Massey to weep and wail in today’s mini-concert

Emma Morehart | Staff Writer

Echoes of weeping, wailing, worrying and lamenting will fill the Amphitheater today.

But don’t worry — it will just be the Massey Memorial Organ as organist Jared Jacobsen performs a somber mini-concert at 2 p.m.

Jacobsen will play Franz Liszt’s “Variations on Bach’s ‘Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen,’” which translates to “Weeping, Wailing, Worrying, Lamenting,” and Olivier Messiaen’s “Dieu Parmi Nous,” or “God Among Us.”

Both of these pieces, though different in musical style, have similarities in content and composer. The challenge, Jacobsen said, was finding a piece that complemented the unique style of Lizst’s “Variations.”

Bach, Liszt and Messiaen were all revolutionary during their times, and each was inspired by his predecessor, Jacobsen said.

“Messiaen takes us another century down the road from Bach. Bach sparked Liszt, and Liszt’s music sparked all of the music that came after it, including Messiaen,” Jacobsen said. “If Liszt hadn’t pushed the envelope in the 1800s, then I think it wouldn’t have set the stage for Messiaen to push the envelope.”

In the early 1700s in Weimar, Germany, Bach wrote his Cantata No. 12, which included the chorale “Weinen, Klagen.” When Liszt visited Weimar at a particularly taxing time in his life, his experiences and admiration for the late Bach inspired “Variations.”

At this time, Liszt was in love with a woman who was stuck in a loveless marriage with a wealthy and powerful man. After several failed attempts to get the marriage annulled by the Roman Catholic Church, the relationship between Liszt and the woman was forced to end. During this time, Liszt’s daughter Blondine died and left Liszt even more broken-hearted.

Bach’s chorale also portrayed God’s omnipotence and reminded listeners that “What God ordains is always good.” This theme is repeated in Liszt’s variation of the Cantata.

“This is Liszt saying, ‘It’s out of my hands, and I don’t understand why this is the case, but apparently, it’s part of my lot in life that my daughter would die and that the great love of my life is not available to me,’” Jacobsen said. “So there’s lots of baggage in this piece.”

Messiaen’s “Dieu Parmi Nous” is his attempt to portray God’s wonder during the birth of Jesus and plays off the same belief that God is in control and comes to earth in remarkable ways.

The piece opens with loud, stomping chords to symbolize God descending to earth, and from there, Messiaen twists chords and makes up his own rules for composing music.

This type of writing is common in Messiaen’s work but was unusual for his time. Like Liszt, Messiaen composed many tone poems that broke traditional rules of music structure.

“You have these kind of fanfare chords that the hands play at the very beginning of the piece, then the feet play at the very top and go stomping down, ‘boom boom boom boom boom, CRASH,’ to the bottom,” Jacobsen said, adding that when taken apart, the chord at the end of the piece is a blues chord normally found in jazz music.

Although Jacobsen admitted that the piece may not be welcomed by all members of the audience, he still plays it often.

“People who are here a lot have heard this enough that it begins to sound normal to them, and conventional,” he said. “But he wrote it in the 1930s, and here it is 2011, and it’s just beginning to sound conventional, so that’s visionary music making. I can use this to expose people to things that they might not hear elsewhere. I don’t think this is lukewarm music.”