The pianist whom Messiaen made into a priest

He was one of the leading pianists of the 1970s, recorded on Decca and generally regarded as a remarkable artist.

Then he disappeared. Whatever became of Jean-Rodolphe Kars?

The name leaped back to life last week as I reviewed a poor compilation of Liszt cuts and a quick round of research revealed the whole story.

Kars fell in love with Messiaen’s music and his religious faith, following the call (like Liszt) to holy orders. He was baptised in 1976 and became a priest ten years later. No more piano. Only masses and confession.

Here’s his short account (in French) of his spiritual journey. Messiaen told him: ‘being a priest is the most beautiful thing on earth’.

Kars was born Jewish in Calcutta to Austrian parents who fled the Hitler invasion. Raised without faith, he found it in Messiaen.

Here’s video of Kars the pianist and here of Kars the priest.

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  • What a remarkable story! I can well understand how the music and the man (Messiaen) might turn someone to faith. When I heard the Quartet for the End of Time at the Wigmore last winter, I was very moved by its profound spirituality: one does not need to know anything about its composer, nor the circumstances of its creation, to be moved by such music. I could not stop crying at the end – a completely spontaneous response to something extraordinary. On the strength of this experience, I started to learn some of the Vingt Regards. I am not religious, but I find this music incredibly emotionally moving (also very difficult to play!) and I find I can only spend about 30 mins at a time practising it because of the profundity of it and the images it creates…..

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