Marilyn Nonken joins Peter Hill to offer a chance to hear a lost masterpiece by Olivier Messiaen.
When & where
October 12, 2014 @ 5pm
La Poisson Rouge, 158 Bleecker Street
Discovered by Peter Hill, pianist, last year among Messiaen’s sketches, La Fauvette Passerinette was composed in the summer of 1961. It was almost certainly intended as the start of a second cycle of pieces on French birdsongs to go with the Catalogue d’Oiseaux (1956–58); but by the end of 1961, Messiaen found himself busy with the first of a succession of orchestral works that would occupy him for the rest of the decade, and La Fauvette Passerinette was put aside and forgotten.
Peter Hill begins his performance with La Fauvette Passerinette, heard in New York for the first time. He is then joined by the New York pianist Marilyn Nonken for a performance of Messiaen’s Visions de l’Amen, a pinnacle of the two-piano repertoire.
About Visions de l’Amen
Composed in 1943, Visions de l’Amen was a work of key importance in Messiaen’s career as the first in a long line of compositions inspired by Yvonne Loriod. As a 17-year-old pianist she had been assigned as Messiaen’s assistant at the Paris Conservatoire, to which he had been appointed not long after his repatriation from the prisoner-of-war camp in which his Quartet for the End of Time was premiered on 15 January 1941.
Visions de l’Amen initiates a new era in which the piano, under Loriod’s inspiration, became the central focus of Messiaen’s work. Conceived as a virtuoso vehicle for Messiaen and his brilliant young pupil (who eventually, in 1961, was to become his second wife) the music exploits their very different temperaments and techniques by assigning entirely separate roles to the two pianos. The first (given to Loriod) has the tigerish pianism, the bells, birdsongs and swirls of decorative figuration, while Messiaen’s more sonorous part carries the main musical ideas and underlying harmonies.
The seven movements of Visions de l’Amen trace a trajectory from the nebulous pianissimo of the opening Amen of Creation to the extraordinary brilliance of the final Amen, in which all creation is received into Paradise. This is one of Messiaen’s most spectacular works, taking in the rhythmical layering in the second Amen, inspired by planet Saturn, the ecstatic harmonies of the Amen of Desire, and the chorusing birds of the Amen of the Angels, Saints and birdsongs. The work ends with unforgettable virtuosity, Messiaen’s theme of creation surrounded by pealing bell chimes on piano 1, as the precious stones of the Apocalypse ‘chime, clash, dance, color and perfume the light of Life’.