(December 10, 1908 - April 28, 1992)
Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jesus
Twenty Contemplations of the Infant Jesus
Contemplation of the child-God of the manger and (others) contemplating Him: from the inexpressible contemplation of God the Father to the manifold contemplations of the Church of Love, passing through the unbelievable contemplation of the Spirit of Joy, through the tender contemplation of the Virgin, then the Angels, the Wise Men, and of the incorporeal or symbolic creatures (time, heights, silence, the star, the cross).
The star and the cross have the same theme because one opens Jesus' life on earth and the other closes it. The Theme of God clearly returns in the Contemplation of the Father, the Contemplation of the Son Upon the Son, and the Contemplation of the Spirit of Joy, in By Him All Has Been Made, in The Kiss of the Infant Jesus; it is present in The First Communion of the Virgin (she carried Jesus in her body), it is rendered glorious in The Contemplation of the Church of Love, which is the body of Christ. This is aside from the songs of birds, carillons, spirals, stalactites, galaxies, photons, and texts by Dom Columba Marmion, Saint Thomas, Saint John of the Cross, Saint Theresa of Lisieux, and the Gospels and Missal that influenced me. A Theme of Chords circles from one piece to another, fragmented or concentrated into a rainbow; one also sees rhythmic canons, polymodalities, non-retrogradable rhythms amplified in both senses, rhythms progressively accelerated or slowed, asymmetrical enlargements, shifts of register, etc. The writing for piano is quite eclectic: inverted arpeggios, resonances, contrasting features. Dom Columba Marmion (The Christ in His Mysteries) and, after him, Maurice Toesca (The Twelve Contemplations) spoke of the contemplation of the shepherds, the angels, the Virgin, and of the Heavenly Father; I brought back the same idea in a slightly different manner, adding sixteen new contemplations. More than in any of my previous works, I sought a language of mystical love, at once varied, powerful, and tender, sometimes brutal, in multicolored arrangements.
Notes by the Composer
I Regard du Père
Contemplation of the Father
And God said: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."
II Regard de l'Étoile
Contemplation of the Star
Theme of the star and the cross.
Impact of the grace... the star shines with naïveté, surmounted by a cross.
Descending shower, ascending spiral; the awesome exchange of the human and the divine;
God becomes man so man can become God-like.
IV Regard de la Vierge
Contemplation of the Virgin
Innocence and tenderness ... the woman of purity, the woman of the Magnificat, the Virgin contemplates her Child.
I wanted to express purity in music; there had to be a certain energy - and especially much innocence and childlike tenderness.
V Regard du Fils sur le Fils
Contemplation of the Son Upon the Son
Mystery, rays of light in the night - refraction of joy, the birds of silence - the person of the Word in a human nature - marriage of the human and divine natures of Jesus Christ.
This is the Son-Word contemplating the Son-infant Jesus ... Joy symbolized by the songs of birds.
VI Par Lui Tout a Étè Fait
By Him All Has Been Made
Abundance of space and time; galaxies, photons, reversed spirals, inverted thunderbolts; by "him" (the Word) all has been made ... for a moment, the creation has revealed to us the luminous shadow of his voice.
VII Regard de la Croix
Contemplation of the Cross
Theme of the star and the cross.
The Cross says to him: "You will be a priest in my embrace."
V111 Regard des Hauteurs
Contemplation of the Heights
Glory in the heights… the heights descend to the manger like the song of a lark.
Songs of birds; nightingale, blackbird. warbler, finch, goldfinch. Cetti's warbler and above all, the lark.
IX Regard du Temps
Contemplation of Time
Mystery of the plentitude of time; time sees born in him He who is eternal.
X Regard de 1'Esprit de Joie
Contemplation of the Spirit of Joy
Vehement dance, drunken sound of horns, ecstasy of the Holy Spirit... the joy of God's love blissful
in the soul of Jesus Christ.
I have always been struck by the fact that God is happy - and that this inexpressible and continuous joy lived in the soul of Jesus Christ. Joy is for me a transport, a drunkenness in the maddest sense of the term.
XI Première Communion de la Vierge
The First Communion of the Blessed Virgin
A picture where the Virgin is shown kneeling, bent over herself in the night - a luminous halo around her womb. Eyes closed, she adores the fruit hidden within her. This happens between the Annunciation and the Nativity. It is the first and the most important of all communions.
"Theme of God"; gentle spirals, in stalactites, in an inner embrace. Recalling the theme of "La Vierge et 1'Enfant" of my "Nativité du Seigneur". A more enthusiastic Magnificat. Special chords and rhythmic values of two within two, whose deep pulsations represent the heartbeats of the infant in his mother's womb. The dying away of the "Theme of God."
After the Annunciation, Mary adores Jesus within her ... my God, my son, my Magnificat! - my love without the sound of words.
XII La Parole Toute Puissante
The All-Powerful Word
This child is the Word, who sustains all things by the power of his promise.
Carillon - the bells of Christmas say with us the sweet names of Jesus, Mary, Joseph...
XIV Regard des Anges
Contemplation of the Angels
Scintillation, percussion; powerful blasts of immense trombones; your servants are the flames of fire... then the song of the birds which descends from the blue - and the amazement of the angels grows: for it is not with them but with the human race that God has united himself.
XV Le Baiser de I'Enfant Jésus
The Kiss of the Infant Jesus
At each communion, the child Jesus sleeps with us near the door; then he opens it unto the garden and rushes into the light to embrace us.
Theme of God in a lullaby. Sleep - the garden - arms stretched toward love - the kiss - the shadow of the kiss. An engraving inspired me, showing the child Jesus leaving the arms of his Mother to embrace the little Sister Thérèse. All this is a symbol of communion, of divine love. One must love to be able to love this subject and this music which would like to be as tender as the heart of heaven, and there is nothing more.
XVI Regard des Prophètes, des Bergers et des Mages
Contemplation of the Prophets, the Shepherds and the Wise Men
Exotic music - tam-tams and oboe, enormous and nasal concert.
XVII Regard du Silence
Contemplation of Silence
Silence in the hand, reversed rainbow... each silence of the manger reveals music and colors that are the mysteries of Jesus Christ.
XVIII Regard de l'Onction Terrible
Contemplation of the Awesome Unction
The Word assumes a certain human nature; the flesh of Jesus chosen by the appalling Majesty.
An old tapestry shows the Word of God battling, under the image of Christ on horseback: one sees only his two hands on the sheath of the sword which he brandishes amidst the flashes of lightening. This image influenced me.
XIX Je Dors, Mais Mon Coeur Veille
I Sleep, But My Heart Keeps Vigil
A poem of love, dialogue of mystical love. The silences play an important role.
XX Regard de 1'Église d'Amour
Contemplation of the Church of Love
Grace compels us to love God as he loves himself; after the explosions of night, the spirals of agony, here are the bells. The glory and the kiss of love ... All the passion of our arms around the invisible.
Jacqueline Chew has devoted much of her life to performing the music of Olivier Messiaen. In 1986, at conductor Kent Nagano’s invitation, Ms Chew went to Europe to meet Olivier Messiaen and prepare Vingt regards sur l’Enfant-Jesus with Yvonne Loriod-Messiaen, for whom the piece was written. Later, while attending Messiaen’s master classes in Avignon, France, she met Messiaen-pianist Roger Muraro. In Paris, she worked with Muraro on the entire cycle and upon returning to San Francisco in 1988, gave her first complete performance of this work. Along with her extensive performances of Vingt regards, she is also known for her interpretations of Messiaen’s chamber works and orchestral works with piano solo.
Ms Chew, a native of Oakland, California, currently teaches at the University of California at Berkeley, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and the San Francisco Community Center.