Saturday, September 12, 2009

Petites Liturgies

Olivier Messiaen - Petites Liturgies

LP released in 1974


Yvonne Loriod - piano
Jeanne Loriod - Onde Martenot
Choeurs de la maitrise
Chamber Orchestra of Radiodiffusion Francaise, Marcel Couraud - conductor

Messiaen conceived the THREE SHORT LITURGIES as a religious concert work; he specifically wanted a composition that would perform a liturgical act in places which were not originally intended for worship. THE POEM IS BATHED IN QUOTES FROM THE HOLY SCRIPTURES: THE EVANGELISTS, EPISTLES, SONG OF SONGS, THE PSALMS AND THE APOCALYPSE, AND THE MOST BEAUTIFUL TEXTS FROM THE IMITATION OF CHRIST, ST. JOHN, ST. PAUL AND ST. THOMAS. He chose three forms of chant which have a life independent of the cathedral - in monastic and private chapel devotions and in liturgical dramas; an antiphon, a sequence and a psalm-tone. The poetic prose of the text is highly charged with mystical imagery and often moves forward in a litany-like pace with parallel phrases. The first part, the antiphon, follows the three-part form of the antiphon, psalm and antiphon repeat. The meditative antiphon is expressed in short phrases in the pure melody of the chorus supported by low, vibrant strings. Between each phrase a commentary from the piano (bird calls) lightens the texture. For the mid-section the chorus turns to a declamatory style with a vocalization on the last syllable. The instrumental forces - piano, solo violin and Onde Martenot - likewise increase the intensity of sound and the range of emotion. The return ofthe pensive antiphon is not exact as this time the celesta is added to piano, often playing in canon. After a cadenza-like flourish (with the gong) on "Mon Amour" the section ends with brightly harmonized major chords on the words, "Mon Dieu." The second section, the sequence, uses a text heavy with rhyme, assonance and rhythm. The form is a stanza with variations which alternates refrain and the main song. The choir uses dance-like meters of 3/8 and 3/16. The general sense is one of exaltation. In the passage with the orchestral variations, the Onde Martenot may be heard, fortissimo, above the choir. The third section is based on a long and complex poem. A psalmtone, it returns to the three part form of the first section. The mid portion returns to the music of the antiphon and it is here that the Onde Martenot can be heard with its METALLIC TIMBRE, that Messiaen so admires. The opening of the poem emphasizes God's omnipresence and the close, in a series of apposites, stresses God's dual nature: near-far; light-dark; simple-complex. Each section closes with the refrain, SEAL THYSELF UPON MY HEART.

Three ideas are part of Messiaen's thought: love of man, love of nature, and faith, divine love. Though some find conflict between any of these ideas, Messiaen finds none. So, too, with many ofthe other apparently contradictory elements of his expression. He respects tradition but sees nothing in it that inhibits innovation. Like the composer-poets of 14th-c. France, he mixes notions of profane and sacred love. There are also times when he seems to have the perfect expression for his ideas; for him the Onde Martenot is an instrument remarkably suited to his melodic ideal: WHICH CAN PRODUCE LOUD TERRIFYING EFFECTS AND CONTRARY-WISE, HALOS OF SWEET UNREALITY . . . GIVES COMPLEX SONORITIES, OF A GREAT DELICACY, AN INFINITE DELICACY . . .
(Jean Hughes)


Side One

1. Antienne de la Conversation Interieure {10:13}

[Antiphon of Internal Conversation]

2. Sequence du Verbe, Cantique Divin {6:30}

[Sequence of the Word, Divine Canticle]

Side Two

1. Psalmodie de l'Ubiquité par Amour {19:34}

[Psalm Tone of Omnipresence Through Love]

(1) or (1) [links coming back soon, maybe (1/24/2012)]


  1. oh man this is _the_ recording of this piece, so ridiculously good

  2. I recently got a usb phono preamp with the idea of digitizing some of my vinyl, and it enabled the use of a Thorens turntable I hadn't had out for years. Seeing this post reminded me that I have this album, so I pulled it out and listened to it, thanks. I'll probably download it as well.

    Those who like the onde and / or Messiaen should check out the new ReR CD by Nadia Ratsimandresy of pieces for onde and piano by Messiaen and composers influenced by him, like Tristan Murail, N'Guyen Thien Dao and Jacques Charpentier. Two of the tracks are arrangements of movements from the Quartet for the End of Time.

  3. download links please?