predecessor not predicts it's follower, yet, a wrong note will stand out like a sore thumb. I have done other movements from L'Ascension and La Naivite, and a few other things, but have never tackled Dieu parmi nous, and wish that I had - but it's too late now. Some, perhaps many, would register disagreement, but I consider Messiaen's organ works the Parnassus of XXth century organ literature. Having said that I love Langlais and Alain much, much more. There is that sparklingly admirable cleanness of form and texture in their work which, I believe makes their music a far better spiritual experience.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • Jackson,

    I consider Messiaen's organ works the Parnassus of XXth century organ literature


    Has he much competition? I've been learning some Flor Peeters, for example, and find it jarringly predictably dissonant (if that makes any sense).
  • M. Jackson Osborn
    Posts: 8,016
    Chris -
    I have never been fond of Peeters's work, so am not competent to comment on it. The only thing of his that I have ever played is that rather gaudy and theatrical (to my mind) Intrada Festiva.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,539
    The round sanctuary and altar goes perfectly with the sounds of Messiaen.
    Thanked by 2CharlesW CHGiffen
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,215
    As the writer of the Liturgical Mysteries said, "Messiaen makes my teeth hurt."
  • GambaGamba
    Posts: 340
    I think there are several ways to understand this piece, which I am looking forward to playing on Sunday.

    1) Messiaen went in all kinds of new directions with his use of modes of limited transposition, unusual rhythms, etc. I find this hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t studied music, so I prefer another route.

    2) Messiaen was making a beautiful theological point with this piece. All the movements of the suite have specific titles, and quotations either from the Bible or from the liturgy of Ascension Day. We can tell what’s going on in Transports by reading the full title and subtitle, and also the verses from Ephesians and Colossians that he prints at the top of the score:

    “OUTBURSTS OF JOY from a soul before the glory of Christ, which is the soul’s own glory.”

    “”Giving thanks unto the Father, who has made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the Saints in light….he has raised us up together and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”


    To me, that’s a tremendous thought: what Christ gained through his Ascension is for me. His glory should be my own glory; where he went, he will bring me, to sit down in heaven with the saints. I haven’t seen that glory, but if I one day can, I would think my joy would be absolutely tremendous, something which cannot be expressed in conventional language. So Messiaen abandoned conventional harmony, rhythm, and melody in his attempt to portray it. The joy was too big: it broke the [musical] scale.

    Think about how a toddler or a preschooler reacts when they are surprised by a big gift or an experience beyond their expectation: often they repeatedly cry out at the top of their lungs, run around the room, and overflow with babbling faster than they can find intelligible words. I think this piece has that kind of pure joy.

    (Also, I always put these thoughts and information in a more condensed form in the bulletin, so that folks have something to hang onto when they hear it.)
  • davido
    Posts: 503
    Gamba, thank you for your thoughtful explanation.

    I tend to dislike this piece, partly because my natural prejudices tend toward the baroque and romantic. However, being as impartial as possible, I see this piece in participating in several trends:
    1. The cult of the solo performer, also the composer artist or enlightened one who can mystically see further into art than the rest of us
    2. The deconstruction of form so prevalent in 20th century art, exhibited here as a liberation from tonal and harmonic constraints
    3. The 20th century ignoring of Pius X’s teaching that church music be recognizable as sacred and pure. We see this rejection of the Pian teaching in both in 20th century high art and folk styles
  • Schönbergian
    Posts: 849
    3. The 20th century ignoring of Pius X’s teaching that church music be recognizable as sacred and pure. We see this rejection of the Pian teaching in both in 20th century high art and folk styles
    Messiaen, the most Roman Catholic of 20th-century composers who spent his entire life in the Church and most of it as an organist? Even his concert or theatrical works are steeped in his faith; to claim that his explicitly sacred works aren't recognizably so, especially against the backdrop of the remainder of the century, doesn't make sense to me.
  • davido
    Posts: 503
    His works are intensely mystical.
    But what are the art and architectural styles that would be the equivalent of this organ music? Are they universal? Are they beautiful?
    I think Messiaen’s life corresponded with a period of devolution in the church’s thinking and praxis that gave us the deformed liturgy and hemorrhaging institution that we have today.
    Thanked by 2CharlesW francis
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,215
    The local AGO chapter - not known for programming music of general interest or appeal - did the monthly virtual meeting with a large work by Messiaen played by area artists on regional organs. I hadn't heard all those organs so that much was interesting. I could even learn to live with, if not love, some of the Messiaen pieces. There were from 12 - 15 at most members even watching. I just watched to hear the instruments.

  • Schönbergian
    Posts: 849
    But what are the art and architectural styles that would be the equivalent of this organ music? Are they universal? Are they beautiful?
    I don't think one can draw a direct parallel because of how individual a musician he was, but La jeune France was diametrically opposed to many of the "slight" musical movements in France like Les six. I think that counts for something.

    I think Messiaen’s life corresponded with a period of devolution in the church’s thinking and praxis that gave us the deformed liturgy and hemorrhaging institution that we have today.
    Messiaen lived at almost exactly the same time as Maurice Duruflé and yet nobody would try to tie him to the nonsense of the sixties.
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,361
    what architecture

    I think Messiaen would be quite at home in La Sagrada Família, Matisse's Vence Chapel being scaled a bit more towards Poulenc.
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen Gamba
  • GambaGamba
    Posts: 340
    1. The cult of the solo performer, also the composer artist or enlightened one who can mystically see further into art than the rest of us


    Not sure which composers for organ this criticism would exclude. All of them, you can instantly tell it’s Schlick or Bach or Guilmant or Widor or whoever. They all took their understanding of Christianity and tried their best to hook it up to the musical and compositional techniques they understood. That Messiaen expanded his harmonic language doesn’t seem to be a sin, any more than the ancient person who determined that B-flats and B-naturals can be useful in the same chant. In L’Ascension, if Messiaen wanted to be self-aggrandizing, he sure went to a lot of trouble to hide his pride under a Christian message, and cover it with the holiest of words.

    2. The deconstruction of form so prevalent in 20th century art, exhibited here as a liberation from tonal and harmonic constraints


    The form of Transports is pretty bog-standard; there’s an A theme (loud chords and triplets) and a B theme (running quintuplets). It’s not atonal, but centered in F-sharp major. The harmony is indeed expanded, but I think it’s only as far from Bruckner as Palestrina is from Ockeghem.

    I think it’s a trap to say that sacred music cannot stray from the common-practice harmony known in Europe at the time of Pius X. The then-unknown various Eastern and African sorts of chant and the music of Hildegard von Bingen don’t comply to the theoretical rules of chant-and-Palestrinian-polyphony-with-possible-excursions-up-to-1850, but it would be unthinkable today to assert that they are less than pleasing to God. In every age we are reminded by the Church that God blesses us with new insights that do not negate, but rather enrich our tradition, and that we cannot reject anything after a certain date simply for being new. Else we would not have Gothic churches, organs, the Vatican Observatory, or anything past somebody’s house in Jerusalem and what we can remember of the Psalms in Aramaic. What my brother Olivier discovered, with God’s help, and put to use after reflecting on a great mystery, is a gift to the world, just like those dear monks around 900 who discovered that two voices could sing together at once.

    3. The 20th century ignoring of Pius X’s teaching that church music be recognizable as sacred and pure. We see this rejection of the Pian teaching in both in 20th century high art and folk styles

    I haven’t yet found a bar where there’s any Messiaen on the jukebox…? I know I need to get out more, but I don’t think any guy on the street would suppose this was music for any place other than the church.
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,361
    rejection of the Pian teaching

    As far as it affects music this might seem like a good idea to friends of mixed choirs, organ alternatim, and the patrimony of the blacklisted Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Rossini, Schubert and Bruckner.
    Thanked by 3Gamba MarkS CHGiffen
  • LarsLars
    Posts: 54
    I’m sure its fun to play. It reminded me of this little gem:

    https://youtu.be/h6Geoi2aKJw
  • Richard,

    On the other hand, how many choirs regularly program Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Rossini, Schubert and Bruckner? I can think of only Bruckner's Graduals which I would miss. Mozart's Ave verum is, too often, sung badly (the "penny-whistle chorus" is my nickname for it).

  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,361
    Taking away options doesn't ever seem ever get rid of bad music though, does it?
    Ave verum … too often, sung badly

    …applies all too often to Gregorian chant as well.

    Our Offertory repertoire takes full advantage of vernacular languages and pocket orchestras. A challenge I've set myself is to give our OF parish a taste of the treasury of Mass Ordinaries at apt places in the Lectionary:

    J. S. Bach: Herr, gehe nicht ins Gericht BWV 105; Siehe zu BWV 179; Der aber die Herzen forchet
    Haydn: Et incarnatus (Nelson Mass, for Xmas); Aus dem Danklied zu Gott, Hob. XXVc:8; The Creation excerpts
    Mozart: Veni Sancte Spiritus; Benedictus sit; Internatos mulierum; Sancta Maria; Requiem
    Beethoven: touché, though I've considered Pleni sunt coeli
    Rossini: O salutaris hostia
    Schubert: 'German' Mass, in English; Palm Sunday antiphons; Schicksalslenker, Op. 141; Benedictus (A-flat) Et vitam venturi (E-flat) (Tres sunt D 181 looks thrilling, if I ever find or make an organ reduction: too late this year)
    Bruckner: Ave Maria; Christus factus est; Locus iste; Os justi
    Brahms: Ach, arme Welt, Op. 110 No. 2; Geistliches Lied, Op. 30; Warum ist das Licht, Op. 74, No. 1; Deutsches Requiem (except for Wie lieblich, believe it or not!)


  • M. Jackson Osborn
    Posts: 8,016
    [Mozart's] Ave verum...too often sung badly.
    There is no question that Mozart's Ave verum is an ingenious little gem, a masterpiece of compact form with text superbly expressed. However, whether done badly or well, it is indeed done too often, far too often - so often that it has become stale. While Byrd's version is of equal (if not superior!) artistry and perhaps even greater textual sensitivity deserves to be done more often - though not so often that it, too, has become stale.

    (It occurred to me some time ago that the comma in our possessive form is not just a genitive indicator but actually makes of its noun a contraction of 'Mozart his Ave verum', etc. Am I late in recongnising this? or am I mistaken?) One rather to this day encounters now and then people who will say 'David his book' and so on.)
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 2,686
    Am I late in recongnising this? or am I mistaken?
    About 400 years late, "his gentive" enjoyed a vogue in the 1580s, but declined after the 1620s. (eg. Ignatius his Conclave) The comma was, apparently, introduced mistakenly to acknowledge this folk etymology. The comma lingers and has infected words where the genitive previously required neither this nor an 's' cf. Lady Day.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,539
    A,D,F#,A,Ab,G... schmalz... no matter how well it is performed.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,215
    The schmaltzy shall inherit the earth.
  • M. Jackson Osborn
    Posts: 8,016
    Schmaltz? Mozart his Ave Maria is on the borderline here. There are such things as good schmaltz and bad schmaltz - at least for 'softies' who shudder to call a spade a spade.
    As Debussy once said, or had a character in a short play that he wrote say - 'We shall all die, and we shall die smothered under the suffocating blanket of mediocrity'.
    Thanked by 1francis
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,354
    My only good word for schmaltz is the culinary meaning:

    https://www.splendidtable.org/story/2013/10/04/how-to-make-schmaltz

  • M. Jackson Osborn
    Posts: 8,016
    Culinary schmaltz!
    Ugh!!!

    (Oh, um, how far is it from here to Ascension Day postlude at Ely?)
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,539
    schmaltzy shall inherit the earth
    Maybe yours...

    “I go unto a better place.” (Both here and there)

    https://youtu.be/N-Esh4W3dfI
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,215
    They don't have to inherit the earth. The schmaltz has been around for centuries.