Bertrand Chamayou: “We need Olivier Messiaen’s mysticism more than ever”

All summer 2022, Bertrand Chamayou commemorates the 30th anniversary of Olivier Messiaen’s death by performing one of his key works: Twenty looks at the Child Jesus, that the Toulouse pianist has just recorded with Erato.

How does one fall in love, as a child, with a cycle as monumental as the Twenty looks at the Child Jesus by Olivier Messiaen?

Exactly the same way I fell in love with Ravel and his Water sports. I was the same age: 9 years old. The neighbor of the house where we lived had the score, he showed it to me. I was immediately fascinated by the spelling: these chords full of accidentals, which transformed the page into a painting in such a strange and bewitching way.

I was able to measure later the impression that theaction painting by Jackson Pollock about children. I think that’s what I felt about this score. This wonder was confirmed by listening. Behind the complexity of the work, of which I was only able to grasp all the richness much later, when working on the cycle in its entirety for the 100th anniversary of Messiaen’s birth, in 2008, these twenty looks have a form of universal immediacy, which speaks to everyone.

How does this universalism translate?

First by its form. The Twenty looks at the Child Jesus are not the demonstration of a technical theological or musical thought for the use of specialists, contrary to the erroneous vision that we too often keep of Messiaen. It’s a fresco. An odyssey. Exactly as sound can be Quartet for the end of time, which dates from the same period. A fresco composed in 1944 in an act of mystical brilliance.

More than an intellectual reflection, I would speak of “mystical emotion”, like Einstein. He said that there was no more beautiful emotion than mystical emotion: the fact of being at the edge of the Universe, facing something that is beyond us. This was for him the source of all inspiration, scientific as well as artistic. However, I believe that, faced with the challenges of today’s world, particularly climate, we need mysticism more than ever.

In what sense does this mysticism speak to our time?

Because it feeds on the observation of nature. He is contemplation. Of the nature that surrounds us, but also of that which is within us. This is the universalism of Twenty looks, basic universalism. Because this cycle is rich in everything that makes Messiaen: its deep Christian roots, which translate into sonorous echoes of the sounds of bells, chimes, Gregorian chants. Organ, especially.

It is clear that one cannot approach such a cycle, with its profusion of harmonic colors evoking the playing of the organ, without approaching it through the prism of this instrument that Messiaen practiced and loved so much. But there are also the songs of birds that he collected. Joyful dance rhythms or childish melodies evoking extra-Western music. And this almost Wagnerian taste for the leitmotif, which is expressed in its major themes: God, the Cross, love.

There is a very romantic, physical, not to say carnal, vision of mysticism. This is something that many Catholics of his time did not understand, but which, at a time when we are questioning our relationship to the world and to nature, seems to me to be essential.

To listen
Twenty looks at the Child Jesus, by Olivier Messiaen, by Bertrand Chamayou, Erato record, €18.
Messiaen concerts by Bertrand Chamayou: August 17, 2022 at Rocamadour Sacred Music Festival, September 3, 2022 at Ravel festival in the Basque Country, on September 14 and 15, 2022 at the Paris Philharmonic.

We would like to thank the writer of this short article for this remarkable web content

Bertrand Chamayou: “We need Olivier Messiaen’s mysticism more than ever”

You can find our social media profiles here as well as additional related pages here.