Organ Observations

Organ Observations

28th December 2016

Timothy Parsons is the Cathedral's Assistant Director of Music. His responsibilities including playing the organ for the Cathedral Choir's schedule of services and concerts, and directing the St Peter’s Singers, the Cathedral’s adult voluntary choir.

Next month he will be giving a seasonal solo performance of "La Nativité du Seigneur". He writes:

On Tuesday 31st January 2017, I will be giving a complete performance at Exeter Cathedral of one of the greatest pieces of music ever written for the organ: Messiaen’s monumental cycle in celebration of the Nativity of Christ. Olivier Messiaen (1908-92) was one of the most influential composers of the twentieth century, and the theology of his deep Catholic faith plays an enormous role in his compositions.

The end of January may seem a little late to be playing a work about Christmas, but in the Church’s calendar the season ends with the Presentation of Christ in the Temple (Candlemas) on 2nd February. This performance takes place during the last days of Epiphany (the visitation of the Wise Men), so this is really a celebration of the very end of the Christmas season and a final chance to reflect on its many theological themes.

Messiaen’s work is cast in 9 movements, each exploring a different aspect of the Nativity. Some are dedicated to the well-known scenes and characters associated with the Christmas story: there are movements portraying the serenity of the Virgin and Child, the joy of the Shepherds, the journey of the Wise Men, and the dancing of the Angels. One movement looks forward prophetically to the end of Jesus’ life with a vivid depiction of his dying moments on the Cross. Other movements are much more abstract in the theological ideas they explore: often the complex mysteries at the heart of the idea of God-made-man are represented with a long, slow melody, as in “Desseins éternels” (Eternal Purposes) and “Le Verbe” (The Word). The famous final movement, “Dieu parmi nous” (God among us), concludes with an exhilarating toccata with the pedals thundering out the descending theme representing God’s incarnation on Earth, bringing the work to an ecstatic finish.

The devotional performance of "La Nativité" begins at 19.00 on Tuesday 31st January 2017. Admission is free and all are welcome.

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