Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus
is a collection of pieces by the French composer Olivier Messiaen
for solo piano
. The French
title translates into English
roughly as "Twenty gazes/contemplations on the infant Jesus". It is considered to be one of the greatest piano works of the twentieth century, and the summit of Messiaen's keyboard writing. It was composed in 1944 for Yvonne Loriod
It contains twenty movements:
- Regard du Père ("Gaze of the Father")
- Regard de l'étoile ("Gaze of the star")
- L'échange ("The exchange")
- Regard de la Vierge ("Gaze of the Virgin")
- Regard du Fils sur le Fils ("Gaze of the Son upon the Son")
- Par Lui tout a été fait ("Through Him everything was made")
- Regard de la Croix ("Gaze of the Cross")
- Regard des hauteurs ("Gaze of the heights")
- Regard du temps ("Gaze of time")
- Regard de l'Esprit de joie ("Gaze of the joyful Spirit")
- Première communion de la Vierge ("The Virgin's first communion")
- La parole toute puissante ("The all-powerful word")
- Noël ("Christmas")
- Regard des Anges ("Gaze of the angels")
- Le baiser de l'enfant-Jésus ("The kiss of the infant Jesus")
- Regard des prophètes, des bergers et des Mages ("Gaze of the prophets, the shepherds and the Magi")
- Regard du silence ("Gaze of silence")
- Regard de l'Onction terrible ("Gaze of the awesome anointing")
- Je dors, mais mon cœur veille ("I sleep, but my heart keeps watch")
- Regard de l'Église d'amour ("Gaze of the Church of love")
Notable in the suite is Messiaen's use of Thèmes or leitmotifs, recurring elements that represent certain ideas. They include:
- Thème de Dieu ("Theme of God")
- Thème de l'étoile et de la croix ("Theme of the Star and of the Cross")
- Thème de l'amour mystique ("Theme of Mystical Love")
- Thème d'accords ("Theme of Chords")
- Thème de danse orientale et plain chantesque ("Theme of Oriental Dance and Plainsong")- Prominent in Regard de l'Esprit de joie.
- Thème de joie ("Theme of Joy")
- 1er Thème ("1st Theme", a composer-highlighted motif in the final movement)
This work contains twenty movements, lasts around two hours and is a meditation on the childhood of Jesus.
Movement 18, "Regard de l’onction terrible", is a good example of how Messiaen used his ideas on form and symmetry in his compositions.
The piece starts with the right hand descending on a chromatic scale and in tritone chords. After the opening semi-quavers the note length starts to elongate first to quavers then to dotted quavers, quavers, crotchets, dotted crotchets, minims, dotted minims and finally a semi breve. While all this is happening in the right hand the left hand is doing the same but in reverse, starting with the semi breve and working towards the semi quavers.
As the main subject of the movement is reached a chorale is heard but in staying within Messiaen’s strict form it is only harmonised with octaves and fifths. After this chorale is repeated the movement continues onto two variations of sections from within the chorale before the chorale is heard again this time up a major 3rd.
Vingt Regard de l’onction terrible –Messiaen. Cambridge Music Guide
This variation and repeat of the chorale in different keys continues until the opening theme is once again returned too, however this time the left hand is playing the slowing descending passage while the right plays the ascending, accelerating passage.
The form for this movement can be classified as: X-A-A-B-A-C-A-B-A-A-C-X.