An Invitation to a Musical and Spiritual Journey
I invite you to join me in a musical-spiritual journey, to meditate with Messiaen (and me) on the religious texts that he chose and which inspired him to compose these works. Although the inspiration for this music definitely comes from Catholic-Christian teachings, I also believe that through the universal language of music Messiaen’s music transcends this and also speaks of a universal spiritual truth. As with any great work of art, it can be interpreted on many different levels: I hope that each of you will be able to find the proper way for it to speak to you.
It is also interesting to remember these words of Messiaen himself regarding his music: “I’m a Christian . . . and I think that in the present age of ecumenism - and, furthermore, in every era - we shouldn’t attach too much importance to religious differences. Everyone - Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant Christians, Israelites, even Buddhists - is seeking God, finding God. My work is addressed to all who believe - and also to all others.”
A work probably from the early 1930s, this piece was found “sleeping in a box” by Yvonne Loriod in 1997. I gave the American premiere in 1999 from that manuscript. In 2002, it was published by Éditions Musicales Alphonse Leduc, Paris. It is a piece organized in four sections: an introduction, exposition of two themes, a large developmental section building to a tremendous climax, and an epilogue. After a short introduction in which we are immediately placed in a calm, impressionistic atmosphere, the two themes of the piece are presented, almost simultaneously, in a slow tempo. Mysteriously, the hands begin with the first theme. When the pedal enters, it is already stating the second theme. The following section, in a moderate tempo, delicately and impressionistically develops both themes alternatively. All this comes to rest on a pedal point. From this point onward the second theme dominates in a gradual build-up, becoming more and more urgent, to full organ and a crushing, triumphant climax in which the first theme reappears in octaves and in augmentation, punctuated by tremendous chords. After a pause, the epilogue briefly and simply restates both themes: the first, again calm and gentle, now in canon; the second, unaccompanied, pianissimo, haunting, far away, ending on the glowing harmony of E-major.
Messe de la Pentecôte, 1950
Messiaen himself gave the first performance of his Messe de la Pentecôte at La Trinité on Pentecost Sunday, May 13, 1951, during a low Mass, a Mass in which the organ accompanies the main actions of 4the service rather than participating in the ordinary (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei). Thus, the five movements of this work accompany the entry of the priests, the offertory, the consecration of the bread and wine, the communion, and the departure of the priests. The Day of Pentecost (the actual date changes every year according to when Easter falls) is the second Sunday after the Ascension. It is the feast commemorating the day that the apostles received the power of the Holy Spirit (the third person of the Trinity).
The piece unites several elements that had absorbed Messiaen during the preceding years: plainsong, birdsong, rhythm (including both Greek and Indian), and even the love theme from Turangalîla (found in Movement IV, Communion). This piece has the added distinction of being a summary of Messiaen’s ideas on improvisation for the preceding twenty years. From Conversations with Olivier Messiaen by Claude Samuel (1967), Messiaen says, “These inspirations went on for a long time, until the day I realized that they tired me out and that I was emptying all my substance into them. I then wrote the Messe de la Pentecôte which is a resume of all my collected improvisations...moreover, after writing this piece, I’ve never improvised.” That statement remained mainly true for the rest of his career, except for the improvised music necessary during the course of services at La Trinité and at least one notable exception, the one hudredth anniversary celebration of La Trinité in 1967, in which the main ideas for Méditations sur le Mystère de la Sainte Trinité were improvised.
Shortly after Messiaen’s arrival as Organiste du Grand Orgue at La Trinité in 1931, the organ underwent a restoration by the firm Pleyel-Cavaillé-Coll. The action was completely renovated, the pipes were cleaned, the existing stops were revoiced, the 4’ flutes of the Swell and Great were moved from their respective reed divisions to their foundation divisions, the Positif was given a Barker machine, a 16’ coupler, and an “introduction pedal,” and seven new stops were added: to the Swell - Bourdon 16’, Cymbale III, Nazard 2’, and to the Positif - Principal 8’, Cor de Nuit 8’, Nazard 2’, and Tierce 1’.
Although The Ascension was performed by Messiaen himself at the inauguration of the “new” organ on May 28, 1935, none of these new stops are featured in this work. Messiaen shared the program with Marcel Dupré, his only organ teacher, who played, among works by other composers, Messiaen’s Le Banquet Céleste, which, of course, featured the new Nazard stop of the Positif.
While this is Messiaen’s first suite for the organ, it is practically a transcription of the orchestral version of the same piece composed in 1932, with the exception of the third movement which is completely new. Always on Thursday, the Feast of the Ascension is celebrated forty days after Easter, the period in which Christ reappeared to his apostles after his resurrection teaching them about the kingdom of God. The Ascension is his farewell to earth.
On January 15, 1974, Jon Gillock gave the New York premiere of Olivier Messiaen’s Méditations sur le Mystère de la Sainte Trinité at The Church of the Ascension. That single performance launched his career as a concert artist almost over night, giving performances of this work from coast to coast. The following year, he gave the first New York performance of Messiaen’s complete works for organ (the Livre du Saint Sacrement had not yet been written) in a series of five concerts. Soon afterward, he met Messiaen who invited Gillock to visit him in Paris. In 1977, Gillock went to Paris to study with his maître at the Paris Conservatory.
In 1978, Gillock performed the Méditations in the presence of the composer at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, New York, in a concert honoring Messiaen’s 70th birthday. This performance cemented a long friendship between the two. Messiaen later wrote to Gillock about this performance:
Again I remember with emotion your marvelous performance of my Méditations sur le Mystère de la Sainte Trinité in New York . . . I was infinitely touched by your wonderful interpretation: registration, touch, understanding — all were ideally beautiful. You will never know how much I admired your playing. Again thank you and bravo!!!
Later, in Claude Samuel’s 1986 book, Entretiens Avec Olivier Messiaen, Messiaen stated:
Certain ones [organists] play it better than me . . . there is the excellent American organist Jon Gillock in New York . . .
Press and public alike acclaim American organist Jon Gillock for his sensitive and moving performances. He is especially fond of performing the “French spiritual repertoire.” This includes the music of such composers as François Couperin, Maurice Duruflé, Nicolas de Grigny, César Franck, Charles Tournemire, Louis Vierne, and, of course, Olivier Messiaen and Johann Sebastian Bach.
Jon Gillock earned the BM and MM degrees at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and the DMA at The Juilliard School in New York City. In addition to Messiaen, other important teachers were Weldon Marshall, John Cowell, and Vernon de Tar.
Gillock is especially known for his premieres of several of Messiaen’s works in New York City, across the United States, and in Japan. In addition to the first New York performance in 1975, he also gave the first Japan performance, in 2008 in Tokyo, of Messiaen’s complete organ works. He also gave many performances of Livre du Saint Sacrement from the composer’s manuscript before it was published. During 2008, he celebrated Messiaen’s centenary around the world with concerts, masterclasses, and lectures. He has also given many concerts of Messiaen’s music in Paris at Eglise de la Sainte-Trinité, where Messiaen was the organist. His book, Performing Messiaen’s Organ Music: 66 Masterclasses, was published by Indiana University Press in 2010. It has been acclaimed internationally for its importance among writings about these works.
Jon Gillock has established an international career not only as a performer but also as a master teacher. Now a resident of Paris, he has been a member of the organ faculties of both The Juilliard School and the Manhattan School of Music, and Montclair State University in Upper Montclair, New Jersey. From 2004 through 2009, he participated as Artist Faculty with Yuko Hayashi in the Boston Organ Academy. From 2011 to 2013, he served on the faculty, along with Dennis Keene, in the Ascension Organ Academy at The Church of the Ascension. He has also served as a jury member of international organ competitions.
Jon Gillock was named International Performer of the Year, 1999-2000, by the New York City Chapter of the American Guild of Organists. Among the awards he has received for his recordings are the Diapason d’Or and the 10 de Répertoire in France and the Preis der Deutschen Schallplatten Kritik in Germany. He is a member of the Artistic Committee of the Association Grand Orgue Trinité Messiaen, Eglise de la Sainte-Trinité, Paris.
In 2011, Gillock began recording Messiaen’s complete organ works on the Quoirin organ at The Church of the Ascension, the ideal organ for this project, specifically designed to play Messiaen. This album, Prélude, Messe de la Pentecôte, and L’Ascension, is the third in this series. Méditations sur le Mystère de la Sainte Trinité and Livre du Saint Sacrement are the first and second. Other albums will appear on the Raven label as they are completed.
The Manton Memorial Organ built by Pascal Quoirin, Saint-Didier, France (2011)
The Church of the Ascension, New York, New York
Mechanical action with 3-manual console, Electric action with 4-manual console
*available solely on the electric console
GRAND-ORGUE Man. 1, 61 notes
8* Second (large Cavaillé-Coll-style Montre)
8 Flûte traversière
5-1/3 Gros Nasard
4 *Second (large Cavaillé-Coll-style Prestant)
4 Flûte ouverte
3-3/5 Grosse Tierce
II Grande Fourniture
VII Cornet MC
8 1ère Trompette
8 2ème Trompette (chamade)
Grand-Orgue *16 *4 *Unison
8 Trompette harmonique en chamade (Récit)
POSITIF Man. 2, 61 notes
8 Flûte conique
4 Flûte conique
2 Quarte de Nasard
Positif *16 *4 *Unison
8 *Trompette harmonique en chamade (Récit)
RECIT-ECHO (expressif) Man. 3 mechanical console; Man. 4 electric console, 61 notes
4 Flûte allemande
8 Voix humaine
8 Basson (Cor anglais)
Récit-Echo *16 *4 *Unison
8* Trompette harmonique en chamade (Récit)
Man. 3 electric console only, 61 nts
8 *Flûte harmonique
8 *Voix céleste
4 *Flûte octaviante
2-2/3 *Nasard harmonique
1-3/5 *Tierce harmonique
V *Plein Jeu
III *Sur Cymbale
8 *Trompette harmonique
4 *Clairon harmonique
8 *Basson Hautbois
8 *Voix humaine
Récit *16 *4 *Unison
8 *Trompette harmonique en chamade
PEDALE 32 notes
16 Bourdon (ext. 32)
16 *Petit Bourdon (Récit)
10-2/3 Grande Quinte
8 Flûte (ext. 16)
8 Violoncelle (ext. 16 Prin.)
6-2/5 Grande Tierce
5-1/3 Quinte (ext. 10)
4 Flûte (ext. 8 Bour.)
3-1/5 Tierce (ext. 6)
2-2/3 Quinzième (ext. 4 Prestant)
IV Plein Jeu
16 Bombarde (ext. 32)
16 Basson (Schnitger-type Posaune)
8 Basson (ext. 16)
4 Clairon (ext. 8 Trompette)
8 *Trompette harmonique en chamade (Récit)
Couplers to Pedal
Tirasse G.O. 8 (thumb, toe) *4
Tirasse Pos. 8 *4
Tirasse Réc. *8 *4
Tirasse Echo 8 *4
Couplers to Grand Orgue
Positif G.O. *16 8 *4
Récit G.O. *16 *8 *4
Echo G.O. *16 8 *4
Couplers to Positif
Récit Pos *16 *8 *4
Echo Pos *16 8 *4
*Cloches (Tower Bells)
*Grand-Récit Chancel Shades
*Grand-Récit Nave Shades
*Crescendo & Annuler toe stud
*Récit Boxes II/I
10 General Pistons, both consoles, thumb & toe
*8 Pistons, Grand-Récit, thumb
*5 Pistons other divisions
Piston Sequencer: Previous, Next Pistons in several locations