Sunday, April 16, 2017

Vespers: Le Banquet Céleste

Dragan Trajer plays "Le Banquet Céleste" at Notre-Dame de Metz.

The French composer Olivier Messiaen (1908 - 1992) wrote this piece in 1928. An organist, and ornithologist, he is one of the major composers of the 20th century. His music is rhythmically complex; harmonically and melodically he employs a system he called modes of limited transposition, which he abstracted from the systems of material generated by his early compositions and improvisations. He wrote music for chamber ensembles and orchestra, as well as for solo organ, and also experimented with the use of novel electronic instruments developed in Europe during his lifetime.

Based on the slow movement of an earlier unfinished orchestral work 'Le Banquet Eucharistique' dating from 1926–1927, "Le Banquet Céleste" is Messiaen's first published work.

The work's epitaph, "He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood dwelleth in me and I in him" (John 6:56), indicates that the work is intended for. The work is written in the octatonic scale, one of Messiaen's modes of limited transpositions. To avoid tonal monotony, Messiaen transposes the mode every few measures.

Despite being only 25 measures long, it takes about 7–8 minutes to perform, due to the extremely slow tempo ("very slow, ecstatic"). The work has two themes: the first, marked "far away, mysterious", is slow and sustained. The second, played by the pedal, is marked "brief staccato, as a water drop", and represents Christ's blood. The final chord is accompanied by a 32' bass note, marked "very deep".

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