Messiaen wrote the Turangalîla-symphonie from 1946 to 1948. It was a commission by Serge Koussevitzky for the Boston Symphony orchestra, but he left Messiaen to decide the form and content of the piece.
Originally, the Turangalîla-symphonie was a more traditional form with 4 movements, but Messiaen added to this until it reached 10 movements.
The use of the electronic instrument, the Ondes Martenot gives the work a unique voice of it’s own. The sound can be stretched evoking hypnotic worlds adding brilliance and expansiveness to huge tutti moments.
The word Turangalîla is from Sanskrit meaning lovesong. Messiaen chose the title for both the meaning and the sound of the word!
Turangalîla has many inspirations including: the medieval legend Tristan and Isolde, German philosopher Schopenhauer, Hindu rhythms and birdsong. Click here to watch a film about birdsong in Turangalîla.
It is worth noting that although the majority of Messiaen’s works are influenced by Catholicism, Tristan and Isolde is a secular myth.
It is possible to know nothing about Turangalîla and just be prepared to let the music wash over you - experience the sound world it creates and be emotionally moved.
You can take time to get to know the main themes and character of each movement connecting with Messiaen’s ability to create specific emotional sound worlds and develop material.
Movement 1: Introduction
There is a jaunty opening gesture followed by an introduction of two of the main themes: firstly the brass play the ‘statue theme’, which consists of 7 continuous brass chords intended to evoke dread and terror. Later we hear the ‘flower theme’ introduced by two clarinets.
A piano cadenza follows, which is famously technically challenging.
Movement 2: Chant d’amour 1 (song of love)
This movement is an exploration of the high energy of physical love, alternating with slow gentle tender love.
Movement 3: Turangalîla 1
We hear a melody shared between clarinet and ondes martenot – this is an atmospheric movement and has been associated with death and pain.
Movement 4: Chant d’amour 2
This movement begins with a pointy solo for piccolo and bassoon representing the playfulness of love which grows more passionate. The thematic material is developed into lavish tutti gestures. Listen out for the return of the statue and flower themes.
Movement 5: Joie du sang des étoiles (joy of the blood and the stars)
This movement represents the union of two lovers on a cosmic scale. It is a frenetic dance using the Statue theme. Notice how the statue theme represents dread and terror. Messiaen used this to represent the highest form of lovers union, which reflects Schopenhauer’s psychology that the ultimate bond for lovers is in the death.
This movement was the last to be added to the composition.
Movement 6: Jardin du sommeil d’amour (Garden of love’s sleep)
Strings open this movement with the love theme, a slow calm sequence of harmonies. It is accompanied by birdsong gestures from the piano and other instruments.
A sense of peaceful serenity pervades, as complete trust is achieved between the lovers.
Movement 7: Turangalîla 2
An atmosphere of terror is created here with the use of atonality.
The use of percussion and insistent rhythms helps to achieve the terrifying atmosphere.
Movement 8: Dévelopment de l’amour (the growth of love)
Tristan and Isolde’s love potion has put the lovers on an irreversible path, resulting in the complete union of death.
This music represents their obsession with each other.
Earlier themes are expanded in quick alternation.
The brass statue theme appears again.
Movement 9: Turangalîla 3
Woodwind open the movement with a theme, which is then superimposed upon itself.
Percussion is used to heighten the effect.
Movement 10: Final
A jazz style brass fanfare opens this movement.
Variations on the love theme are heard and the orchestra reaches climactic moments, causing the orchestra to display dazzling explosions of sound.
The final chord is an infinite wall of light as the lovers travel into oneness and infinity.
OLIVIER MESSIAEN 1908 – 1992
French composer, organist and teacher.
Messiaen taught himself the piano and entered the Paris Conservatoire at the age of 11.
Messiaen’s influences include: traditional French organ music, Catholicism, Indian music, birdsong and other twentieth century composers such as Debussy, Bartók and Stravinsky.
The most important things in his life were God, love and nature.
- Rhapsody On A Theme Of Paganini
- Bartók Concerto For Orchestra
- Bartók The Miraculous Mandarin
- Beethoven Egmont
- Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5
- Beethoven Symphony No. 9
- Berg 3 Pieces, Op. 6
- Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique
- Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2
- Britten In Memoriam Dennis Brain
- Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1
- Bruckner Symphony No. 4
- Debussy Images
- Debussy Jeux
- Debussy La Mer
- Mahler Symphony No. 6
- Mahler Symphony No. 7
- Mahler Symphony No. 9
- Mendelssohn Violin Concerto
- Messiaen Turangalīla-symphonie
- Mozart Horn Concerto No. 4
- Mozart Piano Concerto No. 27
- Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No 2
- Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 3
- Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 4
- Rachmaninov Symphony No. 2
- Ravel La Valse
- Ravel Piano Concerto in D
- Ravel Piano Concerto in G Major
- Schumann Symphony No. 1
- Schoenberg 5 Pieces
- Schoenberg Gurrelieder
- Schoenberg Verklärte Nacht
- Sibelius Karelia Suite
- Sibelius Symphony No. 2
- Strauss Don Juan
- Strauss Horn Concerto No.1
- Stravinsky The Firebird Suite
- Stravinsky Rite of Spring
- Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4
- Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6
- Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D
- Vaughan Williams A Sea Symphony
- Vaughan Williams London Symphony
- Vaughan Williams The Pilgrim's Progress