Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Eight months to go
The arrival of May 1st tomorrow means that we are exactly one-third of the way through the Messiaen centenary. (Aaaugh! It's going by too quickly, and I still haven't learned the complete works!) By an interesting coincidence, May 1st also happens to be Ascension Day this year, the festival in the Christian calendar most associated with the composer. Part of this is good marketing by Alphonse Leduc: the sheet music for Messiaen's organ cycle L'Ascension has the name of the festival in huge letters on the cover, printed atop a 9 X 12 picture of a sculpture of Jesus. It couldn't be any more obvious that this is sacred organ music for Ascension Day. In fact, the smallest thing on the title page is the composer's name: perhaps they hope that stores will file it next to the Rutter and K. Lee Scott, and organists will buy it by mistake.
In any case, the cycle makes liturgical planning really easy; just plug in a movement anywhere that you need organ music, and you look like you've thought through the service really carefully! For me, this is the excuse I needed to learn "Alleluias sereins", the only movement in the cycle I haven't played yet. I'm also pulling out the "Transports de joie" movement as a postlude. No matter how many times I perform it, there are five bars that I can never quite play properly. Whatever - if it's not ready by Sunday I'll ask someone to start vacuuming the sanctuary around page 4.
The choir of Westminster Abbey gets no points for Messiaenological correctness; they have just released a CD of organ and choral music for Ascension Day which includes no Messiaen whatsoever! Messiaen enthusiasts worldwide will be boycotting English products in protest, and will immediately begin referring to the cor anglais as the "Freedom Horn".
BTW I'm quite aware that there are good reasons for the lack of Messiaen on the Westminster Abbey discs - such as the fact that everyone and his brother will be playing the Messiaen cycle for Ascension, the fact that the rest of the programme consists of English music (and, errr, Schutz), and the fact that the CD was actually recorded over a year ago, well before the centenary. I don't care. I'm not paid to be reasonable.