Hope for all

Olivier Messiaen’s Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum

(Photo: Terry Linke)

In his next concert with the Berliner Philharmoniker, Zubin Mehta devotes himself to a composer very close to his heart: Olivier Messiaen, whose Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum he will conduct. This work for wind orchestra and metal percussion, which will be performed together with Bruckner’s Ninth in the Digital Concert Hall on 17 April, is not only striking because of its unusual instrumentation...

The Second World War was already 20 years ago. But for those who had experienced it, it was still present – in their minds, their hearts, and their souls. Many were still grieving for loved ones they had lost at the time. To commemorate the 20th anniversary of the end of the war, the French Minister of Culture, André Malraux, wanted to create a musical memorial to them and also to the victims of the First World War. He commissioned Olivier Messiaen to compose a requiem to commemorate the horrors and the dead of both world wars. When Messiaen received this commission in 1964, he was one of the leading composers and organists of his time. By his own admission, his style was determined by three aspects: his great interest in religion, the organ, and birdsong. The commissioned work, which Messiaen did not intend as a lament, is also characterised by all three factors. Rather, he wanted to spread hope – hope of the resurrection and the overcoming of death. Hence the title Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum (and I await the resurrection of the dead), which comes from the Credo of the liturgy of the Mass.

Live broadcast in the Digital Concert Hall

Watch the concert with Zubin Mehta and the Berliner Philharmoniker live on 17 April 2021, at 19:00 in the Digital Concert Hall.

Go to live broadcast

From the depths of the soul

The piece is a religious message. This is made clear not only by the title, but also by the Biblical quotes that Messiaen places before each of the five movements. It starts with the beginning of Psalm 130, which is part of the traditional prayer for the dead in the Catholic Church: “From the depths I cry out to you, Lord”. Fittingly, the low brass intone a pleading prayer that sonically reflects all the suffering and agony of war. The second movement evokes a pastoral idyll. Oboe, clarinet and cor anglais enter into a dialogue, describing the loneliness, silence and beauty of nature. In the third movement, with its sombre, ominous elements and its constantly interrupted musical flow, Messiaen quotes the call of the Uirapuru, the bird of death from the Amazon rainforest. But its song does not stand for the end, but for the beginning of the resurrection, which is introduced in the fourth movement with tam-tams and cowbells and culminates in hymn-like chords from the orchestra which sound as if an organist has pulled out all the stops on his instrument. Finally, in the fifth and last movement, Messiaen returns to the prayerful attitude of the beginning. Nevertheless, as the biblical quotation from Revelations proves, the message is different: “After this I heard in heaven many voices as of a great multitude”. In doing so, Messiaen spans the arc from the desperate prayer of the beginning to the heavenly praise of God.


Berliner Philharmoniker
Zubin Mehta

Olivier Messiaen
Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum for wind orchestra and percussion

Anton Bruckner
Symphony No. 9 in D minor

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