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Symbols of Faith in Music: Siglind Bruhn’s Analysis of Olivier Messiaen’s Music

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Symbols of Faith in Music: Siglind Bruhn’s Analysis of Olivier Messiaen’s Music

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<p>© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2012 DOI: 10.1163/156852912X615900 Religion and the Arts 16 ( 2012 ) 122–134 brill.nl/rart RELIGION and the ARTS Review Essay Symbols of Faith in Music: Siglind Bruhn’s Analysis of Olivier Messiaen’s Music Namji Kim University of Wisconsin—Eau Claire Bruhn, Siglind. Messiaen’s Contemplations of Covenant and Incarnation: Musical Symbols of Faith in the Two Great Piano Cycles of the 1940s. No. 7 of Dimension and Diversity: Studies in 20th-Century Music, ed. Mark De Voto. Hillsdale NY: Pendragon Press, 2007. Pp. 296. $36.00 paper. ——. Messiaen’s Explorations of Love and Death: Musico-Poetic Signifijication in the “Tristan Trilogy” and Three Related Song Cycles . No. 9 of Dimension and Diversity: Studies in 20th-Century Music, ed. Mark De Voto. Hillsdale NY: Pendragon Press, 2008. Pp. 288. $36.00 paper. ——. Messiaen’s Interpretations of Holiness and Trinity: Echoes of Medieval Theology in the Oratorio, Organ Meditations, and Opera. No. 10 of Dimen- sion and Diversity: Studies in 20th-Century Music, ed. Mark De Voto. Hills- dale NY: Pendragon Press, 2008. Pp. 229 + 1 illustration. $36.00 paper. * B y devoting a trilogy of books to the music of the French composer, Olivier Messiaen (1908–1992), Siglind Bruhn has signifijicantly contrib- uted to the already existing literature on this musician of genius. In these three volumes, Bruhn offfers many fascinating insights into Messiaen’s music and aesthetics. Since many of Messiaen’s works were shaped by his Christian faith, Bruhn strives to draw religious meaning from most of her analyses: her endeavors are overall successful.</p>
<p>N. Kim / Religion and the Arts 16 ( 2012 ) 122–134 123 The fijirst of the trilogy, Messiaen’s Contemplations of Covenant and Incar- nation: Musical Symbols of Faith in the Two Great Piano Cycles of the 1940s is an analysis of Visions de l’Amen (1943) and Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus (1944). The second, Messiaen’s Explorations of Love and Death: Musico- Poetic Signifijication in the “Tristan Trilogy” and Three Related Song Cycles , examines the works from the “ Tristan Trilogy” — Harawi (1945), Turan- galîla-Symphonie (1946–1948), and Cinq Rechants (1948); the song cycles Poèmes pour Mi (1936) and Chants de Terre et de Ciel (1938); and Trois Petites Liturgies de la Présence Divine (1943–1944). The fijinal volume, Mes- siaen’s Interpretations of Holiness and Trinity: Echoes of Medieval Theology in the Oratorio, Organ Meditations and Opera , examines three major late works: La Transfijiguration de Notre-Seigneur Jésus-Christ (1965–1969); the organ cycle Méditations sur le mystère de la Sainte Trinité (1969); and Saint François d’Assise (1975–1983). These books share a similar format, starting with introductory chapters in which Bruhn explains succinctly the background of the work, its his- torical context, the various sources of inspiration, as well as information on its premiere. In all three, she also carefully includes an explanation of the musical patterns that shape Messiaen’s language. In Contemplations , Bruhn begins by tracing the religious sources that informed the composer’s own faith. She describes the religious climate in France in the early twen- tieth century, and she gives short but informative biographies of Messi- aen’s father, Pierre Messiaen, an English teacher and devout Catholic; and Messiaen’s musical mentor, Charles Tournemire, an organist and com- poser, also a fellow Catholic. Bruhn likewise gives us insightful comments on Messiaen’s spirituality: Meanwhile, this composer, who emphasizes time and again that his character draws him towards joy, to the praise and glorifijication of God, avoided all that is dark and painful. On occasion of the premiere of his opera he observed that not only had he always felt constitutionally unable to compose a Passion, but he had found even writing the saint’s death scene extremely difffijicult. It is therefore not surprising that he should disclaim any connection with occult practices. Conversely, he was profoundly at ease with all that reminded him of fairy tales. The irrational never frightened or appalled him. In almost childlike naïveté he discovered and built bridges between the various facets of the mag- ical sphere and the realm of religion. ( Contemplations 39)</p>
<p>124 N. Kim / Religion and the Arts 16 ( 2012 ) 122–134 The above reveals that Messiaen always had a strong penchant for litera- ture, as he was fond of fairy tales. This explains his numerous prefaces and commentaries, not to mention that he wrote all the texts to his songs and opera. It also explains the descriptive nature of his music. He was drawn to the magical element that characterizes many fairy tales. Therefore, it is not surprising that Messiaen uses elements such as Hindu rhythms and his efffet de vitrail (chords that give the impression of magical resonances, by being close to each other and by sharing the same bass notes) that evoke magical sound colors. The opening chapter of Contemplations also contains information on musical elements that shape Messiaen’s music. This chapter, “Elements of a Musical Language of Faith” is particularly helpful to anyone who is not yet initiated to the musical vocabulary of Messiaen. The opening sec- tion of Bruhn’s second book, Explorations , then returns to this theme, outlining several sources that inspired Messiaen. These include a concise overview of the French troubadours’ tradition, concepts of love during the middle ages, the Tristan myth, and a short examination of the Sur- realist poets who influenced Messiaen. The opening chapters of Explora- tions conclude with a detailed explanation of Messiaen’s favorite musical patterns: modes of limited transposition, symmetries, Messiaen’s so-called efffet de vitrail , Hindu rhythms, permutations, palindromes, and Messiaen’s Personnages rythmiques . In the opening chapters of her third book, Bruhn discusses at length the influence of Thomas Aquinas on Messiaen, thoroughly examining the saint’s ideas on music and religion that often appear in her subject’s aes- thetics and music. An important statement of Aquinas was that music could infuse more faith into less religious hearts. Developing that idea, Messiaen believed that music can help people get closer to God. Thus, Saint Francis in the opera Saint François says at the time of his death: “Lord! Music and poetry have led me to you.” Bruhn describes the role of the bird song as a spiritual signifijier and God’s messenger in Messiaen’s works. She also offfers an insightful chapter on the signifijicance of certain numbers, such as 5, 7, 4, 3, and 12. She draws her interpretations from various sources, such as the Bible, Christian tradition, Egyptian myths, Chinese astrology, to name but a few. These unrelated sources parallel Messiaen’s own sources of inspiration: Hindu rhythms, the Tristan myth, bird songs, surrealist poetry, etc. Messiaen was a strong believer in the omnipresence of God in all things; hence, he did not hesitate to draw from sources of inspiration that were pagan in nature, such as Greek myths</p>
<p>N. Kim / Religion and the Arts 16 ( 2012 ) 122–134 125 (Orpheus, Perseus) or Hindu fijigures (Piroutcha). The introductory chap- ters of the third book then close with an examination of Messiaen’s selec- tive permutation. In the second and third books, Bruhn provides a musical subtext at the end of each analysis of a work (one wonders why she does not do so in her fijirst book, Contemplations ). This sums up the extensive analysis that pre- cedes it and offfers some original reflections. These reflections unveil the spiritual meanings that lie beneath the key elements in the music, and are helpful to the reader in recalling major elements of Bruhn’s exhaustively- detailed analysis. A well-researched appendix in all three books gives more information on the various sources and surroundings of the composer. In the fijirst volume, the appendix consists of a list of Hindu rhythms (Çarngadeva’s 120 deçî-tâlas); and short and concise biographies of two religious writ- ers, Ernest Hello and Dom Columba Marmion, whose writings Messiaen incorporated to a signifijicant degree in his Visions de l’Amen and Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus . A more extensive appendix is featured in the second book, Explorations , with summaries of stories, myths, and poems that are used in Messiaen’s “ Tristan Trilogy .” Additionally, Bruhn provides her own translations of poems by Breton and Éluard. In Interpretations , the appendix features an extensive list of birds (120 in total) appearing in La Transfijiguration de Notre-Seigneur Jésus-Christ , Méditations sur le mystère de la Sainte Trinité , and Saint François d’Assise along with the complete libretto of the opera translated into English by Bruhn. * The main section in all Bruhn’s books is a detailed and hermeneutical analysis of various works by Messiaen. Scores of the works discussed are a must for any reader, since Bruhn often refers to measure numbers in her analysis. Interestingly enough, she describes her defijinition of hermeneu- tic analysis in the preface of her fijirst book: This is a procedure aimed at providing access to a text’s hidden or dif- fijicult message by deciphering its components. In the case of our subject matter, the task is to identify musical elements as carriers of extra- musical signifijication so that one can then examine how they are used to create encrypted meaning in diffferent contexts. What may appear as a sound carpet on fijirst listening will thus transmute, step by little</p>
<p>126 N. Kim / Religion and the Arts 16 ( 2012 ) 122–134 step, into a comprehensible message, just as a beautifully-sounding recitation in a foreign tongue may, for anybody taking the trouble to master its language, gradually turn into a moving epic tale. The above statement could also apply to the role of a translator, albeit a highly imaginative and insightful one. Apparently, Bruhn is intent on revealing the extra-musical meaning in the music of Messiaen, which makes sense since Messiaen himself included stories and programs into his compositions. However, the researcher may fall into the trap of repeat- ing or paraphrasing what Messiaen already wrote about his music. Fortu- nately, Bruhn is able to avoid this problem, as she often offfers original insights in her analysis. Occasionally, her eagerness to interpret produces some far-fetched points such as this: Accordingly, the appeal “écoute-moi,” quoting the embellished tritones of the song’s earlier imperative, is rounded offf by a measure wholly in mode 2, thus concluding the middle section with a musical afffijirmation that God loves his children: He can be implored to listen. ( Explorations 80; my emphasis) As this also suggests, in her eagerness to decode the religious symbols, Bruhn has a tendency to over-interpret or perceive intentions in the com- poser that he may not have had. For example, she approximates mode 2 (modes are pre-determined types of scales) as the mode of divine love in Messiaen’s works. While this may be true, the above point (musical afffijir- mation) seems rather arbitrary and lacks a convincing musical argument, since Messiaen frequently employs mode 2 and mode 3. She appears to be a bit too sure when she attributes an intention to Messiaen that he may not have had. This trait of hers is noticeable when she comments on the choir singing about the “diffferent splendor of the various heavenly bodies” on the theme of Saint Francis in the opera Saint François . She states: “Mes- siaen is able [my emphasis] to convey in music what might be daring to spell out in words: that the simile the apostle uses to speak about the dif- ferent degrees of glory in heaven now applies, favorably, to this humble friar” ( Interpretations 198). While this assumption is not without charm, this is her interpretation, not that of Messiaen, who might have had a dif- ferent message in mind. Furthermore, there is no quotation from the com- poser himself to support this theory of hers.</p>
<p>N. Kim / Religion and the Arts 16 ( 2012 ) 122–134 127 Bruhn is more successful when she draws multiple interpretations out of a musical anomaly. For instance, she notes that Messiaen consistently leaves out the fijinal note (the beginning note of the original version) of the retrograde version of Saint Francis’ theme in his opera, Saint François. This anomaly prompts Bruhn to ask why a composer who frequently used palindromes would leave the retrograde incomplete. She gives two pos- sible answers to this problem ( Interpretations 197). The fijirst penetrating interpretation is that the entire phrase with a complete retrograde would consist of 13 notes, not 12. The number 12, a symbol for ‘divine complete- ness’ in Christian context, may have been preferable to Messiaen rather than 13, hence the incomplete retrograde. The second possible solution contradicts the fijirst one, but in a more convincing way: in Messiaen’s music, palindromes represent God’s perfection. Therefore, an incomplete palindrome might signify the human, imperfect side of Saint Francis. In light of the Christian subject matter, Saint Francis, both interpretations are plausible, built as they are on a solid music background. While Bruhn’s analysis is extremely meticulous concerning many sub- tle, not-so-obvious elements, such as hidden structures, in the music, there are some lapses with regard to more obvious areas. An example would be when Bruhn claims that only birdsong ( Contemplations 276), introduced in the fijifth movement of Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus , is not taken up in the subsequent movements, Par Lui tout a été fait (movement 6) and Regard de l’Eglise d’amour (movement 20). Actually, birdsong is taken up in the twentieth movement: the right hand in mm. 174–175 quotes mm. 37–39 from l’oiseau (bird) in Regard de la Vierge. Furthermore, Messiaen writes between parentheses ( oiseau ) in m. 176. The movement also con- cludes with a fragmentary quotation from the oiseau that has already appeared in Regard de la Vierge . By contrast, the second book, Explorations , is in my opinion the best of the trilogy as Bruhn manages to tie together Messiaen’s text and music in a most illuminating manner. Her analysis of Messiaen’s poems is as admirable as her musical analysis. Indeed, her writing is often eloquent, making her reading a compelling one. Her research on other poems and literary works is likewise extremely extensive. She demonstrates impressive knowledge too concerning other arts, such as painting and history, that reveal her to be a true interdisciplinary scholar. One example of the power of her analysis of literary texts is the way Bruhn identifijies keywords in Messiaen’s and other writers’ poems. Then,</p>
<p>128 N. Kim / Religion and the Arts 16 ( 2012 ) 122–134 she proceeds to reveal the words’ hidden content, thereby shedding new light on both text and music. Bruhn notices details with a keen eye, and she reveals their importance, as the following demonstrates: The key image in the cycle Harawi is death. In this song, it is evoked seven times as a noun and additionally emphasized in three personal- ized statements, “It is so easy to be dead,” “I am dead,” and “Silence is dead, embrace time.” Furthermore, real or imagined death is indirectly alluded to in expressions that describe the staircase of human striving as mute, turning around a void (“it no longer speaks,” “its eye is waste- land”); or the lovers’ whereabouts as outside the defijinitions of life (“We sleep far from time in your gaze”), immune to earthly concerns (“Water will pass over our heads, Fire will consume our breath”), and in a place of bliss (“Merriment blooms in the arms of heaven”). ( Explora- tions 188) Here and elsewhere, Messiaen evokes spiritual states by employing liter- ary symbols, a device that Symbolist poets used abundantly. In several instances, Bruhn highlights the theme that runs throughout the song cycles: human love as a reflection, albeit an imperfect one, of divine love. Among many insightful points too numerous to enumerate, the follow- ing one is an example of how Bruhn successfully highlights the spiritual meaning of the text by relating it to a favorite compositional device of Messiaen. The opening lines of the second song in the Cinq Rechants are set to the following text: My fijirst time Earth earth the fan unfurled My last time Earth earth the fan closed (translation by Bruhn, Explorations 243) Bruhn observes how the palindromic contour of the melodic line seems to suggest that the end is “not pitiful, but a return to oneness.” The mes- sage is that the end and the beginning are the same, exactly like the musi- cal palindrome. This concept is typical of a composer who emphasized resurrection more than death in his works and attitude. Bruhn’s analysis shows that Messiaen reveals the inner content of the text with his music. Bruhn provides her own translation of all the French texts, including</p>
<p>N. Kim / Religion and the Arts 16 ( 2012 ) 122–134 129 Messiaen’s and other writers’ as well. Her study gives us a Messiaen who emerges as a fijine, subtle poet/writer with a style reminiscent of the sur- realist poets, such as Paul Éluard. As she examines the various sources that inspired Messiaen, Bruhn demonstrates her meticulousness by correcting common misunderstand- ings and myths. Most notably, she dispels a common myth about French troubadours who are often mistaken as jongleurs. The troubadours are frequently thought of as traveling musicians or even bohemian artists in the Middle Ages, whereas in reality they were aristocrats who wrote poetry and music in a refijined style. The jongleurs were the ones who were wandering artists of poor stock ( Explorations 22). Another noteworthy example of her meticulousness is her highlighting of a common misunder- standing generated by the exclamation “ha” in the song, Épouvante from the song cycle, Poèmes pour Mi ( Explorations 80). “Ha” is often understood as laughter. However, Bruhn observes astutely that the musical pattern that accompanies the repeated word “ha” is a sigh motif that develops into longer fijigures. She also points out Messiaen’s own indication above “ha”: panting and doleful . Another astute observation of hers is that French people when laughing do not pronounce the letter “h.” Building on these points, Bruhn states that the appearances of “ha” in the song are “cries of dread” not the laughter of the devil. Indeed, she makes a useful point. The correct understanding of the emotional content of the word “ha” is neces- sary in order to understand the song. Oftentimes, Bruhn’s persistent investigation of sources and quota- tions (including Messiaen’s own statements) parallels detective work. For instance, she points out an inaccuracy in Messiaen’s own statement that claims he used the initial line of Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn” for the sermon to the birds in the opera Saint François d’Assise (Messiaen, Music and Color 238). According to Bruhn, it is the text of Keats’s “Endymion,” not the “Ode on a Grecian Urn” that Messiaen used ( Interpretations 194 n. 83). Similarly, she unravels numerous complexities in Messiaen’s music and reveals their often hidden roots, much as a sleuth would do. She is especially excellent in discovering religious symbols in musical patterns. For instance, Bruhn observes that the physical shape of the theme of the star and the cross in Regard de l’étoile (from Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant- Jesus ) resembles a tilted cross because of its particular placement among black and white keys at the piano. This is typical of a composer who had synesthesia and who was greatly inspired by paintings. The theme in ques- tion encompasses the pitches G-B-flat and A-flat-A. She demonstrates her</p>
<p>130 N. Kim / Religion and the Arts 16 ( 2012 ) 122–134 point convincingly with an illustration of a keyboard with a tilted cross above ( Contemplations 154). She also adds an enlightening comment, which reinforces her point: Messiaen envisages the cross surmounting the star not in the custom- ary shape, upright with open arms and ready to carry the body of a crucifijied man, but tilted to one side. Adopting the old tradition of trac- ing visual objects in pitch outlines, he translates the silhouette of the painfully carried cross (and the remotely related outline of the comet) onto the piano keyboard. ( Contemplations 154) By underscoring carried and putting the word next to painfully , Bruhn refers to Christ carrying the cross on his way to crucifijixion on Golgotha. In a similar vein, Bruhn traces the source of the choral phrase in the fijifth movement of La Transfijiguration de Notre-Seigneur Jésus-Christ to the BACH motif in the Art of the Fugue by J.S. Bach. The notes in Transfijigura- tion are B-flat-A-C#-C natural. Bruhn also observes that the tenors sing a transposition of the BACH motif: G-F#A-G#. Given that both Bach and Messiaen composed their music as a homage to God, this similarity is probably intentional, as Bruhn suggests ( Interpretations 76). These fijind- ings show a Messiaen who appears to be fond of riddles. Despite the fact that he offfered profuse explanations and descriptions about his music, he still seems intent in keeping many facets of his compositional writing unexplained. This reserve is in keeping with his love of fairy tales. Addi- tionally, unlike his predecessors, Debussy and Ravel, he was open to vari- ous interpretations of his music, according to various testimonies. Indeed, as a former piano student at the Paris Conservatoire, I remember that Messiaen gave his assent to my subjective idea on the piano piece from Catalogue d’oiseaux, le Traquet rieur during a master class. Bruhn herself in many instances supports the view that Messiaen gave some license to scholars in developing personal interpretations of his music, as long as those perspectives were built on a solid musi- cal background. Her own imagination coupled with her solid analytical skills produces insightful deductions such as the following observations on Répétition planétaire (6th song of Harawi ): Messiaen’s music captures the idea of the cosmic cycle . . . he presents a glimpse of three successive stages in the process of world-becoming, breaking offf shortly after the renewed beginning of the fijirst. . . . I imagine</p>
<p>N. Kim / Religion and the Arts 16 ( 2012 ) 122–134 131 the fijirst, high-pitched material with its raucous cries (mm. 1–17, taken up in mm. 25–41) as the painful end of a world-cycle; the second, lower- pitched material with its magic incantations (mm. 18–24, taken up in mm. 42–49) as a spiritual state of preparation, and the fugue (mm. 50–128) with its momentous, increasingly disturbing development (mm. 129–152) as the new creation, which runs its course through build- up, climax, and deterioration. ( Explorations 178) Messiaen frequently uses numerological symbolism in his music to por- tray aspects of faith. Bruhn’s interpretations in this area are striking, espe- cially in her study of Trois Petites Liturgies. She observes that Messiaen uses three, one, and three-in-one in his compositional techniques in order to depict the three persons of the Trinity. Details such as the chorus sing- ing in unison, and splitting into three parts when singing the three pitches of the A major triad, are carefully discussed. Above all, she explains how the tonal design (A-C#-F-A-C#-F-A) that composes the third Liturgy divides the octave into three equal sections. Her argument that this equi- distance symbolizes God as being three and one at the same time is defiji- nitely convincing, given the musical context. * In light of the meticulousness of the study, one is rather surprised to fijind some typographical errors. For example, Bruhn mentions that the exposi- tion in “ Amen des étoiles, de la planète à l’anneau ” (from the cycle “ Visions de l’Amen ” for two pianos) is “introduced by the fijirst piano alone,” when the score indicates it is the second piano alone that has the fijirst 48 mea- sures ( Contemplations 109). In the same movement, she describes minor 7ths moving up a minor third (second piano, left hand, m. 53), omitting the flat to the pitch B: “G/F-B/Ab” ( Contemplations 110). In the Trois Petites Liturgies de la Présence Divine ’s fijirst movement (mm. 42 and 43), Bruhn writes that the piano and vibraphone provide a bridge to the chorus melisma ( Explorations 125). Actually, it is the celesta that plays with the piano, not the vibraphone, which remains mostly silent. Likewise in the fijifth movement of Cinq Rechants , she notes that the tenors are singing about the “octopus of the golden tentacles” and “outstretched arm,” when it is the contraltos, not the tenors, who sing of the “octopus of the golden tentacles” (Explorations , 257 n. 27). Then, she changes the meaning of a word in a poem that she translated herself into English: “From the depths,</p>
<p>132 N. Kim / Religion and the Arts 16 ( 2012 ) 122–134 a ripple rises, the mountain skips like a ram and diverts a great ocean” ( Explorations 140). She meant “becomes,” not “diverts.” Another typo- graphical error creeps in when Bruhn refers to songs by roman numerals instead of their titles in the song cycle, Harawi : she groups songs II, VII, and XII according to their similarities ( Explorations , 195). Instead of II, she prints III. Typographical errors and far-fetched interpretations aside, there are many things to admire in this study. Readers discover that Messiaen was a fijine surrealistic poet, thanks to the insightful analysis of his poems by Bruhn. Another aspect of Messiaen that she highlights is his fascination with the supernatural, the miraculous, magic, and fairy tales. This fascina- tion shows in his choice of subjects in his compositions. To enumerate a few examples: in the opera Saint François , supernatural elements abound, such as Saint Francis healing a leper with an embrace, the angel playing the viol for him, and the protagonist receiving the fijive stigmata of Christ through divine intervention. The subject matter in the oratorio Trans- fijiguration is a miraculous event in which Christ becomes imbued with divine light upon a mountain in the company of the prophets Moses and Elijah. Messiaen’s belief in the language of angels inspired him to devise a musical alphabet that he calls “langage communicable” in Méditations sur le mystère de la Sainte Trinité . It is no wonder that Messiaen wrote poems for his songs in a surrealistic vein, given his preferences for the supernatural. He never stopped marveling at the divine miraculous. That ability to believe in supernatural realms without questioning is an impor- tant aspect of his Christian Catholic faith; this naturally led him to accept fairy-tale magic. Bruhn outlines this magic element in Cinq Rechants . She observes that Messiaen seems to emphasize magic by progressively fragmenting the words with the use of syllables devoid of meaning such as “kapritama” in Cinq Rechants ( Explorations 242). She comments that “magic wins over rationality” in the light of Messiaen employing more syllables of his own making than meaningful words ( Explorations 251). Similarly, she points out the “senseless syllables” uttered by the chorus in the opera Saint François at the moment when he is inflicted by the stigmata of Christ “as if to remind listeners that divine utterings exceed human comprehension” (Interpretations 186). This is a penetrating obser- vation given Messiaen’s belief that human reason, because of its limita- tions, is unable to grasp supernatural elements such as magic and more importantly, divine truth.</p>
<p>N. Kim / Religion and the Arts 16 ( 2012 ) 122–134 133 The fascination of the composer with magic and supernatural is also reflected in his choice of instrumentation, notably with the ondes martenot and its capabilities to produce eerie sounds. Even though Bruhn’s detailed description of Messiaen’s instrumentation in Turangalîla , Saint François , and La Transfijiguration seems a bit redundant at times, one is reminded that he infused magical sound colors through his choice of instrumental writing. Bruhn’s description of instrumentation is particularly vivid in her analysis of Saint François , especially concerning the orchestral character- ization of the Angel ( Interpretations 188): she describes how the vibrations of the ondes martenot depict the “trembling” in the air, caused by the wings of the angel. Messiaen’s choice of rhythms also reflects his curiosity about exotic and magical realms. He manipulates Hindu rhythms, for instance, to depict aspects of Christianity, including passages from the Bible. One noteworthy instance of Bruhn’s analysis of Messiaen’s rhythm is the grand polyrhythm in Turangalîla-Symphonie in which multi-layered groups of instruments combine simultaneously Hindu rhythms, palindromes with their expan- sions, values that decrease before increasing again, rhythmic canons, retrograde pairs, and so on. The overall impression the listener gets is a dizzying one. Indeed, Bruhn mentions that Messiaen termed such a pas- sage (Movement VII ##7–8) a “terrifying rhythm since it gives a sensation at once of enlargement and contraction, in the vertical as well as in the horizontal” ( Explorations 215). She then points out the inspiration for this rhythm: a famous story by Edgar Allan Poe, “The Pit and the Pendulum.” The source of the story is related to the supernatural. Another interesting interpretation of Messiaen’s use of rhythm by Bruhn occurs in “ Regard des Anges ” from Vingt Regards ; she observes how he breaks offf the three-part canon before each voice completes its rhythmic sequence at the begin- ning of the piece, and how, progressively, each voice is able to complete and even repeat its sequence later on. Bruhn deduces that the unfijinished canon reflects the angels’ incomplete acceptance of the infant Jesus as the son of God and that the complete canon later on depicts the angels’ growing acceptance of Christ. This insight is in agreement with Messiaen’s commentary that angels are surprised that God chose a human being as his son instead of an angel. Forms within forms may also be symptomatic of Messiaen’s fondness for riddles. To take one example, Bruhn unveils the hidden structure in Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus that lies beneath its more obvious form,</p>
<p>134 N. Kim / Religion and the Arts 16 ( 2012 ) 122–134 which happens to be a gigantic variant of sonata allegro form with exposi- tion, development, and recapitulation. She interprets the exposition (the fijirst fijive movements) as a symbol of God’s love and the development section (the fijifteen remaining movements) as the “human response to God’s plan,” supporting her thesis with the solid musical argument that the musical patterns in the exposition are developed in the subsequent movements ( Contemplations 179). In conclusion, Bruhn gives us a compelling study of Messiaen, a com- poser who sought throughout his entire life to depict aspects of Chris- tianity with his music. Her research is extremely rich with original and new insights. Bruhn offfers a complete picture of his music, aesthetics, surroundings, and sources of inspiration. Her thorough analysis is unique in the sense that she reveals the religious symbols that lie embedded within Messiaen’s music. Indeed, with his symbols and musical metaphors Messiaen can proclaim through the character of Saint Francis in the opera: “Lord!—Music and poetry have led me to you: by image, by sym- bol, and in default of Truth.” For the composer, music can lead to access to the divine truth. Furthermore, with Messiaen music becomes a spiri- tual language that seeks to portray what may be impossible to express in words: the transcendental aspect of the divine. Additionally, Bruhn’s study informs us that Messiaen was a talented symbolist poet. After read- ing these books, one realizes the vast scope of his genius. This trilogy is truly a monumental piece of scholarship despite a few blemishes. Indeed, Bruhn’s enthusiasm is absolutely infectious as she takes us on her journey into the depths of Messiaen’s music and ideals. All in all, this is a fascinat- ing read that should draw a wide range of readers, considering not only the greatness of the subject, but also the many interdisciplinary aspects of the arts and history that are explored within this study. Works Cited Samuel, Claude. Olivier Messiaen: Musique et couleurs: Nouveaux entretiens avec Claude Samuel. Paris: Editions Belfond, 1986. Translated by E. Thomas Glasow as Olivier Messiaen: Music and Color: Conversations with Claude Samuel. Portland OR: Amadeus Press, 1994.</p>
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