Messiaen – Turangalîla-Symphonie

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Conductor: Kent Nagano
Soloist: Pierre-Laurent Aimard

The Turangalîla-Symphonie is a large-scale piece of orchestral music by Olivier Messiaen (1908–92). It was written from 1946 to 1948 on a commission by Serge Koussevitzky for the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The premiere was in Boston on 2 December 1949, conducted by Leonard Bernstein. The commission did not specify the duration, orchestral requirements or style of the piece, leaving the decisions to the composer. Koussevitzky was billed to conduct the premiere, but fell ill, and the task fell to the young Bernstein. Bernstein has been described as "the ideal conductor for it, and it made Messiaen's name more widely known". Yvonne Loriod, who later became Messiaen's second wife, was the piano soloist, and Ginette Martenot played the ondes Martenot for the first and several subsequent performances. From 1953, Yvonne's sister Jeanne Loriod was the ondes Martenot player in many performances and recordings.

0:00 I. Introduction: After a frenetic opening, the first (“statue”) theme sounds on trombones and tuba, punctuated by swooping notes on ondes Martenot. The second (“flower”) theme, comprised of gentle notes on a pair of clarinets, provides the first of many contrasting juxtapositions in the piece. After a virtuosic turn on piano, a calculated cacophony of sound takes over, with the “statue” theme reintroduced near the movement’s close.

6:11 II. Chant d’amour 1: The movement begins in strident dissonance before breaking out into contrasting passages of ebullience and lyricism. Dissonance stalks lyricism throughout; hopes of resolution are set up repeatedly only to be dashed.

14:11 III. Turangalîla 1: The movement juxtaposes plaintive notes on winds and ondes Martenot with sonorous passages on trombones and in the orchestra’s lower register. The disparate soundscapes twine together, interspersed with percussive clucking as the movement progresses.

19:16 IV. Chant d’amour 2: A syncopated dance advances and retreats, giving way to a spiraling of sounds incorporating fragments of the “statue” and “flower” themes. A piano cadenza drifts off on gentle notes and chords.

29:38 V. Joie du sang des étoiles (Joy of the blood of the stars): An exuberant bacchanal supplants the fourth movement’s quiet close, with a piano cadenza hurtling toward a triumphant restatement of the “statue” theme as the movement ends.

36:00 VI. Jardin du sommeil d’amour (“Garden of love’s sleep”): In another dramatic shift, the sixth movement offers a return to tranquility. Accompanied by evocation of bird song from the piano, the movement realizes the “love” theme’s full lyricism.

46:38 VII. Turangalîla 2: The dissonant, percussive seventh movement evokes sheer terror. Messiaen, who had in mind Edgar Allen Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum, magnifies the terror of Poe’s fiction exponentially in sound.

50:40 VIII. Développement de l’amour: The movement’s belated “development” of the cyclic “statue,” “flower,” and “love” themes is as fractured as it is dense. Messiaen also introduces a fourth cyclic theme he described as “a simple chain of chords.” Buoyant joy and threatening darkness are bound inextricably, in music as in life.

1:02:14 IX. Turangalîla 3: The third of the Turangalîlas employs a traditional symphonic movement structure, theme and variations. Through inventive orchestration and use of percussion, Messiaen creates a modern soundscape that is elegant and strange at once.

1:06:28 X. Finale: The tenth is the only movement that uses sonata form, with its clear and unequivocal beginning, middle, and end, closing on an extended, resounding tonic chord.

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