by Daniel Hautzinger
Olivier Messiaen is unique in music history. He is perhaps the most intensely religious composer since J.S. Bach, despite living in the 20th century, when most artists and intellectuals abandoned faith. Yet his belief was anything but orthodox: sensual love and sacred mystery mix on a cosmic scale.
He was synesthetic, so that he heard chords as colors. And he originated total serialism, where pitches and rhythms are standardized, so that a specific note will always have the same articulation and duration in a piece. Serialism became the predominant compositional method during the 1950s. It is some of the most difficult and maligned music existent, but Messiaen’s use of it is comprehensible and attractive.
The solo piano piece Cantéyodjayâ (1949), with which pianist Jacob Greenberg opens his and soprano Tony Arnold’s excellent new CD of the song cycle Harawi (New Focus Recordings), is a case in point. [Read more…]