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III. Desseins eternels

III. Desseins eternels


Meditations on the Nativity
A Concert of Music, Art, and Light

"La Nativité du Seigneur” was performed in an organ recital at the Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati, OH by Stella O’Neill. During the performance, the church lighting displayed the same vivid and dynamic colors Olivier Messiaen saw when he was composing the music. As the music told the story of the Nativity of Christ, the light show will gave us a glimpse of Olivier Messiaen’s musical language of color.


Olivia Wiering translated Messiaen’s descriptions of his synesthetic visions into stunning iconography. Depicting each unique scene with vivid watercolors, Olivia’s paintings bring Messiaen’s musical narrative to life before our eyes. Using Stella’s analysis of Messiaen’s musical language of color, Olivia ensures each image is a portrayal of its corresponding musical movement. A partial gallery of her work was up for display before and during the recital.

“My faith is the grand drama of my life. I’m a believer, so I sing words of God to those who have no Faith.”

-Olivier Messiaen

Messiaen and Synesthesia

Olivier Messiaen had a unique condition called synesthesia, meaning he saw colors in his mind when he heard sounds. The visions he saw while composing became his own musical language of color and formed the backbone of his compositional style. While those of us who aren’t synesthetic can’t experience these visions, meticulous notes in his treatise reveal which colors he associated with specific sounds.


The Analysis

Messiaen did not record the visions he saw when he wrote "La Nativité du Seigneur." But by using his extensive documentation of his musical language of color, alongside a music theory analysis of each movement of "La Nativité." Stella was able to unravel what colors he saw when composing "La Nativité."


The Theory

Olivier Messiaen organized pitches in unique collections, which he called modes, giving his harmony a very personal character. Messiaen provided a detailed description of the visions he associated with each mode. Not only does each mode have a color collection associated with the pitch collection, but each unique transposition has specific color collections as well.

The Why


For each movement of “La Nativité du Seigneur”, a scene from the Nativity of Christ is being brought to life. Olivia Wiering created a unique painting of each of these scenes. By using Messiaen’s musical language of color to interpret the coloration of the musical movements, Olivia connects the coloration of the paintings to the music of “La Nativité.”

Pictured here is Olivia's sketch of "The Shepherds." To the right is pictured one of Messiaen's modes in the background and an example of Olivia's integration of the mode with her concept.

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