Méditations sur le Mystère de la Sainte Trinité

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Méditations sur le Mystère de la Sainte Trinité ("Meditations on the Mystery of the Holy Trinity") is a work for organ by the French composer Olivier Messiaen. [1] It was composed in 1969.



The first private performance of the piece took place in Paris on November 8, 1971 at the Sainte-Trinité. Messiaen gave the first public performance on March 20, 1972 at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.


The work comprises nine untitled meditations ranging from 3 to 10 minutes long each. A complete performance of the whole composition is around 75 minutes long. Prior to each movement, Messiaen describes the musical content and its symbolism.

Meditation No. 1

The first piece presented in this composition is sometimes called "Le Père des étoiles" (The Father of Stars). It is long and varied, marked Lent at the beginning of the piece. Its structure can be broken down as follows:

Meditation No. 2

The second movement is divided into two parts and a conclusion. It revolves around the holiness of God. The second part repeats the sequence from the first part, although with a different music in all sections except the first. It can be broken down as follows:

Meditation No. 3

This movement revolves around Langage communicable and features only one sentence taken, again, from Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica, Part I, question 28, article 2, conclusion: "La relation réelle en Dieu est réellement identique à l’essence" (Relation really existing in God is really the same as His essence). The structure in this movement is slightly different. It is the shortest movement of the composition, only three pages long, and the elements presented are superimposed and not sequenced as in other meditations. The langage communicable is presented by the right hand on the Récit. The left hand, on the other hand, plays a succession of rhythmic talas in chords: first, pratâpaçekhara in two different versions; then, râgavardhana; then, varnamanthikâ. These rhythmic structures are then repeated until the end of the piece and represent a counterpoint to the main melody. The final tala, rangapradîpaka, is played on the pedals until the piece is finished. The cells repeated do not always match exactly, but the intervals used are similar in each cell repetition. [2]

Meditation No. 4

With the sentence "Il est" (He is), this meditation deals with the idea of the existence of God. Its structure can be summarized as follows:

Meditation No. 5

In this meditation, Messiaen deals with divine attributes or, in other words, what God is. It is the longest meditation in the cycle and is structured as follows:

Meditation No. 6

This movement is dedicated to the Son, the second element in the Holy Trinity. It is divided into two parts:

Meditation No. 7

This meditation is divided into three parts:

Meditation No. 8

The eighth meditation deals with the only adjective missing from God's description in the fifth movement: "Dieu est simple" (God is simple). It is a slow and calm movement, a preparation for the intense movement that follows it. It is structured as follows:

Meditation No. 9

The last meditation revolves around the name God gives himself at the burning bush. It is structured as follows:

Composition method

The composition method used by Messiaen featured several recognizable items that he went on to develop throughout his life and used in other works.

Langage communicable

One of the main traits of Messiaen's mid-to-late works for organ was the musical cryptogram langage communicable (Communicable Language). This was created out of Messiaen's frustration with the nature of music not being able to express meaning per se: while language was created as an instrument for communication, and language is not necessarily oral or written, but can also be expressed with images, colors, movements, among others, music is incapable of expressing meaning. According to Messiaen, music can arouse feelings and affect states of mind, but it is unable to say anything, to inform with precision. Messiaen also cites Richard Wagner as one of the precursors of communicable language, since he put forward the leitmotiv in his Ring cycle. By using music in a specific way, he could attract the listener's attention to the different elements he wanted to introduce. In his opinion, it is often effective at communicating since it is based on convention, as listeners need to know the leitmotifs in advance in order to grasp the content of his work.

Messiaen, a deeply religious man, believed that angels had a system of communication that transcended language, inasmuch as language for angels is outside time and place. For that reason, and in order not to fall into the trap of giving hidden meanings to sounds, he created a musical language where specific notes of specific durations represent letters, words, and even ideas. The language content is a mere transliteration of texts in French. Messiaen used the first musical notes used in the BACH motif and in Robert Schumann's Carnaval's use of the SCHA motifs, based on the German musical alphabet. Since notes further from H are not universally accepted, he proposed his own method based on the premise "un son, un régistre, une durée" (one sound, one register, one duration). This is the complete alphabet:

  • J: Sixteenth note F♯4.
  • K: Eighth note C2.
  • L: Eighth note E♭4.
  • M: Half note A♭4.
  • N: Quarter note tied to dotted eighth note E♭3.
  • O: Half note tied to dotted eighth note B4.
  • P: Quarter note G2.
  • Q: Eighth note C3.
  • R: Dotted eighth note E5.
  • S: Quarter note F5.
  • T: Half note tied to sixteenth note D1.
  • U: Quarter note tied to sixteenth note C♯2.
  • V: Eighth note D3.
  • W: Eighth note D5.
  • X: Eighth note G♯3.
  • Y: Sixteenth note F♯3.
  • Z: Quarter note F2.

To make the language simpler and avoid word accumulation, all articles, pronouns, adverbs, and prepositions were deleted. By keeping only nouns, adjectives, and verbs, he used Latin declension and communicated the case before each word by means of a musical formula. He also created a sequence for the verb "be", "have" and for the concept of God. The two concepts "to be" (a downward movement, since "all that is comes from God") and "to have" (an upward movement, since "we can always have more by lifting ourselves up to God") are represented by completely opposite melodic formulas. The musical theme for God is also presented in the retrograde inversion. The sequences are as follows:


Birdsong is also one of the main traits in Messiaen's music and was used extensively in his musical output. The birds featured in this composition are presented in the following list in order of appearance:

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  1. Bruhn, Siglind (2008). Messiaen's Interpretations of Holiness and Trinity: Echoes of Medieval Theology in the Oratorio, Organ Meditations, and Opera. Siglind Bruhn. p. 97. ISBN   9781576471395.
  2. Saravia, Axel A. (2020). Propuesta de segmentación de la tercera pieza de Méditations sur le Mystère de la Sainte Trinité de Oliver Messiaen (PDF). Córdoba: Universidad Nacional de Córdoba. Retrieved 15 August 2021.