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At-A-Glance

Composed: 1935

Length: c. 18 minutes

Orchestration: solo organ

About this Piece

The final two of the nine parts of the La Nativité du Seigneur by Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) demonstrate two musical techniques that were associated with him throughout his career: his famous “modes of limited transposition,” which are contrived to create both modal and chromatic relationships in pitches; and “additive rhythms,” which could either be a lengthening of the duration of certain notes in an otherwise even meter, or adding an extra note of halved value to it. Messiaen also exhibited a medically verified condition of synesthesia, which in his case involved seeing colors when he heard musical tones and vice versa. Chords thus “heard” from stained-glass windows or bucolic landscapes would especially inspire moments of religious ecstasy.

In “Les mages” (The Magi), the static contours of the melody proceed in the pedals with steady parallel chords accompanying in the right hand. “Dieu parmi nous” (God Among Us) commences with a boisterous fanfare, introduced as a recurring idea juxtaposed between stylized hymns, cadenzas, and fragmented toccatas.