Monday, August 06, 2012

Et transfiguratus est ante eos.

For today's Feast of the Transfiguration, I'd like to share some music by one of my favorite composers, Olivier Messiaen. First performed publicly in 1969, La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ is Messiaen's extended meditation on the act of divine self-manifestation commemorated by this great feast. Messiaen's Transfiguration is an appropriately massive fourteen-movement work lasting an hour and a half in performance, scored for a mixed choir, large orchestra and seven instrumental soloists. The work's Latin libretto mixes the Gospel accounts of the Transfiguration with selections from the Roman Missal, the breviary, and the Summa Theologiae, offering a deeply powerful expression of faith in the divinity of Christ.

Above, you can hear the first movement of La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ performed by the Radio Symfonie Orkest Hilversum and the combined choral forces of the Groot Omroepkoor and the Koor van de BRT Bruxelles under the direction of Reinbert de Leeuw. The text sung by the choir comes from Matthew 17:1-2 in the Latin Vulgate:

Adsumpsit Iesus Petrum et Iacobum et Iohannem fratrem eius et ducit illos in montem excelsum seorsum.

Et transfiguratus est ante eos, et resplenduit facies eius sicut sol vestimenta autem eius facta sunt alba sicut nix.


Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart.

And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light.

To hear the rest of the piece, check out this complete performance recorded live at the BBC Proms in 2008. Some fine commercial recordings of Messiaen's Transfiguration have been made, including the aforementioned performance conducted by Reinbert de Leeuw and a 2002 DG release with Messiaen specialist Myung-whun Chung leading the Orchestre philharmonique et Choeur de Radio France.

For more encounters with Messiaen, see my earlier posts on his opera Saint François d'Assise and on the beguiling Turangalîla-Symphonie. Prayers and good wishes for all on this bright feast. AMDG.


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