The Reinvention of Religious Music: Olivier Messiaen's Breakthrough Toward the Beyond
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Present-day music studies conspicuously evade the question of religion in contemporary music. Although many composers address the issue in their work, as yet there have been few attempts to think through the structure of religious music as we hear it.
On the basis of a careful analysis of Olivier Messiaen's work, this book argues for a renewal of our thinking about religious music. Addressing his notion of a "hyper-religious" music of sounds and colors, it aims to show that Messiaen has broken new ground. His reinvention of religious music makes us again aware of the fact that religious music, if taken in its proper radical sense, belongs to the foremost of musical adventures.
The work of Olivier Messiaen is well known for its inclusion of religious themes and gestures. These alone, however, do not seem enough to account for the religious status of the work. Arguing for a "breakthrough toward the beyond" on the basis of the synaesthetic experience of music, Messiaen invites a confrontation with contemporary theologians and post-secular thinkers. How to account for a religious breakthrough that is produced by a work of art?
Starting from an analysis of his 1960s oratorio La Transfiguration de Notre-Seigneur Jésus-Christ, this book arranges a moderated dialogue between Messiaen and the music theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar, the phenomenology of revelation of Jean-Luc Marion, the rethinking of religion and technics in Jacques Derrida and Bernard Stiegler, and the Augustinian ruminations of Søren Kierkegaard and Jean-François Lyotard. Ultimately, this confrontation underscores the challenging yet deeply affirmative nature of Messiaen's music.
music achieves more, rather than less than language because it surpasses the expressive potential of language. These romantic poets and philosophers held that music can reach regions of expression that can only be dreamed of for language. In the romantic view that counters the paradigm of Kant (which reserved such eminent status exclusively for the oratorio), music becomes the highest art form that preeminently expresses what is inexpressible and elevated.92 The idea of absolute music was not
ideally conduces to a change in consciousness or awareness. Marion, in contrast, opened the way for an analysis, in musical counterexperience, of the irreducible, for what cannot be paired down to such representative and cognitive functions. An important difference, for example, between Harvey’s Inner Light and Kaija Saariaho’s Verblendungen (Dazzlements) for orchestra and tape (1982–84) is brought about by the intensity of the spectrum, which possibly alludes to its givenness. Saariaho’s
structure is, however, identical: the pen searches for what is ‘‘not inscribed.’’ This, Lyotard argues, is true for all writing, including writing (composing) music. In what manner, then, can the radical alterity of matter break through the screen of the mind? In an earlier quote two different models were mentioned: nuance can either overreach or underreach the synthetic powers of the subject. In the ﬁrst case, this is the idea that the ear (music remains the main subject) is struck by a sound
Wu¨rdigkeit (value, dignity) and Marktpreis (market price), above the economic order.76 Theater musicians, however, are not attuned to music’s spiritual value; material gain is their sole interest. As Taruskin mentions in a signiﬁcant aside, Messiaen’s ignorance, or naı¨vete´ perhaps, may to a certain extent be calculated.77 Insofar as the sacred is merchandised, by his music, as a product of musical (and theatrical) technics, a scandal materializes: when reduced to a mere effect of musical
continuation, true Contemplation, the beatiﬁc Vision after death. Our resurrected body, notwithstanding its glory, its spirituality, will conserve this same ﬂesh that has clothed us and accompanied us, The Circumcision of the Ear 169 with the same faculties of seeing and hearing: and we must be able to see and to hear well to appreciate all the music and all the colors which are spoken of in the Apocalypse!46 The resurrection of the body as a corpus gloriosum involves a transﬁguration of the