“I will say: I have given this flame to these eyes; I have drawn from the ambiguous smile of the moon […] these two naïve stars open to the infinite”, wrote the poetess Cécile Sauvage in 1908 to her unborn son, Olivier Messiaen. It is amazing that the poem in a sense expresses in a prophetic manner Messiaen’s interest in and passion for themes that were to accompany him throughout his life: the cosmos, infinity. It goes without saying that the poetic lifestyle of his mother was to have a strong influence on Messiaen. It is no coincidence that almost all of his vocal works are based on his own texts, and that in the final work he completed, Éclairs sur l’AuDelà..., the hereafter is an explicit theme extending beyond his mortal end. Here Messiaen closes the circle (of life), powerfully, eulogistically, in a sweeping gesture. In doing so he takes advantage of all the glory of a large orchestra: 10 flutes (including three piccolos and one alto flute), three oboes and an English horn, 10 clarinets (two E-flat clarinets, one bass and one contrabass clarinet), three bassoons and one contrabassoon; there is a large brass section (six horns, five trumpets, three trombones, three tubas) and a large number of percussionists and strings. But this opus summum is also a confession of faith. “It is an indisputable fact”, said Messiaen, “that in the truths of the Catholic faith I found this seduction by the wonderful multiplied a hundred, a thousandfold, and this is no theatrical fiction but something that is true.” Only in his opera Saint François d’Assise (première 1983) had he previously created a comparable monument to the resounding glory of God, the sonorous magnificence of the heavenly Jerusalem (and of course the earthly praising of God in jubilant birdsong).
Ingo Metzmacher, who made his debut in a subscription concert of the Vienna Philharmonic with this work, said in a statement at the end of the dress rehearsal that one can open oneself to this music only by setting aside one’s “earthly” sense of time and committing oneself to the cosmic dimensions and promise of this music. This may be understood as instructions to the listener. Éclairs sur l’Au-Delà... was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra on the occasion of its 150th anniversary. The work was premièred, 6 months after Messiaen’s death, under Zubin Mehta in Avery Fisher Hall on 5 November 1992.