Serafim Smigelskiy, the cellist in the Tesla Quartet, playing alone in Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Photo by Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Olivier Messiaen: L'Ascension, 4 meditations for orchestra – Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra (HD 1080p)

The Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra performs Olivier Messiaen's L'Ascension, 4 meditations for orchestra, I/12a. The concert was recorded at Glendale City Church, California, United States, on February 28, 2016.

Although it may well be better known in its version for organ, Olivier Messiaen's L'Ascension of 1932-1933 is the most famous of his early orchestral scores (early in this case meaning pre-Turangalîla-Symphonie). Messiaen had in 1931 been appointed organist at L'Église de la Trinité, and by 1935 an organ version of L'Ascension had been finished; in truth, the work's conception seems to lie midway between the two media: one passage may seem wholly orchestral in design and execution (even in the organ version), while another may have trickled from Messiaen's fingers as he sat at his beloved La Trinité organ. That is not to say that the orchestral version of the work is anything but masterfully and magnificently scored, only to say that, try though he might, at that point in his life Messiaen could not wholly disassociate his music from the organ-bench upon which so much of it was first played. One major difference between the two versions must be noted: the third movement of the organ version is a completely different piece of music than the third movement of the orchestral version.

In the orchestral version, the four meditations, each of which testifies to the depth of Messiaen's Catholic faith, are: 1. "Majesté du Christ demandant sa gloire à son Père", 2. "Alléluias sereins d'une âme qui désire le ciel", 3. "Alléluia sur la trompette, alléluia sur la cymbale", and 4. "Prière du Christ montant vers son Père". Each movement has attached to it a sacred quotation. The first movement is marked Très lent et majestueux (Very slow and majestic), and is scored entirely for the wind instruments, who speak out boldly and clearly. No.2 begins in like fashion (though now Bien modéré, clair), but soon allows entry to the strings; when the opening music of the movement is reprised after a very flexibly-written middle portion, the winds are reinforced in dramatic fashion by the full contingent of strings, triple-forte. The third movement hustles and bustles along, Vif et joyeux (Fast and joyfully), beginning with a trumpet fanfare and then bursting into a veritable perpetuum mobile into which the cymbal figures prominently (as one would expect from the title). The solemn, slow final meditation is a complete contrast.

Source: Blair Johnston (

Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992)

♪ L'Ascension, 4 meditations for orchestra, I/12a

i. Majesté du Christ demandant sa gloire à son Père / Majesty of Christ Beseeching His Glory of His Father [00:00]*
ii. Alléluias sereins d'une âme qui désire le ciel / Serene Hallelujahs of a Soul Desiring Heaven [05:33]
iii. Alléluia sur la trompette, alleluia sur la cymbale / Hallelujah on the Trumpet, Hallelujah on the Cymbal [11:30]
iv. Prière du Christ montant vers son Père / Prayer of Christ Ascending to His Father [17:38]

Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra

Glendale City Church, California, United States, February 28, 2016

(HD 1080p)

* Start time of each part

Olivier Messiaen, in full Olivier-Eugène-Prosper-Charles Messiaen, (born Dec. 10, 1908, Avignon, France – died April 27, 1992, Clichy, near Paris), influential French composer, organist, and teacher noted for his use of mystical and religious themes. As a composer he developed a highly personal style noted for its rhythmic complexity, rich tonal colour, and unique harmonic language.

Messiaen was the son of Pierre Messiaen, who was a scholar of English literature, and of the poet Cécile Sauvage. He grew up in Grenoble and Nantes, began composing at age seven, and taught himself to play the piano. At age 11 he entered the Paris Conservatory, where his teachers included the organist Marcel Dupré and the composer Paul Dukas. During his later years at the conservatory he began an extensive private study of Eastern rhythm, birdsong, and microtonal music (which uses intervals smaller than a semitone). In 1931 he was appointed organist at the Church of the Sainte-Trinité, Paris.

Messiaen became known as a composer with the performance of his Offrandes oubliées ("Forgotten Offertories") in 1931 and his Nativité du Seigneur (1938; The Birth of the Lord). In 1936, with the composers André Jolivet, Daniel Lesur, and Yves Baudrier, he founded the group La Jeune France ("Young France") to promote new French music. He taught at the Schola Cantorum and the École Normale de Musique from 1936 until the outbreak of World War II in 1939. As a French soldier he was taken prisoner and interned at Görlitz, where he wrote Quatuor pour la fin du temps (1941; Quartet for the End of Time). Repatriated in 1942, he resumed his post at Sainte-Trinité and taught at the Paris Conservatory. His students included Karlheinz Stockhausen, Pierre Boulez, Jean-Louis Martinet, and Yvonne Loriod (whom he married in 1961).

Much of Messiaen's music was inspired by Roman Catholic theology, interpreted in a quasi-mystical manner, notably in Apparition de l’église éternelle for organ (1932; Apparition of the Eternal Church); Visions de l'amen for two pianos (1943); Trois Petites Liturgies de la présence divine for women's chorus and orchestra (1944); Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant Jésus for piano (1944; Twenty Looks upon the Infant Jesus); Messe de la Pentecôte for organ (1950); and La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ for orchestra and choir (1969). Among his most important orchestral works is the Turangalîla-Symphonie (1948) in 10 movements – containing a prominent solo piano part and using percussion instruments in the manner of the Indonesian gamelan orchestra, along with an ondes martenot (an electronic instrument). Also notable is Chronochromie for 18 solo strings, wind, and percussion (1960). Le Réveil des oiseaux (1953; The Awakening of the Birds), Oiseaux exotiques (1956; Exotic Birds), and Catalogue d'oiseaux (1959; Catalog of Birds) incorporate meticulous notations of birdsong. He composed an opera, St François d'Assise, which premiered at the Paris Opera in 1983.

Messiaen's method of composition is set forth in his treatise Technique de mon langage musical (1944; "Technique of My Musical Language").


More photos

See also

Genesis: a concert performance of Martin Fröst – Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra (HD 1080p)

Olivier Messiaen: Quatuor pour la fin du temps – Martin Fröst, Lucas Debargue, Janine Jansen, Torleif Thedéen (Download 96kHz/24bit & 44.1kHz/16bit)

Olivier Messiaen: Quatuor pour la fin du temps – Trio Oriens, Richard Nunemaker (HD 1080p)


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Gustav Mahler: Symphony No.4 in G major – Janai Brugger, Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra (HD 1080p)

Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No.7 in A major – Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra (HD 1080p)

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Symphony No.39 in E flat major – Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra (HD 1080p)

Sergei Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No.3 in C major – Irene Kim, Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra (HD 1080p)

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