A Gift of Listening for the Feast of the Ascension

Yesterday we posted a recording of the “Serene Alleluias” from The Ascension by Olivier Messiaen on the “Gift of Listening” playlist on our YouTube channel.

Paired with beautiful imagery from the Church of the Transfiguration, this piece is a gentle aural rhapsody, depicting a soul longing for return to Heaven. Listen as you read the text which inspired this piece.
Messiaen’s L’Ascension (1932-33), a suite of four meditations on Christ’s return to Heaven, was originally composed for orchestra. Messiaen re-envisioned it for organ the following year.  This recording is the second movement of the suite, and is a true transcription of the orchestral version, calling for the same instrumental voices – flutes, strings, and woodwinds.  Because the instrument in the Church of the Transfiguration is a type of organ known as an “orchestral organ”, it contains all of the sumptuous sounds called for in the score.  This movement was inspired by and is a picture of this text: Serene Alleluias of a Soul Longing for Heaven “We beseech Thee, Almighty God, that we may in mind dwell in Heaven.”(Text from Mass for Ascension Day) Messiaen’s wife once said that his composing was never more beautiful or moving than when he was “before the Eucharist.” How true that is of this movement as we hear Messiaen call upon the sweetest and warmest sounds of the organ to make his vision audible, even employing nature itself with bird calls!

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