Symbolism in Messiaen's Oratorio : La Transfiguration de Notre-Seigneur Jesus-Christ
This thesis will focus on the unity of rich numeric symbolism, religious text, and historical context of La Transfiguration de Notre-Seigneur Jésus-Christ by Olivier Messiaen. Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) was known for being a dedicated church organist, music professor, and composer. He was an enthusiastic ornithologist, devout Roman Catholic, and in some ways ethnomusicologist. Many of his compositions bear religious titles, even some of his instrumental works. Music with religious text is quite common, but how do composers express their faith musically? Are there compositional choices (aside from chosen text) composers deliberately make to emphasize certain beliefs, doctrines, or stories? While sounds do not have inherent meaning, composers nonetheless use them symbolically to convey ideas, whether or not they are perceptible to the audience. One simple example of musical symbolism would be when a composer uses a triad (a three-note chord stacked in thirds) to symbolize the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. It would be erroneous to think that the use of tertian harmony in Western Civilization universally implies a meaning pertaining to Christianity, but it could symbolize such an idea depending on its context. In many cultures throughout history numbers have played a significant role that extends beyond counting, calendars and practical mathematics. Numeric significance ventures into the spiritual, mystical, and at times the occult. Numbers are associated with natural and supernatural people, places, and ideas lending them power to inject a deeper meaning to uses in culture, events, and art. Numeric symbolism has been a part of Christian iconography since the Middle Ages, and artists throughout history have used them clearly and subtly in their work. Within La Transfiguration de Notre-Seigneur Jésus-Christ, as within many of his works, Messiaen uses numbers symbolically on both the macro and micro level. This paper primarily focuses on numeric symbolism found in the ninth and thirteenth movements of La Transfiguration, though other methods of symbolic religious expression in the piece are briefly explored.
Tomlinson, Joshua. (January 2014). Symbolism in Messiaen's Oratorio : La Transfiguration de Notre-Seigneur Jesus-Christ (Master's Thesis, East Carolina University). Retrieved from the Scholarship. (http://hdl.handle.net/10342/4541.)
Tomlinson, Joshua. Symbolism in Messiaen's Oratorio : La Transfiguration de Notre-Seigneur Jesus-Christ. Master's Thesis. East Carolina University, January 2014. The Scholarship. http://hdl.handle.net/10342/4541. September 27, 2023.
Tomlinson, Joshua, “Symbolism in Messiaen's Oratorio : La Transfiguration de Notre-Seigneur Jesus-Christ” (Master's Thesis., East Carolina University, January 2014).
Tomlinson, Joshua. Symbolism in Messiaen's Oratorio : La Transfiguration de Notre-Seigneur Jesus-Christ [Master's Thesis]. Greenville, NC: East Carolina University; January 2014.
East Carolina University