La Nativité du Seigneur

Join us for a liturgical performance of Olivier Messiaen’s organ suite of nine Meditations on the Birth of Our Lord by our Associate Director of Music, Jonathan Vaughn.

Sunday, December 15

Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) was one of the preeminent composers of the twentieth century, and one of its great innovators. His music embraces Gregorian chant, influences from around the world, groundbreaking compositional techniques, his synesthesia, and above all his deep Christian faith. La Nativité du Seigneur is Messiaen’s first major organ cycle, and his best known. In it, he explores five main theological ideas:

1 | Our predestination, fulfilled by the incarnation of the word
2 | God living in our midst and suffering
3 | The three births: The Word; Christ; Spiritual Birth of Christmas
4 | Descriptions of characters of the Christmas story
5 | Honor the maternity of Mary

In his preface to La Nativité, Messiaen states his philosophy: “Emotion and sincerity above all else. But conveyed to the listener by means which are clear and true.”


At this performance, Messiaen’s music will be interspersed with the reading of excerpts from W.H. Auden’sFor the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio.” Written in 1941-42, during a period of personal and global crisis, Auden’s poem is an extended meditation on the impact of the Incarnation on the world – the same world in which Messiaen composed La Nativité du Seigneur (1935). The contemporaneousness of the two pieces – written by different men in different nations under the shadow of war – offers a commentary on both the Nativity itself and its reception in the present moment.

Auden concludes his poem by writing, “The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all.” The challenge, in Auden’s time as well as our own, is to recognize the miracle of God’s entry into all that is routine and mundane, to rejoice in the miracle that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. Join us.