Olivier Messiaen “Visions de l’Amen” and “Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus”
Olivier Messiaen & Yvonne Loriod
On the occasion of the 70th birthday of Olivier Messiaen, the Cleveland Museum of Art invited the composer to perform a two-piano concert with his wife, Yvonne Loriod, on October 13, 1978, in Gartner Auditorium. This remarkable recording, which captures a rare instance of Messiaen at the piano performing his own music, marks the launch of the CMA Recorded Archive Editions, a series of select concert recordings of historical significance and artistic excellence. The Cleveland Museum of Art’s concert series is the longest-running series among all museums in North America and is home to a performance legacy unlike any other.
Thomas M. Welsh
Director of Performing Arts
Olivier Messiaen performs at the Cleveland Museum of Art
“I hasten to put the digest of my telephone discussion with you on paper.” So begins the excited letter from Karel Paukert, curator of music at the Cleveland Museum of Art, to maestro Lorin Maazel of the Cleveland Orchestra in 1976. A conversation early that spring between the leaders of music programs at their respective institutions hit on the idea of collaborating for a weeklong series of concerts, at which Olivier Messiaen would be the guest of honor along with his wife, pianist Yvonne Loriod. Paukert had already begun planning a program of Messiaen’s complete organ works for the 1978 season on the occasion of the composer’s 70th birthday, but he approached Maazel knowing that the orchestra’s involvement would considerably elevate the undertaking—and, undoubtedly, be an even greater enticement for Messiaen to make the trip to Cleveland.
Maazel responded positively. Under his leadership, the orchestra had initiated an annual “Great Composers of Our Time” series intended, as plainly and boldly stated, “to honor the great contemporary composers from various countries with a week’s residency in Cleveland and a Cleveland Orchestra subscription program devoted to their music.” Thus, the fourth edition would focus on Olivier Messiaen, whom critic Paul Griffiths called “the first great composer whose works exist entirely after, and to a large degree apart from, the great Western tradition.”
October 1978 was determined to be the best period, and more than a year’s worth of preparation was set in motion. The orchestra proposed Réveil des oiseaux, featuring Loriod as soloist, and Chronochromie—both works inspired by the composer’s love of birdsong. Messiaen himself suggested a third piece, Les offrandes oubliées, his first acknowledged orchestral work (one with a gorgeously dark beginning: the score marking is “Très lent, douloureux, profondément triste”), and proposed that this piece should begin the concert. (The orchestra opted for Mozart.)
The museum, for its part, would host Messiaen and Loriod in a two-piano recital in Gartner Auditorium. Loriod would perform three sections of the massive solo work Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus and then be joined by the composer for the complete Visions de l’Amen for two pianos. As a prelude, that summer Paukert hosted an “Homage to Olivier Messiaen,” a week of organ concerts and seminars by three Messiaen experts, plus two related lectures by Edward Henning, the CMA’s curator of modern art, on major trends in 20th-century visual arts in France and the United States. Organists and other enthusiasts came from around the region, paying $40 to attend.
Messiaen and Loriod arrived in Cleveland on Sunday, October 8. The schedule for the week was by this time quite crowded with events, as two more University Circle institutions had been pulled into the celebration: the Cleveland Institute of Music, for master classes, and the Music School Settlement, for a concert of chamber works. Loriod expressed concern about enough rehearsal time, pointing out to the orchestra that Réveil and Chronochromie are “particularly difficult works,” and that there was the recital to prepare for as well. Rehearsal time at the pianos was scheduled at the museum for the day of the recital, October 13, but the artists had communicated in advance to the orchestra to also allow for time at Severance Hall almost immediately upon arrival. Curiously, they were not particular about the types of pianos made available to them, writing that even uprights would do, but Messiaen did stipulate that the two pianos for rehearsing Visions de l’Amen were to be placed in separate rooms!
Messiaen came to the museum every day to look at the collection of Indian art, which could be viewed from the balcony above the gallery. Visiting these objects was like a prayer for him, a meditation. As they observed him from a distance, Loriod elbowed Paukert and whispered, “Il sait tout.”
—Thomas M. Welsh
Recorded on October 13, 1978, in Gartner Auditorium at the Cleveland Museum of Art
Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus (1944)
Olivier Messiaen (1908–1992)
- Noël (Carol)
- Première communion de la Vierge (First Communion of the Blessed Virgin)
- Regard de l’Esprit de joie (The Gaze of the Spirit of Joy)
Yvonne Loriod, piano
Visions de l’Amen (1943)
Olivier Messiaen (1908–1992)
- Amen de la Création (Amen of the Creation)
- Amen des étoiles, de la planète à l’anneau (Amen of the Stars and of the Ringed Planet)
- Amen de l’agonie de Jésus (Amen of the Death Agony of Jesus)
- Amen du désir (Amen of Desire)
- Amen des Anges, des Saints, du chant des oiseaux (Amen of the Angels, Saints, and Birdsong)
- Amen du Jugement (Amen of the Judgment)
- Amen de la Consommation (Amen of the Consummation)
Yvonne Loriod and Olivier Messiaen, pianos
Produced by Thomas M. Welsh, Director of Performing Arts, Cleveland Museum of Art
Edited by Bruce Gigax, Audio Recording Studio, Cleveland
Special thanks to Catherine Massip, president, the Olivier Messiaen Foundation, Paris, and to Karel Paukert
Historical correspondence materials generously provided courtesy of the Cleveland Orchestra Archives
Concerts and recordings are made possible in part by the Musart Society, the Cleveland Museum of Art’s affiliate group supporting music in the museum since 1946.
Artwork: Stained Glass Panel with Aconite Leaves (detail), c. 1275–1300. France, Alsace(?). Pot metal and white glass, silver stain; 55.9 x 33.4 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of Ella Brummer in memory of her husband, Ernest Brummer, 1977.89