Twenty Contemplations on the Vingt Regards

Olivier Messiaen's Vingt regards sur l'enfant-Jesus and other mystical music

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Monday, December 20, 2010

The holidays provide a suitable excuse to do a lot of things you wouldn’t normally do, especially when the New Year is around the corner and atonement for overindulgence is no more difficult than a three-word resolution. Here on Hammered! – Q2’s hour-long contemporary piano showcase – the holidays mean heavy on the Olivier Messiaen, and heavy on the Messiaen means the gluttonous holiday classic (at least at Q2) Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jesus. It goes without saying, however, that “play less Messiaen” is a resolution we will never keep.

So here's what we'll do: with the admittedly blasphemous act of splitting the twenty Regards into five parts, each 11 AM/PM hour this week will conclude with a set of four Regards, beginning with the timeless Regard du Pere on Monday and ending Christmas Eve with the embracing Regard de l’eglise d’amour. Within these bookends are pieces of such mystical power and emotional potency that the more we think about it, maybe it’s good to only hear four Regards at a time …

The top of each hour will be a contemplation compilation – a sort of regard of the Regards. Throughout the week you'll hear twenty composers not named Olivier that are in some way or another involved with explicit contemplation of spirituality and / or the supernatural. The anchor here is Alexander Scriabin (a significant influence on Messiaen), the piano jock turned mystic composer of White and Black Mass sonata fame. These evocative works are joined by three of Scriabin's other late piano sonatas, with the whole hyper-expressive synasthetic spiritual mess rounded off with pieces by Ryuichi Sakamoto, Peter van Onna, George Crumb, Johann Sebastian Bach, Franz Liszt, John Psatha, the rarely heard Dark Waves by John Luther Adams, and more.

Are we the only ones with Messiaen on the brain this time of year? Happy holidays!

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