Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Prom 32 Manchicourt, Messiaen

From Stravinsky to Rachmaninov, from Elliott Carter to Ferneyhough, so many "modern" composers draw inspiration from early music. This year at Aldeburgh there was a veritable feast of Bach and Bach transcriptions, showing how "new" music uses ideas from the very ancient past. Luigi Nono and his fellow students in the early 1950's were told to sing motets in harmony while trying to swim in a choppy ocean. It was a good exercise because they learned how different rhythms could coexist and disintegrate, querying the vary basis of rhythm. Early music is so much the parent of the new that sometimes it seems the 19th century was an aberration, a quirk in the march of music history.

So it was an education to hear Messiaen's Messe de la Pentecôte, interspersed with Manchicourt's Missa Veni Sancte Spiritus written in the mid 1550's. Messiaen played in church nearly every day for 60 years, and indeed Messe de la Pentecôte was played as a whole during Masses at Ste Trinité, but song has always been part of a Mass, so mixing Messiaen with Manchicourt is perfectly natural. Indeed, the multi-part structure of Messiaen's music lends itself to this kind of meaningful enhancement. I specially liked this combination because it balanced the solo organ with the polyphony of the voices. It showed just how original and inventive Messiaen's liturgical writing really was. There's conventional grandeur, but also extreme delicacy, such as the segment with the quiet birdsong. Then the wild "breath of the Spirit" which suddenly sweeps all before it, God himself dispensing with conventional form.


Prommer said...

If you didn't listen to Prom 35, perhaps you could catch Wass's encor after the Vaughan Williams Piano Concerto. I thuoght it was a beautiful little Messaien gem, which I'd never heard before. I'd be interested to know what you think.

Prommer said...

I too, found it a fascinating and illuminating coupling, but I do wish the BBC had trusted us to make the connections (which I would never have made on my own, and I doubt many other listeners would) without mixing the two together.