And of course the level of... no, enthusisam is not the word, zeal his compositions inspire in musicians much wiser, more skilled, holier and better educated than I leaves the unshakable feeling that the fault lies in my ears and my self.
Leaving me to suspect, as GB Shaw, (or Twain?) is said to have written of Wagner, "his music is much better than it sounds."
That is not to say I wouldn't like to be at this symposium on his music, nor do I think the experience would be penitential. (Though music as hair-shirt is an interesting concept -- I have often trembled lest the Muzak in hell would feature Bartok string quartets.)
No, I would comprehend a tiny bit, enjoy a bit more, and then take a page from Himself's playbook and just let that all that Aesthetictasticness, and Sacredy Goodness wash over me.
Bird songs twitter and shriek. Pianos and orchestras dance off-kilter dances. Great sonic cataclysms give way to music in which time seems to stand still in sublime sweetness.
This is the sonic world – often out of this world – of the late French composer Olivier Messiaen. Influences on his music, by his own account, included birds, Russian music, Debussy's mysterious opera Pelléas et Mélisande, plainsong (Gregorian chant), Hindu rhythms, the French Alps, stained-glass windows and rainbows.
"He was a 20th-century composer who was able to combine the most esoteric, academic, intellectual approaches to music with the most mystical and sensuous and appealing elements for the average audience," says pianist Christopher Taylor, who's playing Messiaen's nearly two-hour piano cycle Vingt regards sur l'enfant Jésus (20 Gazes on the Infant Jesus) tonight at Caruth Auditorium.
Co-sponsored by Voices of Change, Mr. Taylor's recital is a run-up to a two-day symposium, "Olivier Messiaen: The Composer as Theologian," jointly presented by Southern Methodist University's Perkins School of Theology and Meadows School of the Arts.
In addition to lectures and discussions, the symposium will include performances of the organ suite La nativité du Seigneur (The Nativity of the Lord), played by George Baker, and the song cycle Harawi, sung by soprano Virginia Dupuy, with pianist Shields-Collins Bray. Post-symposium concerts will feature his Quartet for the End of Time and Visions de l'amen.
"I was looking for a way for the Meadows School and the Perkins School to collaborate fruitfully," says Christopher Anderson, associate professor of sacred music at SMU and coordinator of the symposium. "Messiaen's music carries such an extra-musical subtext of religion and theology. His project is at least as theological as it is musical."
Messiaen (pronounced "messy-AHN"), who died in 1992, celebrated his Roman Catholicism in his music. As much as Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel frescoes, this is art about big faith issues: the birth and ascension of Christ, transcendent love and sacrifice, battles between good and evil, visions of the resurrected faithful.
Messiaen's oeuvre includes the opera St. Francis of Assisi, symphonic works titled The Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ and Illuminations of the Beyond, and symphonic-band-and- percussion pieces called Colors of the Celestial City and I Look for the Resurrection of the Dead.
Even Messiaen's devotion to bird songs, painstakingly transcribed around the world and threaded through so much of his music, has an element of the transcendent.
"Birds are the opposite of time," the composer wrote. "They are our desire for light, for stars, for rainbows and for jubilant songs!"