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Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus

'Messiaen: Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus' (CDA67351/2)
Messiaen: Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus
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'Messiaen: Piano Music' (CDA67054)
Messiaen: Piano Music
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67054 
No 01: Regard du Père
No 02: Regard de l'Étoile
No 03: L'échange
No 04: Regard de la Vierge
No 05: Regard du Fils sur le Fils
No 06: Par Lui tout à été fait
No 07: Regard de la Croix
No 08: Regard des hauteurs
No 09: Regard du Temps
No 10: Regard de l’Esprit de joie
No 11: Première communion de la Vierge
No 12: La parole toute puissante
No 13: Noël
No 14: Regard des Anges
No 15: Le baiser de l’Enfant-Jésus
No 16: Regards des prophètes, des bergers et des Mages
No 17: Regard du silence
No 18: Regard de l'Onction terrible
No 19: Je dors, mais mon cœur veille
No 20: Regard de l'Église d'amour

Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus
Messiaen and Loriod were exceptionally busy at the end of March 1945, with concerts on three consecutive days: on Saturday, 24 March, the 602nd concert of the Société Nationale involved both of them, though on this occasion it was Loriod who was on the programme as a composer, with her Trois mélopées africaines for flute, ondes Martenot, piano and drum, performed by Loriod, Ginette Martenot, the flautist Jan Merry and the percussionist Jacques Boucher. (Messiaen was present to accompany the soprano Marcelle Bunlet in songs by his wife Claire Delbos and Raymond Depraz.) The next afternoon – a Sunday – saw Loriod and Messiaen at the Schola Cantorum for a concert organised by the Mouvement Artistique Evolutif where they performed Visions de l’Amen with spoken commentaries by the composer. But the most significant of these events was in the Salle Gaveau on Monday, 26 March, at 7.45 p.m. This was Messiaen’s first major première since the Liberation: the Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus, played by its dedicatee, Yvonne Loriod. On this occasion Messiaen gave a spoken introduction to each piece, but he also prepared a printed programme: a small four-page leaflet containing brief commentaries which were subsequently much expanded. Here is the original printed text as it appeared in the March 1945 programme:

Contemplation of the Child-God of the manger and Gazes cast upon him: from the inexpressible Gaze of God the Father to the multiple Gaze of the Church of Love, passing through the incredible Gaze of the Spirit of Joy, the most tender Gaze of the Virgin, then those of the Angels, of the Magi, and of immaterial or symbolic creatures (Time, the Heights, Silence, the Star, the Cross).

The work uses several new [musical] languages. Each piece is thus different from its neighbours in terms of style, but the same themes run from one end to the other of the Vingt Regards. It was written between 23 March and 8 September 1944.

I: Regard du Père (Gaze of the Father): And God said: ‘This is my beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased …’
II: Regard de l’Étoile (Gaze of the Star): The fall of Grace: the Star shines innocently, surmounted by a Cross …
III: L’échange (The Exchange): Descending in a spray, rising in a spiral; the terrible trade between humans and God. God made man to make us gods …
IV: Regard de la Vierge (Gaze of the Virgin): Innocence and tenderness … The woman of purity, the woman of the Magnificat, the Virgin gazes upon her child …
V: Regard du Fils sur le Fils (Gaze 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 made flesh – union of the human and divine natures in Jesus Christ …
VI: Par Lui tout a été fait (By Him was Everything Made): Abundance of space and time; galaxies, photons, contrary spirals, inverted lightning: by Him (The Word) was Everything made … in an instant, creation reveals to us the luminous shadow of His Voice …
VII: Regard de la Croix (Gaze of the Cross): The Cross said to Him: You will be a priest in my arms …
VIII: Regard des hauteurs (Gaze of the Heights): Glory in the Heights … the Heights descend to the manger like the song of a lark …
IX: Regard du Temps (Gaze of Time): The mystery of the infinity of Time; Time sees born in itself the One who is Eternal …
X: Regard de l’Esprit de joie (Gaze of the Spirit of Joy): Violent dance, joyous sound of horns, rapture of the Holy Spirit … the joyous love of Blessed God in the Soul of Jesus Christ …
XI: Première communion de la Vierge (The First Communion of the Virgin): 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 through the power of His voice …
XIII: Noël (Christmas): The Christmas bells say with us the sweet names of Jesus, Mary, Joseph …
XIV: Regard des Anges (Gaze of the Angels): Sparkling, beating; a powerful blast from immense trombones; Your servants are flames of fire – then the song of birds who feast upon blue – and the amazement of the angels grows – for it is not to them but to the human race that God is united …
XV: Le baiser de l’Enfant-Jésus (The Kiss of the Infant Jesus): At each Communion, the Infant Jesus sleeps with us, close to the gate; then he opens it onto the garden and comes forth in a blaze of light to embrace us …
XVI: Regard des prophètes, des bergers et des Mages (Gaze of the Prophets, the Shepherds and the Magi): Tamtams and oboes, a vast, buzzing chorus …
XVII: Regard du Silence (Gaze of Silence): Silence in the hand, an upside-down rainbow … each silence of the Manger reveals music and colours which are the mysteries of Jesus Christ …
XVIII: Regard de l’Onction terrible (Gaze of the Terrible Unction): The Word assumes a definite human form; the choice of the flesh of Jesus by the awesome Majesty of God …
XIX: Je dors, mais mon cœur veille (I Sleep, but my Heart keeps Watch): It is not the bow of an angel which smiles, it is the sleeping Jesus who loves us on his Holy Day and who give us forgetfulness …
XX: Regard de l’Église d’amour (Gaze of the Church of Love): Grace made us love God as God loves us; after the shower of night, the spirals of anguish, here are bells, glory and the kiss of love … All the passion of our arms around the Invisible One …

Messiaen’s spoken introduction was later transformed into the preface to the first edition, but at least one passage was considerably rewritten and expanded. The hitherto unpublished early version – almost certainly the text read by Messiaen at the première – has an extraordinary immediacy, with remarks directed specifically at a live audience and a heartfelt tribute to his interpreter:

The work uses a great many new procedures which vary with each piece. Three main themes run through the Vingt Regards: the ‘Theme of God’, which you will hear almost all the time, and right from the first page; the ‘Theme of the Star and of the Cross’; and finally a ‘Theme of Chords’ which is intended to return fragmented or concentrated in a rainbow.
Much love, joy, suffering and meditation are at the origin of this work; much reading as well, notably Le Christ dans ses Mystères by Dom Columba Marmion and the Douze Regards by Maurice Toesca. Finally, it contains a number of special pianistic characteristics and effects – a little revolution in piano writing – which I could certainly never have realised if I had not heard the first concerts of Yvonne Loriod, and had the good fortune to be a pianist myself.

from notes by Nigel Simeone © 2002

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Details for CDA67351/2 disc 2 track 4
Regard des Anges
Recording date
15 November 2001
Recording venue
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Recording engineer
Hyperion usage
  1. Messiaen: Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus (CDA67351/2)
    Disc 2 Track 4
    Release date: September 2002
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