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King’s College London

28 April 2015 , 11:00 am - 5:00 pm

Study day: Messiaen’s world and the Vingt Regards

This in-depth exploration of the Vingt Regards and their origins includes sessions on Messiaen’s historical and musical context, compositional style and theology. the day includes sessions with the poet and artist, an exhibition, poetry reading and lunchtime concert.


10.30am Welcome (refreshments to be provided)

11am Messiaen’s World
Speaker: Dr Edward Forman
Chair: Dr Jeremy Thurlow

Dr Forman will give an account of the circumstances in which the Vingt Regards were commissioned, composed and first performed against the bleak backdrop of Occupied Paris, and will explore what is known of the literary, theological and artistic sources of his inspiration.

11.45am Messiaen, Truth and Reality
Speaker: Professor Christopher Dingle
Chair: Professor Ben Quash

Truth is a recurrent theme in Messiaen’s music and is central to his thinking and yet, time and again, Messiaen’s relationship with ‘la Verité’ as it is commonly understood is puzzling. This wide-ranging talk explores Messiaen’s contradictions and considers the composer’s relationship with a concept often elided with truth: reality.


1-1.45pm Lunchtime concert (St. David’s Room)
Messiaen: Vingt regards sur l’Enfant-Jesus (selected movements)
Cordelia Williams: piano

2pm Theological and Musical Meaning within Messiaen’s Vingt Regards
Speaker: Cordelia Williams
Chair: Professor Christopher Dingle

Following her performance, Cordelia Williams will talk about some of the ways in which Messiaen expresses theological ideas through musical themes and compositional techniques. She will look at his use of non-retrogradable rhythm and ‘divine’ pattern and symmetry, and offer thoughts as to why his music is so fascinating to study and perform.

2.30pm ‘Artistic responses to the music of Messiaen’
Speakers: Sophie Hacker, Michael Symmons Roberts
Chair: Cordelia Williams

Poet Michael Symmons Roberts and artist Sophie Hacker will discuss the ways they have each responded to the ideas within Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus in order to create their commissions for Messiaen 2015.

3.15pm TEA BREAK (refreshments to be provided)

3.30pm Messiaen and the Unsecular Modern
Speaker: Professor Ben Quash
Chair: Gareth Wilson

This paper will explore the – perhaps surprising – persistence of religious themes and styles among 20th- and 21st-century artists, including some of the painters, sculptors and architects who were contemporaries of Messiaen. It will look at the highly influential Catholic Modernism of Jacques Maritain, and ask how we might interpret Messiaen’s work and influence in relation to this context.

4.15pm Summing up, comments and discussion, followed by a wine reception


Register for a place here

This event is held in collaboration with the Centre for Arts and the Sacred at King’s, whose support is gratefully acknowledged.


28 April 2015
11:00 am - 5:00 pm


Great Hall
King's College London
London, WC2R 2LS
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A year of music, art, poetry and discussion exploring Messiaen's Vingt Regards