Léonie Sonning Prize 1977

Olivier Messiaen

The composer Olivier Messiaen received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize of DKK 100,000 at a concert held at 7.30pm on Thursday, 26 May 1977 in Radiohusets Koncertsal.

The music prize was presented by Mogens Andersen, Head of Music at DR, who said in his speech that Messiaen combines originality in his music with the utmost perfection. He also emphasised Messiaen’s importance for Danish musical life and Danish contemporary music after he had paid a visit here for the first time in 1951.

Messiaen replied that he was moved at being the fourteenth person to receive the music prize after Stravinsky. He thanked everyone who had helped disseminate his music in Denmark – and also mentioned Hans Christian Andersen’s Wee Willie Winkie, in which the most wonderful fairytales are dreamed. In his own music, which the audience would be hearing in a moment, one will not experience a fairytale, not merely a dream, but a true mystery and a great truth full of light. Meditation on this has filled me with joys and colours. My final Thank You is therefore a wish that all of you here will have the same experience.

The programme

Olivier Messiaen: From: Méditations sur le Mystère de la Sainte Trinité (1969): Fifth meditation
La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ (1968)

Yvonne Loriod, piano
Charly Olsen, organ
Erling Bløndal Bengtsson, cello

The Danish National Choir
The Danish National Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Miltiades Caridis

Motivation

The Léonie Sonning Music Prize for 1977 is awarded to the composer Olivier Messiaen in recognition of his epoch-making importance for the development of the art of music and in admiration of his works, which combine profound originality with the highest artistic perfection.

Messiaen in Denmark

In connection with the music prize, a book was published that the Music Foundation had supported financially: an introduction to the composer’s life and works, with the title Messiaen – a Manual, by Poul Borum and Erik Christensen. Two weeks later, Alain Lombard conducted half of Messiaen’s Turangalila Symphony at a Thursday Concert with the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra, and a week after that, the orchestra, under the baton of Vaclav Neumann, played Messiaen’s Exotic Birds, with Erik Kaltoft as the piano soloist.

Prior to the prize concert, there were also Messiaen concerts in Århus (Dorthe Steengaard and Erik Kaltoft), Roskilde Cathedral and Copenhagen Cathedral (Viggo Kanding – La Nativité du Seigneur) as well as in Our Saviour’s Church in Copenhagen. The day after, Messiaen, who was known as a good, lively interpreter of his own music, gave a lecture in the great hall of the academy of music: he went through La Transfiguration. In addition, Flemming Dreisig played in Our Saviour’s Church Le Banquet céleste from 1928 and L’Ascension from 1934, and Charley Olsen played the composer’s Messe de la Pentecôte. And at the Royal Danish Academy of Music, works played included Le Merle Noir for flute and piano, Quartet for the End of Time andMessiaen’s seven great Amen visions from 1943.

The French composer was present at the concerts, which were in his honour, and he had requested in advance to be present at every single rehearsal for the prize-giving concert in Radiohuset. Messiaen also received the tribute of the city of Copenhagen at a reception at Copenhagen City Hall – a buffet supper in its ceremonial hall, where Danish composers, musicians, conductors and other music figures met the guest of honour – and there was a speech by the chairman of the city council.

The daily press

wrote, among other things:

"Though long, one is influenced by the work [La Transfiguration]. Wonderfully confusing in its abandonment to the religious wonder, [...] one feels a confrontation with something of the most profound conviction. A medieval experience, like looking through the stained-glass windows of gothic churches. It was that kind of evening in honour of a great composer, and a glorious evening for the life of radio music, since after having surmounted tons of technical problems, one had covered a great mental distance. On the occasion of a great artist, one had heightened the vantage point, and out of this comes musical art."

(Robert Naur, Politiken, 27 May 1977)

"In his beautifully formulated and very clearly articulated speech of thanks in French, the composer mentioned Hans Christian Andersen’s Wee Willie Winkie, in which the most wonderful fairytales are dreamed. In the work that Messiaen himself had chosen for the occasion, and that was played after the handing over of the prize, La Transfiguration [...], one would not experience a fairytale, not merely a dream, the composer said, but a true mystery and a great truth full of light. Meditation on this has filled me with joys and colours [...]"

(John Christiansen, Jyllands-Posten, 28 May 1977)

"It [La Transfiguration] is highly complex music – and yet very simple. For despite the many ingenious Catholic philosophical symbols, the difficult rhythmical sequence and the complicated musical weaving of notes, one immediately sensed something emotional and very strongly visionary."

(Thomas Viggo Pedersen, Kristeligt Dagblad, 1 June 1977)