Messiaen - O Sacrum Convivium

Messiaen - O Sacrum Convivium (1937)

Though Olivier Messiaen was one of the 20th-century’s most important composers of organ music for the Catholic service – 63 pieces, more than seven hours of music – ‘O Sacrum Convivium’ (O Sacred Feast) is his only vocal work specifically for the church. It was composed early in 1937 and when the score was published later that year by Durand, the title page indicated that the work had been commissioned by Abbeì F. Brun, a noted authority on Gregorian chant. Messiaen was organist at the Triniteì at that time, and the church’s choir almost certainly sang ‘O Sacrum Convivium’ soon after it was written, but the first documented performance was in Messiaen’s arrangement for solo voice and organ at a concert of Les Amis de l’Orgue at the Triniteì on February 17, 1938. O Sacrum Convivium is an anti-phon associated with the Magnificat at the second Vespers service of the feast of Corpus Christi, observed on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, i.e. eight-and-a-half weeks after Easter; the text is attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas. Messiaen’s setting is hushed and reverent, rising to an expressive peak only when the text refers to future glory.

O sacrum Convivium in quo Christus sumiturrecolitur memoria passionis eiusmens impletur gratia: et futurae gloriae nobis pignus datur. Alleluia.

O sacred banquet, in which Christ is received, the memory of his Passion is renewed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory to us is given. Alleluia.

Naomi Sullivan