A Brief Commentary on the Music to Aid Listening

Messe Solennelle - Louis Vierne

Kyrie Eleison

A grand, imposing organ opening in the home key of C# Minor is followed by delicate choral imitative entries starting with the basses and moving up through the tenor, alto and soprano parts. Homophonic outbursts alternating with organ passages follow. The Christe Eleison is set for the tenors initially, followed by full choir. The second Kyrie is completely homophonic, and rather bombastic in nature. The movement ends with a tierce de picardie (a major chord concluding a movement which has been in a minor key).

Gloria in Excelsis

The opening of this movement is joyous and largely built on pedal points. The Domine Deus section begins with much more tender music for the basses, which is then given in turn to the tenors and finally the sopranos. Gentle passages for full choir follow. At Quoniam tu solus sanctus, the opening music returns giving this music a ternary (ABA) structure.


This movement is characterised by a jaunty ostinato motif in the organist’s left hand which is present throughout the opening word, Sanctus, which is given to each voice part in turn in ascending order (BTAS) and then the whole choir. The Pleni sunt cæli is for full choir punctuated by loud organ chords on each beat of the bar. For the Hosanna section the opening ostinato returns, and again the word is given to each voice part in turn before being given to the whole choir, resulting in a ternary structure.


Gentle organ passages alternate with tender passages for three voices (SAT then TTB) before another left hand ostinato accompanies the sopranos and altos in a repetition of the opening words. Four fanfare-type exclamations of the word Hosanna lead into a reprise of the same music from the end of the Sanctus.

Motets by Duruflé

Ubi Caritas

See later in the programme for the texts of the motets. This is a simple homophonic motet which takes as its melody the original plainsong chant from the 8th century. It begins and ends with the three lower voices, the sopranos participating only in the middle section. Liturgically motets would be placed at this point in the service and sung during the giving and receiving of the communion bread and wine.

Tota Pulchra Es

This motet, which also uses the original plainsong theme as its melody, is more polyphonic and imitative and is for SSA – possibly a gesture towards the feminine nature of the text. The texture features a persistent use of cluster chords.

Apparition de l'Eglise Eternelle - Organ Solo by Messaien

One of the most impressive organ works of his early years, Apparition de l'Église éternelle (Appearance of the Eternal Church) was written when Messiaen was just 24 years old. It is a meditative piece; the tempo is very slow, and the characteristic sonority throughout is the ringing of sustained open fifths and octaves. The score exhibits a cellular approach to rhythm and the meter is irregular, as each cell, or phrase, is repeated, expanded, or contracted. Though entirely chordal, the melodic arch of the declamatory phrases slowly climb to a highpoint, with full-voiced triads sounding out triumphantly before winding back down again.

Messe Solennelle - Louis Vierne: Agnus Dei

The organ introduction spreads outwards from a single note. The first two sections of the threefold text are alternatively scored for all four voices, and then single parts (sopranos imitated by tenors) in a plaintive phrase. The third section of text is made up of imitative entries; bass followed by tenors and then the upper voices. For the dona nobis pacem, the music becomes serene and moves to the key of C# Major. The music ends very quietly in this warm key.