Nativity, Saint Denis, Paris, 12th century. Source here.
Eschewing tinsel, sprouts, and a plethora of meretricious seasonal listening, what better way of celebrating Christmas than immersing ourselves in the profound meditations of Messiaen’s monumental La nativité du Seigneur! It’s high time for it to soar to the top of the Christmas charts… (cf. What is serious music?!)
Even by 1935, Messiaen’s distinctive vision was fully-fledged, expressed through a unique harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic language, with extreme contrasts.
In French organ improvisation! (which also includes remarkable film of Messiaen himself at the organ of Saint-Trinité) I featured the joyous finale Dieu parmi nous, but here’s the complete work, played by various organists, as at the premiere:
I like the BTL comment “This music seriously messiaens with your head”. I set no great store by notation; it can be distracting as well as instructive, so do listen with eyes closed too.
The nine meditations are:
- La vierge et l’enfant
- Les bergers
- Desseins éternels
- Le verbe
- Les enfants de Dieu
- Les anges
- Jésus accepte la souffrance
- Les mages
- Dieu parmi nous
This should lead us on to his great piano work Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus. Note also Messiaen tag, leading to equally cosmic orchestral works (Turangalîla, Des canyons aux étoiles, Éclairs sur l’au-delà …), as well as his late opera Saint François d’Assise.