La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ

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La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ ("The Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ") is a work written between 1965 and 1969 [1] by Olivier Messiaen. It is based on the account found in the synoptic gospels of Jesus' transfiguration. The writing is on a very large scale; the work requires around 200 performers. The forces required include a mixed choir, seven instrumental soloists and a large orchestra.



On hearing "an old priest deliver a sermon on the light and the filiation", [2] Messiaen started to think about the transfiguration story in the 1940s. By the time he began to write the music, he hadn't composed music for voices for 17 years, since his solo choral work Cinq rechants. Warmer tonal harmonies reappeared in this work, in contrast to the harmonies he had been using for other works of the period.

Messiaen makes extensive use of birdsong throughout the piece, including the songs of the greater honeyguide, Alpine chough, accentor, superb starling, Baltimore oriole, rock thrush, blue mockingbird and peregrine falcon. [3]

Performance history

The first public performance was on June 7, 1969, in Lisbon, Serge Baudo was the conductor. The United States premiere was on March 27–30, 1972 in Washington, DC with the National Symphony Orchestra and the Westminster Choir; Antal Dorati was the conductor. It was recorded the following month with Dorati conducting the same forces for Decca Records. [4]

The U.S. West Coast premiere [5] [6] was in 1981 in San Francisco, with the Berkeley Symphony and the Contra Costa Chorale under the direction of Kent Nagano. Preparation for this performance was supervised by Maître Messiaen.


The music is divided into 14 movements, grouped into two septénaires (sets of seven). It lasts for about one and a half hours. The texts are largely derived from the Bible, particularly Matthew's account of the Transfiguration. Also included are some parts of Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica .

First Septenary

Second Septenary


It is scored for a mixed choir (10 voices per part), 7 instrumental soloists and a very large orchestra. [7]


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  1. Maas, p.37 (et seq)
  2. Olivier Messiaen: Music and Color: Conversations with Claude Samuel, Eng Trans., Portland, Oregon, 1994
  3. Notes by Messiaen to original Dorati recording (re-released on Decca 425 616-2
  4. Liner notes to Decca CD 425 616-2
  5. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-12-15. Retrieved 2012-11-24.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  6. Reviewed in SF Examiner May 29, 1981 p. 54
  7. "The Olivier Messiaen Page". Archived from the original on 2008-12-25. Retrieved 2007-08-02.