Although Messiaen is commonly portrayed as having been disengaged from worldly affairs, his eyes fixed on heaven, many of his works can be shown to possess a subtext of political or social commentary that frames worldly issues in religious rhetoric. In a notable example, the Messe de la Pentecôte for organ (1950), Messiaen dramatizes the Cold War threat of nuclear apocalypse by contrasting a leitmotif he calls the Beast of the Apocalypse with evocations of birdsong that represent peace and freedom. Probably influenced by Picasso's use of birds as symbols of peace and by René Leibowitz's Sartrean calls for artistic commitment, the Mass ends with a chord he describes as an explosion. The work's subtext appears to warn against nuclear catastrophe and to advocate faith in the face of Cold War fear and anxiety.

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