Last updated

by Olivier Messiaen
Olivier Messiaen (1986).jpg
Messiaen (1986)
Period 20th-century music
Genre Symphony
Composed1946–1948 (rev. 1990)
Durationabout 80 minutes
ScoringLarge orchestra
Date2 December 1949
Location Boston
Conductor Leonard Bernstein
Performers Boston Symphony Orchestra
Yvonne Loriod (piano)
Ginette Martenot (ondes Martenot)

The Turangalîla-Symphonie is the only symphony by Olivier Messiaen (1908–92). It was written for an orchestra of large forces 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. [1] Koussevitzky was billed to conduct the premiere, but fell ill, and the task fell to the young Bernstein. [2] Bernstein has been described as "the ideal conductor for it, and it made Messiaen's name more widely known". [3] 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. [4]


While most of Messiaen's compositions are religious in inspiration, at the time of writing the symphony the composer was fascinated by the myth of Tristan and Isolde, and the Turangalîla Symphony forms the central work in his trilogy of compositions concerned with the themes of romantic love and death; the other pieces are Harawi for piano with soprano and Cinq rechants for unaccompanied choir. [5] It is considered a 20th-century masterpiece and a typical performance runs around 80 minutes in length. When asked about the meaning of the work's duration in its ten movements and the reason for the use of the ondes Martenot, Messiaen simply replied, "It's a love song." [6]

Although the concept of a rhythmic scale corresponding to the chromatic scale of pitches occurs in Messiaen's work as early as 1944, in the Vingt regards sur l'enfant-Jésus , the arrangement of such durations into a fixed series occurs for the first time in the opening episode of the movement "Turangalîla 2" in this work, and is an important historical step toward the concept of integral serialism. [7]

The title of the work, and those of its movements, were a late addition to the project, chosen after Messiaen made a list of the work's movements. He described the name in his letters from 1947 to 1948. [8] He derived the title from two Sanskrit words, turanga and līlā, which he explained thus: [6]

"Lîla" literally means play – but play in the sense of the divine action upon the cosmos, the play of creation, destruction, reconstruction, the play of life and death. "Lila" is also love. "Turanga": this is the time that runs, like a galloping horse; this is time that flows, like sand in an hourglass. "Turanga" is movement and rhythm. "Turangalîla" therefore means all at once love song, hymn to joy, time, movement, rhythm, life and death.

Messiaen described the joy of Turangalîla as "superhuman, overflowing, blinding, unlimited". [6] He revised the work in 1990. [4]


The piece is scored for:

The demanding piano part includes several solo cadenzas.

Cyclic themes

The ondes Martenot, an electronic instrument, is used in sensuous and dramatic parts of the Turangalila such as the "love theme" Ondes martenot.jpg
The ondes Martenot, an electronic instrument, is used in sensuous and dramatic parts of the Turangalila such as the "love theme"

In writing about the work, Messiaen identified four cyclic themes that reappear throughout; there are other themes specific to each movement. [6] In the score the themes are numbered, but in later writings he gave them names to make them easier to identify, without intending the names to have any other, literary meaning.

Turangalila ex 1.PNG Introduced by trombones and tuba, this is the statue theme. According to Messiaen, it has the oppressive, terrible brutality of ancient Mexican monuments, and has always evoked dread. It is played in a slow tempo, pesante. [lower-alpha 1]
Turangalila ex 2.PNG This is the flower theme. It is introduced by two clarinets.
Turangalila ex 3.PNG This theme, the most important of all, is the love theme. It appears in many different guises, from hushed strings in movement 6, to a full orchestral treatment in the climax of the finale.
Turangalila ex 4.PNG A simple chain of chords, used to produce opposing chords on the piano and crossing counterpoints in the orchestra.


The work is in ten movements, linked by the common themes identified above, and other musical ideas:

  1. Introduction. Modéré, un peu vif
    A "curtain raiser" introducing the "statue theme" and the "flower theme", followed by the body of the movement, which superimposes two ostinato groups with rhythmic punctuations. A reprise of the "statue" theme closes the introduction.
  2. Chant d’amour (Love song) 1. Modéré, lourd
    After an atonal introduction, this movement is built on an alternation of a fast and passionate theme dominated by the trumpets, and a soft and gentle theme for the strings and ondes.
  3. Turangalîla 1. Presque lent, rêveur
    Three themes are stated: one starting with a solo clarinet, the second for low brass and strings, and the third a sinuous theme on the woodwinds. The movement then develops and, later, overlaps the themes, with the addition of a new rhythm in the percussion.
  4. Chant d’amour 2. Bien modéré
    Introduced by a scherzo for piccolo and bassoon, this movement is in nine sections, some of which recall and develop music heard earlier. A calm coda in A major brings it to a close.
  5. Joie du sang des étoiles (Joy of the Blood of the Stars). Vif, passionné avec joie
    A frenetic dance whose main theme is a fast variant of the "statue theme". For Messiaen, it represented the union of two lovers seen as a transformation on a cosmic scale. The dance is interrupted by a shattering piano cadenza before a brief orchestral coda.
  6. Jardin du sommeil d’amour (Garden of Love’s Sleep). Très modéré, très tendre
    The first full rendition of the "love" theme in the strings and ondes is accompanied by idealized birdsong played by the piano, and by other orchestral coloristic effects. According to Messiaen, "The two lovers are enclosed in love's sleep. A landscape comes out from them..."
  7. Turangalîla 2. Un peu vif, bien modéré
    A completely atonal movement that is intended to invoke terror, with a predominant role for the percussion ensemble.
  8. Développement d’amour (Development of Love). Bien modéré
    For Messiaen, the title can be considered in two ways. For the lovers, it is terrible: united by the love potion, they are trapped in a passion growing to the infinite. Musically, this is the work's development section.
  9. Turangalîla 3. Bien modéré
    A theme is introduced by the woodwind. A five-part percussion ensemble introduces a rhythmic series that then sustains a set of superimposed variations on the woodwind theme.
  10. Final. Modéré, presque vif, avec une grande joie
    The movement is in sonata form: A brass fanfare, coupled with a fast variation of the "love theme", is developed and leads to a long coda, a final version of the "love" theme played fortissimo by the entire orchestra. The work ends on an enormous F major chord. In Messiaen's words, "glory and joy are without end".

The composer's initial plan was for a symphony in the conventional four movements, which eventually became numbers 1, 4, 6, and 10. Next, he added the three Turangalîla movements, which he originally called tâlas , a reference to the use of rhythm in Indian classical music. Finally, the 2nd, 5th, and 8th movements were inserted. [9] Early on, Messiaen authorized separate performance of movements 3, 4, and 5, as Three tâlas (not to be confused with the original use of the term for the three Turangalîla movements), but later came to disapprove of the performance of extracts.


Maurice Le Roux conducting the Turangalila-Symphonie Maurice Le Roux 3.jpg
Maurice Le Roux conducting the Turangalila-Symphonie
Recordings of Turangalîla-Symphonie
ConductorOrchestraPianoOndes martenotLabelCatalogReleasedFormatNotes
Roger Désormière Orchestre National de la RTF Yvonne Loriod Ginette Martenot INA [ full citation needed ]1950Live recording on 25 July 1950, of the European premiere at the Aix-en-Provence Festival
Hans Rosbaud SWF-Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden Yvonne LoriodGinette Martenot Wergo WER 6401-21992Recorded 23/24 December, 1951
Maurice Le Roux Orchestre National de la RTFYvonne Loriod Jeanne Loriod Vega/Accord
  • VAL 127
  • Vega C 30 ST 20033/4
  • Vega C 35 X 940
  • Box set
  • 10-inch LPs
Recording supervised by Messiaen in 1961. Released in France
Jean Fournet Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Yvonne LoriodJeanne LoriodQ Disc[ full citation needed ]1967Live
Seiji Ozawa Toronto Symphony Orchestra Yvonne LoriodJeanne Loriod RCA [ full citation needed ]1967
André Previn London Symphony Orchestra Michel Béroff Jeanne Loriod EMI SLS 51171977Double LP
Louis de Froment Orchestre Symphonique de RTL Yvonne LoriodJeanne Loriod Forlane [ full citation needed ]1982Live
Esa-Pekka Salonen Philharmonia Orchestra Paul Crossley Tristan Murail
  • I2M 42126
  • G010003836824C
  • 1985
  • 2018
  • 2 LPs
  • CD
Simon Rattle City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Peter Donohoe Tristan MurailEMI
  • EX270468-3
  • 747463-8
  • LP
  • CD
Myung-Whun Chung Orchestre de l'Opéra Bastille Yvonne LoriodJeanne Loriod Deutsche Grammophon 0289 431 7812 91990CDFirst recording of the revised version, supervised by Messiaen.
Riccardo Chailly Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Jean-Yves Thibaudet Takashi Harada Decca
  • 1993
  • 2012
  • CD
Marek Janowski Orchestre philharmonique de Radio France Roger Muraro Valérie Hartmann-ClaverieRCA[ full citation needed ]1992
Yan Pascal Tortelier BBC Philharmonic Howard Shelley Valérie Hartmann-Claverie Chandos CHAN96781998CD
Antoni Wit Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra François Weigel Thomas Bloch Naxos 8.554478-9December 1998CD
Hans Vonk Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra Garrick Ohlsson Jean Laurendeau Pentatone [ full citation needed ]1999Live
Kent Nagano Berliner Philharmoniker Pierre-Laurent Aimard Dominique Kim Teldec 8573-82043-22001CDLive recording in March 2000 in Berlin
Norichika Iimori Tokyo Symphony Orchestra Kazuoki FujiiTakashi Harada Canyon [ full citation needed ]2001
Ryusuke Numajiri Japan Philharmonic Orchestra Ichiro NodairaTakashi HaradaExton[ full citation needed ]2002Live
Thierry Fischer BBC National Orchestra of Wales Roger MuraroJacques Tchamkerten BBC Music [ full citation needed ]2006Live
Hiroyuki Iwaki Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Kaori KimuraTakashi Harada ABC Classics 48128732007CDLive recording in 1985. Re-released 2007.
Sylvain Cambreling SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und FreiburgRoger MuraroValérie Hartmann-Claverie Hänssler Classic 93.2252008CD
Juanjo Mena Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra Steven Osborne Cynthia Millar Hyperion A678162012CD
Hannu Lintu Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra Angela Hewitt Valérie Hartmann-Claverie Ondine ODE125152014CD
Yutaka Sado Tonkünstler Orchestra Roger MuraroValérie Hartmann-Claverie Tonkünstler Orchestra TON20052018CD

See also


  1. This example is taken from the CD booklet included with the Chung recording. [6] It was written in Messiaen's own hand, and has the low D (D2) assigned to the third trombone as shown. However, in the published 1990 score, [4] the note is written an octave higher (D3).

Related Research Articles

Olivier Messiaen French composer, organist and ornithologist (1908–1992)

Olivier Eugène Prosper Charles Messiaen was a French composer, organist, and ornithologist who was one of the major composers of the 20th century. His music is rhythmically complex; harmonically and melodically he employs a system he called modes of limited transposition, which he abstracted from the systems of material generated by his early compositions and improvisations. He wrote music for chamber ensembles and orchestra, vocal music, as well as for solo organ and piano, and also experimented with the use of novel electronic instruments developed in Europe during his lifetime.

Yvonne Loriod

Yvonne Louise-Georgette Loriod-Messiaen was a French pianist, teacher, and composer, and the second wife of composer Olivier Messiaen. Her sister was the Ondes Martenot player Jeanne Loriod.

Gilles Tremblay (composer) Canadian composer

Gilles Tremblay, was a Canadian composer from Quebec.

Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus is a suite of 20 pieces for solo piano by the French composer Olivier Messiaen (1908–1992). The work is a meditation on the infancy of Jesus. It was composed in 1944 for Yvonne Loriod. A typical performance lasts about two hours.

Jean-Yves Malmasson is a French composer and conductor.

Thomas Bloch

Thomas Bloch is a classical musician specializing in the rare instruments ondes Martenot, glass harmonica, and Cristal Baschet.

Jeanne Blanche Armande Loriod was a French musician, regarded as the world's leading exponent of the ondes Martenot, an early electronic instrument.

Feuillets inédits is a piece of music by Olivier Messiaen for piano and ondes Martenot. It is not known when the work was composed but it was put together by the composer's second wife Yvonne Loriod and published in 2001. The manuscript of the fourth part of the work was entitled "Déchiffrage" (deciphering).

Harawi is a song cycle for soprano and piano, written by Olivier Messiaen in 1945.

<i>Des Canyons aux étoiles...</i>

Des canyons aux étoiles... is a large twelve-movement orchestral work by the French composer Olivier Messiaen. American Alice Tully commissioned the piece in 1971 to celebrate the bicentenary of the United States Declaration of Independence. In 1972, while preparing the work, Messiaen visited Utah, where he was inspired by the birds and the landscape, particularly at colourful Bryce Canyon. It received its premiere in 1974. Performances of the work can have a duration in the range of 90 to 100 minutes.

Trois petites liturgies de la présence divine is a 1944 piece by Olivier Messiaen for women's voices, piano solo, ondes Martenot, and orchestra, in three movements. The libretto for the piece was written by Messiaen himself.

Concert à quatre is one of the final works of the French composer Olivier Messiaen. It is written for four solo instruments and orchestra.

Ginette Martenot (1902–1996) was a French pianist, and an expert and leading performer on the twentieth-century electronic instrument the ondes Martenot, which was invented by her brother Maurice. At the age of sixteen, she entered the Paris Conservatory, where she studied counterpoint and fugue with the composer Arthur Honegger. She gave the first performance as solo ondist in Messiaen's Turangalîla-Symphonie, with Yvonne Loriod taking the solo piano part.

Ondes Martenot Early electronic musical instrument

The ondes Martenot or ondes musicales is an early electronic musical instrument. It is played with a keyboard or by moving a ring along a wire, creating "wavering" sounds similar to a theremin. A player of the ondes martenot is called an ondist.

The keyboard section of an orchestra or concert band includes keyboard instruments. Keyboard instruments are not usually a standard member of a 2010-era orchestra or concert band, but they are included occasionally. In orchestras from the 1600s to the mid-1750s, a keyboard instrument such as the pipe organ or harpsichord normally played with an orchestra, with the performer improvising chords from a figured bass part. This practice, called basso continuo, was phased out after 1750.

Quatre Études de rythme is a set of four piano compositions by Olivier Messiaen, written in 1949 and 1950. A performance of them lasts between 15 and 20 minutes.

French electronic music is a panorama of French music that employs electronic musical instruments and electronic music technology in its production.

Fête des belles eaux is a 1937 composition by French composer Olivier Messiaen. The work is scored for six ondes Martenots and was commissioned for the 1937 Paris Exhibition. The work was written to accompany the movement of the fountains at the Exhibition.

Guy Morançon French composer and organist

Guy Morançon is a French composer and organist.


  1. Program notes provided with the Naxos Records recording by the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra with François Weigel (piano), Thomas Bloch (ondes Martenot) and Antoni Wit (conductor).
  2. Thomas Barker, "The Social and Aesthetic Situation of Olivier Messiaen's Religious Music: Turangalîla-Symphonie." International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music. 43, no. 1 (2012): 53–70; citation on 53
  3. Andrew Ford (2012). Try Whistling This: Writings about Music. Collingwood, Victoria.: Black Inc. p. 261. ISBN   9781863955713.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Full score, pub, Durand.
  5. Peter Hill and Nigel Simeone (2005). Messiaen. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. ISBN   0-300-10907-5.[ page needed ]
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 Messiaen, Olivier (2004) [1991]. Turangalîla-Symphonie (CD liner booklet). Orchestre de l'Opéra Bastille, Myung-whun Chung, Yvonne Loriod, Jean Loriod. Deutsche Grammophon. p. 1. DG 431 781–2.; Page, Tim (20 February 2002). "Live Online: Classical Music Forum". The Washington Post. Retrieved 11 July 2020.
  7. Robert Sherlaw Johnson, Messiaen, revised and updated edition (Berkeley: University of California Press. 1989): 94, 192.
  8. Hill 2005, 172
  9. Hill 2005, 171