La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ

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La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ ("The Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ") is a work written between 1965 and 1969 by Olivier Messiaen. It is based on the account found in the synoptic gospels of Jesus' transfiguration. The writing is on a very large scale; the work requires around 200 performers. The forces required include a mixed choir, seven instrumental soloists and a large orchestra.


On hearing "an old priest deliver a sermon on the light and the filiation",[1] Messiaen started to think about the transfiguration story in the 1940s. By the time he began to write the music, he hadn't composed music for voices for 17 years, since his solo choral work Cinq rechants. Warmer tonal harmonies reappeared in this work, in contrast to the harmonies he had been using for other works of the period.

Performance history[edit]

The first public performance was on June 7, 1969, in Lisbon. The United States premier was on March 27–30, 1972 in Washington, DC with the National Symphony Orchestra and the Westminster Choir; Antal Dorati was the conductor. The U.S. West Coast premiere[2] was in 1981 in San Francisco, with the Berkeley Symphony and the Contra Costa Chorale under the direction of Kent Nagano. Preparation for this performance was supervised by Maître Messiaen.


The music is divided into 14 movements, grouped into two septénaires (sets of seven). It lasts for about one and a half hours. The texts are largely derived from the Bible, particularly Matthew's account of the Transfiguration. Also included are some parts of Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica.

First Septenary

  • I. Récit évangélique (Gospel)
  • II. Configuration corpori claritatis suae (To be like his glorified body)
  • III. Christus Jesus, splendor Patris (Jesus, reflection of the Father)
  • IV. Récit évangélique (Gospel)
  • V. Quam dilecta tabernacula tua (How lovely are your tabernacles)
  • VI. Candor est lucis aeternae (She is the reflection of eternal light)
  • VII. Choral de la sainte montaigne (Chorale of the holy mountain)

Second Septenary

  • VIII. Récit évangélique (Gospel)
  • IX. Perfecte conscius perfectae generationis (Perfectly conscious of that perfect generation)
  • X. Adoptionem filiorum perfectam (The perfect adoption of sons)
  • XI. Récit évangélique (Gospel)
  • XII. Terribilis est locus iste (How awesome is this place)
  • XIII. Tota Trinitas apparuit (The whole Trinity appears)
  • XIV. Choral de la lumière de gloire (Chorale of the light of glory)


It is scored for a mixed choir (10 voices per part), 7 instrumental soloists and a very large orchestra.[3]


  1. ^ Olivier Messiaen: Music and Color: Conversations with Claude Samuel, Eng Trans., Portland, Oregon, 1994
  2. ^
  3. ^ The Olivier Messiaen Page