“Alléluias serein…” from L’Ascension
This movement is composed in rondo form, with a refrain (A) and verse (B) which repeat. In its entirety, the form is refrain (A), verse (B), 1st variation of refrain (A1), verse developed (B2), second variation of refrain (A2). Messiaen explored many textures throughout this movement, combining the freedom of plainsong with the lilting pastoral motives and jagged rhythmic motives (including what he called “irrational rhythms,” ie things like 3-against-five).
The opening alleluia is not one of praise, it is instead full of yearning, reflective of Messiaen’s theological message regarding a “soul longing for heaven.” The first verse employs a solo clarinet to answer the refrain, over a pedal point, and adorned by a Flute harmonique. In A1, the cornet returns, but now with the addition of the 16’ Quintaton (hooray), with an accompanimental triplet figure. Messiaen increases the sensation of persistence with this new, unrelenting accompanimental pattern. Note, it is important at this time to not allow the melody to become square, it still must ebb and flow with the contour of the line. The triplets crescendo towards the middle, and fade away into a more meditative B2 section. Here Messiaen asks for the voix celeste, which he always used to signify love. This likely demonstrates the Father’s love for his Son and all his children, as he answers their plea to enter his Kingdom. Here the theme of the verse is lengthened and developed with the subtle addition of stops (which we can do beautifully, and “to the book” here at Rice), and as the melody lingers in the upper register, the left hand adopts two distinct textures, the upper voice contains a counter melody, and the lower two move in articulated, parallel motion. This builds back down to a fragile sense of longing, and the original tempo (First movement), then a bit slower before losing energy and arriving on “F” octaves. This almost feels like the body coming to rest, and the last variation of the refrain may be the soul arising from the body, and being transported heavenward. The haunting tune is heard in the pedal with a 1’ Piccolo, and the staccato sextuplets gurgle over a trilled chord. It finally comes to rest, with peace and tranquility in a place far away, or in a récit far away, leaving only a distant memory as the box slowly closes.
Something to note is that in the opening registration, he initially called for flutes 8, 4, and octavin. In the 1950s, he seemed to change his mind and instead indicated that it should be played on a cornet. Similarly, at A1, he later called for RH flute 4, 2, and cymbale, and LH cornet and quintaton 16.
A: He begins with something that resembles a cornet (rather out of tune), but it feels too thick to be a true cornet séparé. It’s almost as though he’s used additional 8’s (flute harmonique or montre) to create a stronger fundamental.