Preludes (Messiaen)

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Préludes pour piano (Preludes for piano) is an early work for piano by the French composer Olivier Messiaen composed in 1928–1929, when the composer was 20 years old. Messiaen considered it to be his first work of any value. [1] The composition is based on Messiaen's modes of limited transposition, [2] and betrays an influence of Debussy's preludes. [3]

The pieces were premiered by the composer in a private performance at the Concerts Durand which took place on January 28, 1930. The first public performance was given by Henriette Puig-Roget on March 1, 1930, at the Salle Érard at the Société Nationale de Musique in Paris. [4] [5]


The work is in eight movements, each accompanied by a description consisting mostly of the associated colors. It takes about 34 minutes to play in full.

Original TitleEnglish TranslationDescription
1La colombeThe DoveOrange, with violet veins.
2Chant d'extase dans un paysage tristeSong of Ecstasy in a Sad LandscapeGray, mauve, Prussian blue at the beginning and end; diamond and silver at the middle.
3Le nombre légerThe Light NumberOrange, with violet veins.
4Instants défuntsDead InstantsSmooth gray with reflections of mauve and green.
5Les sons impalpables du rêveThe Impalpable Sounds of a Dream Polymodal, consisting of a blue-orange mode with a chordal ostinato and cascades of chords, and a violet-purple mode having a copper timbre. Note the pianistic writing, composed of triple notes, rapid passages in chords, canon in contrary motion, hand crossing, various staccatos, brassy louré, gem effects.
6Cloches d'angoisses et larmes d'adieuBells of Anguish and Tears of FarewellThe bells combine several different modes: the "hum" (deep bass) and the upper harmonies of the bells sound with luminous vibrations. The farewell is purple, orange, violet.
7Plainte calmeCalm PlaintSmooth gray with reflections of mauve and green.
8Un reflet dans le ventA Reflection in the WindThe small storm which opens and concludes the piece alternates veins of orange, and green with black stains. The central development section is more luminous. The second theme, very melodious, and wrapped in sinuous arpeggios, is blue-orange in its first occurrence, and green-orange in its second one. Violet, orange and purple dominate the entire piece.

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  1. Letter to Claude Samuel dated July 14, 1986.
  2. Christopher Dingle and Robert Fallon (eds.), Messiaen Perspectives 1: Sources and Influences, Ashgate, page 242.
  3. Wilson, Frances (February 26, 2012). "Messiaen's preludes". The Cross-Eyed Pianist. Retrieved June 8, 2016.
  4. Vincent Benitez, Olivier Messiaen: A Research and Information Guide.
  5. Nigel Simeone, Olivier Messiaen: A Bibliographical Catalogue of Messiaen's Works.