A Missa Brevis for Jumping Timelines




Mots-clés :

Popular Music, Jean-François Charles, François Rabelais, Philip K. Dick, Sacred Music


Jean-François Charles’s Missa brevis Abbaye de Th​é​l​è​me interleaves texts of the Mass Ordinary with French poems from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries. These poems interpret the mass texts, and conversely the mass texts weave the poems into a rite, and a ritual space. The album sonifies the gargantuan, utopian abbey described by the ex-Franciscan friar François Rabelais in the first book of Gargantua and Pantagruel (ca. 1532). Rabelais’s Thelema Abbey is the basis of Alistair Crowley’s Thelema spiritual movement, the sole principle of both being “fais ce que voudras” (the first words on the album). I show that the poems’ supplementation of the mass texts in their musical context evokes the will aligning one with divine love. I explicate this supplementation with reference to sympathetic elements in the exegesis of Philip K. Dick. Charles’s mass triangulates us between (1) a heartfelt search for God in the midst of war and inner turmoil (highlighted in the Sanctus and Benedictus), (2) a conflict between unloving zealots and willful iconoclasts (spelled out in the Kyrie and Agnus Dei), and (3) a utopia of divine love (seen especially in the Gloria and Credo). Dick similarly shares actual memories of alternative timelines, triangulating us between (1) a so-called “black iron prison police state world” in which Christianity is illegal (2), this world, partially good and partially bad, in which we and Dick exist, and (3) a paradise presided over by Aphrodite, the goddess of love. In listening to / visiting the mass/abbey, to borrow a phrase from Gurnemanz in Richard Wagner’s Parsifal, “time becomes space.” Through the mass’s prayer, we can aim to jump timelines, as if they were arrayed in space, making Arcadia more real for us, at least for the duration of the album, if not permanently.

Biographie de l'auteur-e

  • Matthew Arndt, The University of Iowa

    Matthew Arndt, Associate Professor of Music Theory at the University of Iowa, holds a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He studies musical poetics, three-voiced chant from the Republic of Georgia, and other instances of spirituality in music. He is the author of The Musical Thought and Spiritual Lives of Heinrich Schenker and Arnold Schoenberg (Routledge, 2018). His articles appear in the Journal of Music Theory, theJournal of Schenkerian Studies, Music Theory and Analysis, Music Theory Spectrum, the Proceedings of the International Symposium on Traditional Polyphony, Theoria, Theory and Practice, and Zeitschrift der Gesellschaft für Musiktheorie.


Crowley, A. (n.d.). The Antecedents of Thelema. Hermetic Library. Retrieved March 3, 2024 from https://hermetic.com/eidolons/the-antecedents-of-thelema

Dick, P. K. (2011). The Valis Trilogy. Mariner Books.

———. 2020. If You Find This World Bad, You Should See Some of the Others. Lecture at the second Festival International de la Science-Fiction in Metz, France, September 24, 1977. Internet Archive. https://archive.org/details/pkdmetz

Lawlor, R. (1982). Sacred Geometry: Philosophy and Practice. New York: Crossroad.

Probst-Biraben, J.-H. (with Mainguy, I.). (2020). Rabelais et les secrets du Pantagruel. Éditions de la tarente. (Original work published 1949)

Rabelais, F. (1952). Gargantua and Pantagruel. Translated by Sir Thomas Urquhart and Peter Motteux. Encyclopædia Brittanica.




Comment citer

Arndt, Matthew. 2024. « A Missa Brevis for Jumping Timelines ». Musiques: Recherches Interdisciplinaires 1 (1). https://doi.org/10.62410/gwyh0z15.