"Three of Olivier Messiaen’s later works La Transfiguration de Notre-Seigneur Jésus-Christ Méditations sur le mystère de la Sainte Trinité and Saint François d’Assise are linked by the fact that the composer refers to and quotes from Thomas Aquinas. The composer’s reception of Thomistic texts is one of the principles guiding the interpretations in this study. On the one hand Messiaen had been pondering Thomas’s thoughts on the role of music in the life of a Christian and on music’s possible spiritual content all through his professional life; on the other hand the oratorio the organ meditations and the opera are the only works in which Messiaen quotes extensive Thomistic sentences addressing purely theological subject matter. The first aspect Messiaen’s appropriation of—or felicitous congruence with—the medieval theologian’s views on music underlies all analyses as a kind of background fabric. The second aspect Messiaen’s quotations from the Summa theologica and their musical translation determines segments of a larger discussion that in the book’s three main chapters attempts to do justice to the compositions as a whole. While Thomas’ theological aesthetics appears as a thread woven through a texture in a way that brings it only periodically to the foreground the statements from Thomas’s writings provide essential foundations determining the works’ content and its musical rendering.
A musicologist, concert pianist, and interdisciplinary scholar whose research focuses on compositions of the 20th century. Prior to coming to the United States, she taught for ten years in Germany and at the University of Hong Kong. Since 1993 she has been a full-time researcher at the University of Michigan’s Institute for the Humanities (one of six “Life Research Associates”); in the fall of 2004, she was appointed chercheur permanent at the Institut d’Esthétique des Arts Contemporains at Université de Paris 1–La Sorbonne. She has been an elected member of the European Academy of Arts and Sciences since 2001.