A performance and pedagogical guide to achieving musical expression and style in selected movements from Messiaen’s Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jesus: No. 11 Première communion de la Vierge and No. 15 Le baiser de l’Enfant-Jèsus



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As music is a language, we should make it speak. To depict Messiaen’s sound expression and achieve authentic performance, pianists must consider the process of music-making. Simply playing with great feeling does not create a great performance; an exceptional rendering requires a clear understanding of the music, note by note, through emotional involvement and successful communication with the music's content. Performing expressively chiefly involves intellectual efforts—engaging in analysis, modifying habits, practicing effectively, and grounding one’s playing in an analysis of the musical structure. It also requires thousands of hours of thoughtful practice with lots of devotion, commitment, and respect for the composer. What pianists have most to understand about Messiaen’s music are the modes of limited transposition, bird song, special rhythmic notations, non-retrogradable rhythms, harmonic descriptions, special chords, and melodic contour, etc.

The great piano collection Vingt regards sur l’Enfant Jesus of Messiaen provides examples for this guide, which explains the process of learning Messiaen’s musical language through piano playing. In this paper, I have selected two piano pieces, No.11 and No.15, to help us understand how to thoughtfully read Messiaen's music score, apply intelligent practice strategies to achieve physical security and control, and achieve music expression based on the understanding of the composer’s background, his musical theory/philosophy, and his unique musical style draw on No. 11 Première communion de la Vierge and No. 15 Le baiser de l’Enfant-Jèsus to provide insights and interpretations that will help pianists practice his music with the understanding that can lead them to a profound performance. In this performance and pedagogical guide, I will provide a detailed analysis of Vingt Regards’s No.11 and No.15. Moreover, I will explain Messiaen’s musical style and how intellectual effort is essential to the learning process from the educator’s point of the view.

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Messiaen, Musical Language, Intellectual Effort, Non-Retrogradable Rhythm, Birdsong, Modes of Limited Transposition, Deliberate Practice Approach, Contemplative Performance, Mindful Practice