Monday, December 17, 2007


I went Sunday evening to St. Paul's Cathedral to hear a performance of Olivier Messiaen's La Nativité du Seigneur, a Christmas work for organ played by Huw Williams. When I go to hear Messiaen's organ works, it seems always to be in a large drafty cathedral. I wasn't too cold to make it to the end this time.

Two women priests read the scripture that accompanies each section of the nine movement work. Where the organ is and where the organist sits are all unknown. The sound simply echoes and swirls from all directions, around the dome and through the candle smoke.

This work is very early--1935, only four years after Messiaen was appointed organist at La Sainte-Trinité in Paris. A lot of words have been expended trying to explain the musical style of Messiaen. It isn't counterpoint or harmony, but progresses by extemporizing organist logic from one block of sound to another. Some movements are illustrative--the wise men are heard plodding through the desert.

The final movement, God among us, is unusually powerful. I am a fan.

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