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Poèmes pour Mi

Olivier Messiaen (b. 1908 - d. 1992)

Deborah York

Deborah York

Composer
Olivier Messiaen (b. 1908 - d. 1992)
Composition Year
1936
Work Movements
1. Action de graces
2. Paysage
3. La maison
4. Épouvante
5. L’épouse
6. Ta voix
7. Les deux guerriers
8. Le collier
9. Prière exaucée
Artists
Julius Drake [piano], Deborah York [soprano]

Programme Note Writer:
© Ian Fox

Messiaen wrote this work, his first major song-cycle, in 1936 and dedicated it to his first wife, the violinist Claire Delbos, whose pet name was Mi. There are two books, the first comprising four songs, the second a further five, the total nine being symbolic of maternity.  He wrote his own texts, reflecting his deeply committed Roman Catholic faith, somewhat unfashionable today perhaps but an essential component of the composer’s fundamentalist theology. The first book relates to the preparation for marriage and the second considers its spiritual side and eternity. He orchestrated the cycle the following year. There are no time signatures or bar lines in the score, leaving the performers the freedom to phrase the music to suit the words, almost like plainsong.  The accompaniments are sparse, either simple sinuous lines or dramatically chordal, while the vocal style is declamatory

The cycle opens quietly with Action de graces, the longest of the songs, as he praises Mi and how she has given him grace, ending with an ecstatic, extended Alleluia. The plainsong aspect is clear throughout the sinuous lines. The second song Paysage is also meditative, as he calls up the image of her smile somewhere between the corn and the sun, both music and words suffused with colour. La maison, alarmingly for what is after all a series of love songs, speaks of leaving the house of life for an eternal and luminous Truth. The First Book concludes with Épouvante - a spectacular vocal display describing in vivid detail the terrors of Hell, another unusual topic for a love song.

The second book opens with L’épouse and the injunction to go whither the Spirit lead you, followed by Church teaching on the sanctity of marriage, the beauty of the music rising high above the traditional texts. The sixth Ta voix continues this strange contrasting of deeply personal evocations of the beloved contrasted with theological advice on how to join the choir of incorporeal angels, not exactly the Song of Songs. This poem includes one of Messiaen’s early versions of his famous stylised birdsong that concluded with his gigantic piano cycle Catalogue des Oiseaux. The dramatic Les deux guerriers follows, in which husband and wife must join forces to defeat the powers of evil. The eighth song, Le collier, is a vision of fulfilment in earthly love, its more poetic imagery inspired by the idea of his lover’s arms as a necklace in the morning; the music is quiet and introspective apart from the repeated cries Ah! Mon collier! This leads to the joyous bell-like accompaniment of the finale, the singer returning to the rapid delivery of the text like an intoned psalm as in the opening poem with key words decorated by long melismas, most especially in the final La joie.

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Poèmes pour Mi

Composer: Olivier Messiaen (b. 1908 - d. 1992)
Performance date: Sunday 30th June 2013
Venue: St. Brendan's Church, Bantry, Co Cork, Ireland

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Composer Olivier Messiaen (b. 1908 - d. 1992)
Work Title Poèmes pour Mi
Composition Year 1936
Work Movements 1. Action de graces
2. Paysage
3. La maison
4. Épouvante
5. L’épouse
6. Ta voix
7. Les deux guerriers
8. Le collier
9. Prière exaucée
Artist(s) Julius Drake [piano], Deborah York [soprano]
Performance Date Sunday 30th June 2013
Performance Venue St. Brendan's Church, Bantry, Co Cork, Ireland
Event Late Night Concert
Duration 00:26:18
Recording Engineer Damian Chennells, RTÉ lyric fm
Instrumentation Category Duo
Instrumentation S-solo, pf
Programme Note Writer © Ian Fox

Messiaen wrote this work, his first major song-cycle, in 1936 and dedicated it to his first wife, the violinist Claire Delbos, whose pet name was Mi. There are two books, the first comprising four songs, the second a further five, the total nine being symbolic of maternity.  He wrote his own texts, reflecting his deeply committed Roman Catholic faith, somewhat unfashionable today perhaps but an essential component of the composer’s fundamentalist theology. The first book relates to the preparation for marriage and the second considers its spiritual side and eternity. He orchestrated the cycle the following year. There are no time signatures or bar lines in the score, leaving the performers the freedom to phrase the music to suit the words, almost like plainsong.  The accompaniments are sparse, either simple sinuous lines or dramatically chordal, while the vocal style is declamatory

The cycle opens quietly with Action de graces, the longest of the songs, as he praises Mi and how she has given him grace, ending with an ecstatic, extended Alleluia. The plainsong aspect is clear throughout the sinuous lines. The second song Paysage is also meditative, as he calls up the image of her smile somewhere between the corn and the sun, both music and words suffused with colour. La maison, alarmingly for what is after all a series of love songs, speaks of leaving the house of life for an eternal and luminous Truth. The First Book concludes with Épouvante - a spectacular vocal display describing in vivid detail the terrors of Hell, another unusual topic for a love song.

The second book opens with L’épouse and the injunction to go whither the Spirit lead you, followed by Church teaching on the sanctity of marriage, the beauty of the music rising high above the traditional texts. The sixth Ta voix continues this strange contrasting of deeply personal evocations of the beloved contrasted with theological advice on how to join the choir of incorporeal angels, not exactly the Song of Songs. This poem includes one of Messiaen’s early versions of his famous stylised birdsong that concluded with his gigantic piano cycle Catalogue des Oiseaux. The dramatic Les deux guerriers follows, in which husband and wife must join forces to defeat the powers of evil. The eighth song, Le collier, is a vision of fulfilment in earthly love, its more poetic imagery inspired by the idea of his lover’s arms as a necklace in the morning; the music is quiet and introspective apart from the repeated cries Ah! Mon collier! This leads to the joyous bell-like accompaniment of the finale, the singer returning to the rapid delivery of the text like an intoned psalm as in the opening poem with key words decorated by long melismas, most especially in the final La joie.