Dr Stephen Broad: Lecture Details

Dr Stephen Broad, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

Wednesday 25 January 2012

Messiaen: Self-Portraits of the Young Man as an Artist

Between 1935 and 1939, Olivier Messiaen contributed articles to a range of French and Belgian journals, some of which reveals a hitherto unsuspected level of participation in the debates of the day.

One of Messiaen's articles, 'Autour d'une Oeuvre d'orgue' of 1939, was written for the French religious art journal Art sacré, directed and edited by Marie-Alain Couturier. Couturier was a painter by training who later specialized in producing stained glass and was ordained in 1925 as a Dominican, working at the time of his editorship of Art sacré at a priory in Paris. At the forefront of a controversial move to place contemporary art at the service of the Roman Catholic Church, Couturier rejected the so-called ‘l'art saint sulpice’ that constituted most religious art in France at the time. He met and commissioned work from, among others, Matisse, Chagal, Lipchitz and Le Corbusier, with whom he shared a warm friendship. The movement was not, however, always in sympathy with the wishes of the Vatican, and became an object of considerable controversy in the early 1950s.

In this talk, Dr Broad explores elements of Messiaen's engagement in the aesthetic debates of modernity in the sacred. He traces points of contact between Messiaen and Couturier, using Messiaen's article for Art sacré and other contemporary sources as a starting point, and considers briefly the aims which Messiaen and the Art Sacré movement shared. The paper also considers the culmination of the Art Sacré controversy in 1951 and explores what fresh insights this event might have to offer our understanding of Messiaen and his trajectory – and, perhaps, the trajectory of twentieth-century music.

Last modified: Friday, 8 June 2012, 4:33 PM