Saturday, October 28, 2017

Messiaen again.

I've written here before about Olivier Messiaen, the twentieth-century French composer whose musical output includes everything from mystical choral works on Catholic feasts to an opera on St. Francis of Assisi to the sprawling Turangalîla-Symphonie, a work that Messiaen's leading interpreter Pierre Boulez once described as "bordello music" and one that I once likened to "alien invasion music" suitable to a 1950s sci-fi flick. Messiaen is one of my favorite composers, and I hope that living in his home country for a few years will give me somewhat greater access to his music.

2017 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of Messiaen's death, occasioning various commemorative events and concerts in Paris and throughout France. The anniversary also got me interested in trying to find a recorded interview with the composer, since I had never heard his voice even though I had heard a lot of his music. That search led me to this program produced in 1974 for a French TV series called Court Circuit, which takes the novel approach of staging an encounter between the composer and a twenty-year-old engineering student who also happens to be a talented amateur musician and a fan of Messiaen's music. At the end of their interview, the young student muses thoughtfully about the encounter and remarks on Messiaen's personal simplicity and accessibility. Messiaen comes across as humble and unassuming as well as a gifted pedagogue, and his willingness to discuss his Catholic faith in an encounter recorded for public television says something about the evangelical spirit that animated his life and work. If you understand French and you're interested in Messiaen, have a look. AMDG.