Organ Meditation for Ascension Day

Organ Recital

Join us for a free and relaxing after-hours Organ Meditation to elevate your spirit on Ascension Day!

Featuring Olivier Messiaen’s powerfully evocative ‘L’Ascension’, played by our Assistant Organist, James Gough with readings by Reverend Canon Kathryn Fleming, Precentor at Southwark Cathedral.


I. Majesté du Christ demandant sa gloire à son Père

II. Alléluias sereins d'une âme qui désire le ciel

III. Transports de joie d'une âme devant la gloire

IV. Prière du Christ montant vers son Père


“My faith is the grand drama of my life,” wrote the French composer and organist Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992). “I’m a believer, so I sing words of God to those who have no faith.”


The first meditation is titled, “Majesty of Christ beseeching His Glory of the Father. ‘Father, the hour is come, glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son may also glorify Thee.’” The majestic, searching call of the trumpet rises over cloudy woodwind sonorities. Silence becomes as important as sound, as chorale statements break off into moments of pause.

The second meditation brings “Serene Alleluias of a Soul yearning for Heaven. ‘We beseech Thee, Almighty God, that we may in mind dwell in Heaven.’” It begins with a unison woodwind statement which suggests plainsong chant. The pastoral voice of the English horn converses with a chorus of birdsongs.

The third meditation, “Outburst of joy from a soul before the Glory of Christ which is its own glory” is a toccata of epic proportion, drawing on the distinctive augmented fourth harmonies of Messiaen’s mode 2. The movement has an unrelenting kinetic energy with ever increasing intensity, which creates this ecstasy as the movement culminates in a frenetic cadenza, transforming the theme into a fluid entity at double tempo, leading into a triumphant and climatic cadence in F# major.

L’Ascension drifts into ethereal transcendence with the concluding meditation, “Prayer of Christ ascending to the Father. ‘I have manifested Thy name unto men… And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to Thee.’ ” This music rises up from a celestial string choir, delivering us to a place of contemplation, lament, and eternal mystery.

James Gough is a highly sought-after recitalist and the Assistant Organist at Southwark Cathedral. He began his organ studies with Huw Tregelles Williams OBE before moving to Bristol where James read Music and continued his organ studies with Dr David Ponsford. In 2009 James completed a Master’s degree in Organ Performance at the Royal Academy of Music, where his principal organ teacher was Nicolas Kynaston. During his time at the Academy James completed the FRCO diploma, as well as the Licentiate diploma of the RAM, and was the recipient of several Academy prizes including the Eric Thiman Organ Prize. In recognition of his achievements he was selected to perform for the visit of Sir Elton John.

As a recitalist, James has played the complete works of J. S. Bach and Cesar Franck, and performed at some of the UK’s most prestigious venues including St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral, The Temple Church and Bath Abbey. Further afield James has given several recitals in France, Germany, Denmark and Sweden, and recent performances have included visits to the Lucerne Festival in Switzerland, the Herforder Orgelsommer in Germany and the Dulwich Festival of Music in London. Forthcoming recitals are planned for Bern, Switzerland, and Osnabrück Dom, Germany, as well as several across the UK.

James recently recorded the Trio Sonatas of J. S. Bach at Clifton Cathedral, which will be released on the Naxos label in May 2024. This project came about following a collaboration with Dame Gillian Weir in which Dame Gillian gave an extensive analysis of the works whilst James played the sonatas as part of an event for the Clifton International Festival of Music.

James is very passionate about contemporary music and has given premieres of works by Piet Kee, Diana Burrell and David Bednall to great acclaim.

He has held positions at St Martin-in-the-Fields, St Bride’s, Fleet Street and St Matthew’s, Westminster, and spent a year covering the Assistant Organist role at Wells Cathedral. Alongside a busy performance career, James teaches the organ at the Royal College of Music Junior Department and at Westminster School.