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Visions de l'Amen

After such joy at the weekend (see previous post) bestowed by a live performance of Messiaen’s Visions de L’ Amen, I’ve been listening to a recording and looking at the score online, whether legally placed there or not. While trying to remember when was the last time, if ever, I heard the whole piece live.

Very soon the answer arrived quite accidentally. Like everyone it seems, I’ve spent the last months rummaging in boxes of stuff in the attic, with the hope of throwing most of it out (not much progress here). Just this week I got as far back as 1975, and unearthed programmes from Tanglewood, where I was studying that summer. An unforgettable part of that summer school was a three-week visit from Olivier Messaien. Many of his works were performed, sometimes receiving belated US premieres; his music seemed to be totally new to many of my American fellow students, who didn’t all appreciate it. But I’d forgotten that during this visit, I heard Messaien himself play Visions with Yvonne Loriod, its dedicatee.

Now it comes all back to me, his rather impassive figure behind the keyboard, paired with Loriod’s precise, bird-like energy. But somehow I remember even more vividly Poèmes pour Mi in the first half with OM again at the piano, accompanying a student soloist, Judith Nicosia (“no pressure ” as we didn’t say in those days.) I also recall that we were having record temperatures for that era, 42C at one point, and that all the concerts took place in tropical conditions, however late at night. The Tanglewood buildings were half-outdoor structures in those days, and I remember these performers being menaced by flies, but, with admirable focus, grandly ignoring them.

All in all, the fabulous rush of memory provoked by this concert programme (simple and flimsy, not stuffed with extraneous material as it would be now now) seems a strong argument against ever throwing old things away.




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