Tonight offers a rare opportunity to catch one of the real masterpieces of 20th century music; Christopher Taylor performs all two-plus hours of Olivier Messiaen’s Vingt regards sur l’Enfant Jesus. It’s tonight at Ganz Hall, Roosevelt University; called about 30 minutes ago and tickets were still available.

If you’re going, or just interested in the piece, here’s some reading to get you started:

* Paul Griffiths: “It is addressed principally to God, as the source of love, expressing divine love together with human love for the divine. But it also conveys the composer’s love of sound, and of the sounds of the piano in particular, whether thunderous or mist-thin, always touched with resonance. And it tells of the immediate musical and personal contact Messiaen felt with the pianist for whom he wrote the work in 1944: Yvonne Loriod, his future wife.”

* Review of Taylor in SF: “It also incorporates a host of influences: numerology, Roman Catholic symbolism, birdsong, Eastern instruments and instrumentation, complex mathematical relationships, and Greek and Hindu sources (for starters).”

* Program notes from a Taylor performance (PDF): “in No. 6, Par Lui tout a été fait [By Him All Has Been Made], makes a true ‘big bang’ (Messiaen’s characterization) of the creation story. Th is great fugue—or ‘anti-fugue’ as it has been deemed—is considered one of the greatest challenges in the piano repertoire, not only in digital dexterity, but in the mental agility required to master the composer’s complex rhythmic and melodic patterns.”

* From Messiaen’s notes (ibid; you should really take that with you if you go): “I have always been very struck by the fact that God is happy—and that this ineff able and continuous joy lived in the soul of Christ. Joy is for me a rapture, a drunkenness in the maddest senseof the term.”

* Roland-Manuel: “This musician’s entire output proclaims the supremacy of things spiritual. It is as far away as possible from the sentimental austerity of the Franckists, and closest to the sensual delights of sound, as if the most concentrated musical material, the richest, and the finest, is – in his eyes – the best way to translate the ineffable splendours of the spiritual world.”

* Seth Bousted: “I remember being in high school and taking Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus home from the library just so I could find out what this Messiaen guy was all about. I listened to it several times that day, trying to make sense of it. I fell asleep. But I had the most intense dreams.”

* No. 6:

No. 10 (Contemplation of the Spirit of Joy)

Lots more where that came from, although the audio is obviously of YouTube quality.