Messiaen's Birthday

Off to the chapel of Glasgow University last night for a concert to celebrate what would have been Messiaen’s 100 birthday.

The first half was organ only. Firstly the eternal church shimmered into view and the disappeared again in Apparition de l’Eglise Eternelle.

Then it was off to Bethelehem for the Christmas cycle La Nativité du Seigneur. The University had helpfully provided the gaudiest tree in all of Christendom the better to concentrate our minds on the glorious colours in Messiaen’s music.

I’ve only known La Nativité in bits, I think. I’ve never heard it before from beginning to end. It is a wonderful piece. My favourite is Les Mages ie the Magi who come hirpling into view from the East. I once heard this described as music to ride camels by. The whole of their journey is worth it for the glimpse of glory that they get in the last chord of that movement.

John Butt played all of this splendidly – no mean feat, there are a lot of notes and not all of them in places where you expect them.

After a brief wine and crisps interval, it was back for more. The Quartet for the End of Time was performed by Siân Holding (violin), Alex South (clarinet), Sarah Harrington (‘cello) and Oliver Rundell (piano and gloves). It was a very beautiful second half. The mesmerising shapes and shades of the apocalypse unfolded before our eyes.

Monsieur Messiaen describes it best himself: “I pass beyond reality and submit in ecstasy to a dizziness, a gyratory interlocking of superhuman sounds and colours. These swords of fire, these flows of blue-orange lava, these sudden stars; this is the tumult of rainbows!”

This was a concert which took one to a solitary place. It was strange at times to look up and realise that one was sharing it with others. I’d have preferred to hear this music in a warmer, darker place lit by a hundred candles.

Happy Birthday Mr Messiaen.

Happy Birthday to you.