Messiaen’s La Nativité du Seigneur (The Birth of the Saviour) is arguably one of the most important organ works of the twentieth century. Its devotional nature is remarkably direct, for Messiaen possessed a deep-rooted faith and theological insight which gave a strongly spiritual dimension to all his work.
All Messiaen’s organ cycles (of which La Nativité written in 1935 is the earliest) look to deepen the listener’s understanding of the concepts they illustrate. This one probes deeply into meaning of God-made-man, setting the events of the first Christmas in the contexts both of time and of eternity, the Incarnation, the Ascension, the Holy Trinity, the Saints in glory and the Holy Sacrament. In a series of musical tableaux, the Virgin and Child, the shepherds, the angels, and the Wise Men are depicted. Overall, it was Messiaen’s desire to convey here an unbridled joy at the presence of God in His Son. The music’s constant movement and virtuosity, its rhythmic drive and variety convey this sense of elation. Whilst the recurrence of recognizable ‘motifs’ provides coherence and familiarity in purely musical terms, so many passages resist conventional resolution and increase the music’s tension.