Messiaen’s Interpretations of Holiness and Trinity
Echoes of Medieval Theology in the Oratorio, Organ Meditations, and Opera
“Three of Olivier MessiaenпїЅs later works La Transfiguration de Notre-Seigneur JпїЅsus-Christ MпїЅditations sur le mystпїЅre de la Sainte TrinitпїЅ and Saint FranпїЅois dпїЅAssise are linked by the fact that the composer refers to and quotes from Thomas Aquinas. The composerпїЅs reception of Thomistic texts is one of the principles guiding the interpretations in this study. On the one hand Messiaen had been pondering ThomasпїЅs thoughts on the role of music in the life of a Christian and on musicпїЅs possible spiritual content all through his professional life; on the other hand the oratorio the organ meditations and the opera are the only works in which Messiaen quotes extensive Thomistic sentences addressing purely theological subject matter. The first aspect MessiaenпїЅs appropriation ofпїЅor felicitous congruence withпїЅthe medieval theologianпїЅs views on music underlies all analyses as a kind of background fabric. The second aspect MessiaenпїЅs quotations from the Summa theologica and their musical translation determines segments of a larger discussion that in the bookпїЅs three main chapters attempts to do justice to the compositions as a whole. While ThomasпїЅ theological aesthetics appears as a thread woven through a texture in a way that brings it only periodically to the foreground the statements from ThomasпїЅs writings provide essential foundations determining the worksпїЅ content and its musical rendering.
A musicologist, concert pianist, and interdisciplinary scholar whose research focuses on compositions of the 20th century. Prior to coming to the United States, she taught for ten years in Germany and at the University of Hong Kong. Since 1993 she has been a full-time researcher at the University of MichiganпїЅs Institute for the Humanities (one of six пїЅLife Research AssociatesпїЅ); in the fall of 2004, she was appointed chercheur permanent at the Institut dпїЅEsthпїЅtique des Arts Contemporains at UniversitпїЅ de Paris 1пїЅLa Sorbonne. She has been an elected member of the European Academy of Arts and Sciences since 2001.