Messiaen’s Méditations – the greatest organ work of all time?

by 5:4

Trinity Sunday, and an opportunity to share one of the most prized CDs of my collection. It’s a complete recording of Olivier Messiaen‘s organ cycle Méditations sur le Mystère de la Sainte Trinité, performed by Messiaen himself on the organ of the Parisian church where he was organist for most of his life, the appropriately named La Trinité. The nine meditations (which i shall be hearing in concert in a month’s time) are among Messiaen’s finest creations – still controversial for some due to his quirky creation of a “communicable language” that he then uses to “say” phrases from Scripture. Nonetheless, the sounds and textures are unique in the organ repertory, bearing little resemblance to conventional – or, indeed, any other – organ music. Despite taking liberties with his own score, Messiaen’s performances are incredibly exciting, and the recording is marvellously vivid, capturing the timbres brilliantly (the deep bass notes are, literally, breathtaking).

The disc has long been out of print, which is ludicrous considering it also includes surely the definitive performance of his remarkable Trois Petites Liturgies de la Présence Divine (which i shall be hearing in concert in 10 days’ time!), so here are all nine Méditations for you to enjoy. Colour chords, plainchant, modes of limited transposition, birdsong… could this be the greatest organ work of all time?

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Dave Dixon

I also believe that Meditations is the greatest organ work of all time. It is certainly Messiaen’s greatest organ work, and I consider him the pre-eminent composer of the 20th century, and one of the greatest of all time. I just treated myself to the complete works performed by Olivier Latry and am left in awe once again at the Meditations.

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