Bright as crystal

by abbamoses

Olivier Messiaen

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. — Revelation 22: 1,2

Somehow my son and I have gotten into the music of Olivier Messiaen, the eccentric 20th-century French composer. He’s not performed much, partly because his music is, frankly, pretty strange — and I think partly because he was a traditional Christian mystic during a time when the modernist musical world was unable to absorb overtly Christian music.

At least two of his works — Quartet for the End of Time and Illuminations on the Beyond — are based on the Book of Revelation. For Messiaen, Revelation seems to be a joyful book, a tapestry of radiant visions far from the nightmare images of too many popular views.

Just listening to these pieces made me want to re-read Revelation, and in doing so I expect that my eyes will be better opened to its ecstatic, triumphal essence. An example of music (without words, by the way) as Gospel proclamation and scriptural interpretation.