Pope Benedict XVI once noted that “There is a mysterious and deep kinship between music and hope, between song and eternal life.” The work of modern Catholic composer Olivier Messiaen celebrates this kinship between music and the truth of Catholic theology most convincingly. In the fall 2008 issue of Logos, musicologist and pianist Siglind Bruhn provides us with a comprehensive guide to what she calls the “metaphysical, theological, and sometimes mystical visions” offered by Messiaen’s music. The following excerpt is taken from the introduction to her article, “Traces of a Thomistic De musica in the Compositions of Olivier Messiaen.”

In the year of his centennial, Olivier Messiaen (1908–92) is widely acknowledged as not only one of the leading French composers of the twentieth century, but as a voice of timeless significance within Western music. In addition to his love for music with its “colors” and rhythms, he felt passionately about two other areas in which he became an erudite scholar: theology and ornithology. A devout Catholic, he owned and diligently read a large collection of theological books; an avid bird lover, he studied their song so thoroughly that his contributions to the field are now considered invaluable even to specialists. A third field to which Messiaen devoted a cluster of compositions is that of idealized human love. As he knew, all love derives from God’s love for humankind. The human love of God may be but an awkward and flawed response to the divine gift, but even the love of one human for another, provided it is true and strong, must be regarded as a reflection – albeit a pale reflection – of God’s love.

In the year of his centennial, Olivier Messiaen (1908–92) is widely acknowledged as not only one of the leading French composers of the twentieth century, but as a voice of timeless significance within Western music. In addition to his love for music with its “colors” and rhythms, he felt passionately about two other areas in which he became an erudite scholar: theology and ornithology. A devout Catholic, he owned and diligently read a large collection of theological books; an avid bird lover, he studied their song so thoroughly that his contributions to the field are now considered invaluable even to specialists. A third field to which Messiaen devoted a cluster of compositions is that of idealized human love. As he knew, all love derives from God’s love for humankind. The human love of God may be but an awkward and flawed response to the divine gift, but even the love of one human for another, provided it is true and strong, must be regarded as a reflection – albeit a pale reflection – of God’s love.