Mess(iaen)

Hi

As a follow up on the chat I had with Max in the Hifi Corner and a friendly suggestion to move the conversation to the Music Corner, I'd like to share the following experience with you.

It was a long time ago that I visited the city of Fulda in Germany and its very old St. Michael's Church. This church has an interesting Crypt and a young guy was studying some weird music there on the small organ. I recognized the composer of the music and checked out which piece it was. It was Apparition de l'Eglise Eternelle by Messiaen.

I studied the work in my first year and never really got the piece of music and its composer. The teacher I had did explain the theory of Messiaens modes, but given the quite conservative nature of the organ class, the theological / esthetical dimention remained closed for me. I do remember that I mentioned / questioned the teacher that the Messiaens modes could be an explaination for the construction of a music, but to me it sounded like a delirium. Offended eyes by some young fellows. How could I say that?

But I never really got Messiaen.

So, on Sunday 11/2 the theme in the mass was 'sustainability' (I'm part of a quite open / liberal / non-dogmatic church community) - therefore I programmed 'Apparition de l'Eglise Eternelle' as musica sub communione. For those amongst us who don't know what it is: when the people near the end of the service go to the altar to receive bread and wine to commemorate Crist, the organist plays a piece of suitable music.

I have played the music as good as I could and really enjoyed it. You need to understand that the music goes really, really loud. There is no listening, the music is imposed on the people.

After the service, I got to know what happened in the church. Some people were really upset that I played such a piece of music. Others said (while looking very angry) that it should have been played in a concert hall, not a church. Others were ignoring me. One elder lady was still shaking. Another one has held her hands before her ears during the piece of music. One guy went home, I got an email from him that he was deeply touched and did not want to cry in the church. Few other people were 'elevated' by the music. Two people mentioned the word 'extasis'. Just a random reflection of comments which I got. What a stunning polarisation!

I will not go into the construction of the music here and how brilliant the composition is, but I finally understand this piece of music and in a wider scope the compositions of Messiaen. By performing the piece in the place where it should be performed - a church during service / communion, it came alive.

I do think that 20th century music is reliant rather on the experience to the listener than the performance itself. I mean, I can like Bach's or Mozarts music as is, and it does not need to go in my soul or inner-self. But for 20th century music it must go deeper, it cannot stay superficial. That is not a strange observation in my opinion. Delirium was not a strangely chosen word ...

Ardbeg10y

Original Post

Ardbeg10y, I must say I like your writeup and thoughts although I struggle with some of the main ideas (my own opinion only).  Somehow, I continue to stun myself when I realize how polarized I am within myself when it comes to various topics.  I am usually quite accepting to 'live and let live' when it comes to the opinions of most things and yet certain things tend to effectively set off my blood pressure in a vertical direction and cause me much more consternation.  Music, politics, group think, hypocrisy and kids walking on my grass tend to lead the way of the main topics that push my buttons of tolerance.

That being said, if you don't mind, I would like to open this up by just asking some basic questions.

You must have known that you would have gotten such a result (of varied opinion)?  In fact, the initial part of your writeup clearly showed that you yourself did not really connect with this music for a good part of your life.  Fast forward and somehow something in you changed?

I suspect the clue is that you allude to the fact that you finally understand the technical / compositional aspects of this composer.  As a counterpoint (no pun intended), I would juxtapose this former point with your following statement:

"when the people near the end of the service go to the altar to receive bread and wine to commemorate Crist, the organist plays a piece of suitable music."

I only put these side by side to draw a comparison.  Neither point is wrong in itself but one could ask what is the purpose of the music chosen during this particular time?  Is it really 'suitable music?'  Is it appropriate to 'perform' a piece as challenging and provocative as this that asks for a quintet of fortes (fffff)?  By the way, I ask how anyone can draw a distinction between a trio of fortes (fff) and (fffff)?  Not a criticism but an observation - can anyone 'commemorate Christ' whilst the walls and foundation is shaking and you have to hold your hands over your ears?  Certainly, the attention can only go from Christ to you and is this what you wanted?  If you would draw your finger nails down the blackboard during this same time you might get the same response.  For this reason, I don't believe your statement that this is where it needs to be performed (in a church during a service).  For this purpose, it does not seem to be appropriate or fit for purpose?  It is appropriate though to like this music, play it on your own time, or play it for people who choose to come and hear you play it.  By the response, the majority of the people given the choice would likely not ask you to play an encore of this next Sunday or the Sunday after that and so on.

So here comes the hypocritical part of my own opinions are exposed.  You said:

"I can like Bach's or Mozarts music as is, and it does not need to go in my soul or inner-self. But for 20th century music it must go deeper, it cannot stay superficial."

My first response to the first sentence is that you cannot understand the pure glory of Bach or Mozart or others if you cannot get to the point where it enters your soul or inner-self.  This is true of all music.  For myself, this happens first naturally and then the more I learn about the piece (the technical wonders etc.) the more this grows.  I do not listen to music that doesn't affect me emotionally or spiritually.  Life is too short to waste time listening to elevator music with a superficial outcome.

So we actually are saying the opposite thing here.  There is no way for me to spend time with any great composer unless an emotional outcome is possible.  There is no emotional, soul winning attribute possible for me to come out of Messiaen so it remains superficial to me and I tend to avoid it. 

Now this sound rather opinionated of me and of course it is.  Maybe it is born out of pure ignorance?  Probably.  But I would remain more open minded if you take the purpose out of this situation.  To me, it is not appropriate for a church service but it is certainly appropriate for any another venue.

I do like this type of topic though as I know I will ultimately learn something more about this composer.  I honestly would like to know why this particular piece is a brilliant composition.  

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Since I didn't really know what the pre-discussion elsewhere was about I needed to go and read the preamble.  I will end by asking Max_B a question following his statement:

I cannot say 'I hate Richard Strauss' to a student; I can only do my best to show him/her why S. is a great composer independent of our subjective judgment.

Why not?  Their is no honest way to show objectivity by only shining a positive light on anything and everything while banning any contrary thought.  Why not encourage and challenge students to find out for themselves what is good or is not good and be allowed to formulate their own opinions?  Why is it offensive to state your opinion of whether you like a certain composer or not?  A good debate can follow as you can defend your opinion and others can argue why composer 'x' is the greatest.

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kevin J CardenNick Lees
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