Wednesday, 24 December 2014

An absurd look at a talented organist

Today, my brother returned for Christmas after a visit to China. On the way to the airport, Mummy reluctantly allowed me to play a recently-acquired copy of Roger Muraro’s rendition of Messiaen’s masterpiece Catalogue d‘Oiseaux. I had heard his rendition of Vingt Regards sur l‘Enfant Jésus before getting Muraro’s Catalogue d‘Oiseaux (which was actually recorded in concert despite not saying so) and, like other Messiaen pieces, its addictive and oddly accessible character shined through in the manner which listening for its intricacies and the natural images Messiaen aimed to convey completely distracted me from reading Edith Sitwell’s Selected Letters, which I also brought but only looked at two pages.

Being outnumbered one-to-two with my brother in the car, I was not able to listen to the second disc of Muraro’s Catalogue d‘Oiseaux on the journey home, but I did discuss it with my mother and brother, who have numerous severe criticisms of it – that it lacks rhythm and structure, that it is cacophonous, and that it lacks dynamics. It is true that Messiaen’s music – though it is strangely accessible – does lack conventional senses of rhythm and structure and has an extensive use of chromatic notes as can be seen in the bewildering texts which I simply could not play! However, the sense of dynamics make most older classical music sound unemotional, monotone and even soppy at times – the wonder of Catalogue d‘Oiseaux is the amazing range of textures, which symbolise the various bird voices of France’s landscapes. The quiet sounds of birds chirping – best seen with Carl-Axel Dominique’s rendition – contrast in the most wonderful manner with the louder sounds representing the alpine chough in the first piece. What my brother wrongly called blank parts are in fact slow and quiet passages, symbolising birds recapturing their breath after a song.

Perhaps being naïve and more importantly inarticulate (which my mother admits), I overstated some slight resemblances between real Messiaen and random noise on the piano, but tonight when my brother began to talk after returning home, the story became quite absurd. My brother said that Jennifer Bate – the premier interpreter of Messiaen’s organ works, who has won an OBE for her services to music –
  • drank milk from a bowl and ate Whiskas!
  • was owned by a woman who carried her around the world!
  • was quarantined on her entry to Australia!
  • had to have her playing of the organ edited to eliminate purring!
  • took drugs to keep her playing for long enough!
These are so ridiculous no words can be said – except that with organ music real Messiaen is actually more distant from a cat playing than with the piano. I don’t remember all the story but what I do remember is ridiculous enough I had to add it!


Anonymous said...

Funny joke.

jpbenney said...

It is funny, but it does make me angry that people think the texturally diverse and intensely emotional sounds of real Messiaen could be made that way!

It is a long-term recollection that does not go away and a friend of my mother's said today (when I played Dominique's incomparable rendition of Catalogue d'Oiseuaux) that he has the same trouble with Messiaen that my mother and brother do.