| || || ||The French composer Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992), whose birth centenary is being celebrated this year, is one of the masters of 20th century music. In the recent history of musical culture it is difficult to find such a significant, inimitable and integrated personality. The music of Messiaen, a deeply committed Christian, was the culmination of the religious revival in art. The French master gladly embraced the ecumenical tendencies of the Western church, the idea of a renewed "catholic" - "universal" - faith. As a composer, he created a universal system that combined the achievements of almost all eras and countries: from the singing of birds - "the first musicians on Earth" - and medieval chants to elements of Eastern music and the resources of contemporary musical language.|
Quatuor pour la fin de temps is the work that first brought Messiaen worldwide recognition. The composition also won fame for the unprecedented circumstances of its creation. At the outbreak of the Second World War the composer was called up for active army service, was taken prisoner, and ended up in a German concentration camp. In these difficult conditions Messiaen not only showed staunchness of spirit, supporting his fellow-prisoners, but also found the strength to compose music. After begging sheet music and a pencil from one of the officers, the French master wrote the quartet, whose improbable first performance was given on 15 January 1941 in that very camp - in front of thousands of prisoners in a temperature of -30 on defective instruments. "I have never been listened to with such attention and understanding", Messiaen later recalled.
It is no surprise that circumstances with such a direct association with "the end of time" should have brought about the composer's first reference to the Revelation of St. John the Divine: the quartet is dedicated to "The Angel of the Apocalypse, who raises his hand to heaven, saying: there will be no more Time" (the second and seventh movements of the work are connected with the "appearances" of this Angel). Visions of the Last Judgment appear in the "Interlude", whose "steely gallop" is a reminder of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and in the "Dance of Fury for Seven Trumpets". This dance is the embodiment of the danse macabre, the universal dance of death, destroying all living things in a "furious rotation"...
However, it is not ideas of death, quite natural in the art of the war period, that define the basic concept of the quartet. In his comments on the third movement Messiaen writes: The Abyss - time with its sorrows and weariness. Birds are the antithesis of time: they are our thirst for light, the stars, the rainbow and jubilant songs!" The master contrasted the sorrows of earthly life with the eternal beauty of nature and the infinite mercy of God. It is these images that open the work ("The Liturgy of Crystal", where crystal, whose facets invariably sparkle when viewed from any angle, acts as the substance of infinity), form its central movement ("Praise to the Eternity of Jesus"), and complete it ("Praise to the Immortality of Jesus").
Turangalila, commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, was Messiaen's first large-scale symphonic work. It is one of a group of compositions written between 1945 to 1948 (also including Harawi and Cinq Rechants) that make up a triptych inspired by the story of Tristan and Isolde. This legend, which was for the composer "a symbol of all the lofty poems about love in art", appears in the exotic garb of Oriental mythology - it was in this period that the French master began to draw extensively on non-European cultural traditions in an attempt to extend the boundaries of his music.
The composer's attention was particularly attracted by Ancient India with its cosmogonic Buddhist symbols and raga musical forms that lasted for many hours. Entering into a dialogue with romantic composers - Wagner and Berlioz as the founder of the programme symphony - Messiaen comments on the theme, or, to be more precise, the philosophy of his work as follows: "Lila is the game of creation, and also love; Turanga is movement and rhythm. Turangalila means, at the same time, a song of love, a hymn to joy, movement, rhythm, life and death".
The two contrasting themes of the symphony are similar to the Eastern symbols yin and yang and personify male and female - the motifs of the "statue" and the "flower". The third motif - the theme of love - unites their intonations. The "love" sphere of the composition, linked to the figurative sphere of "Lila", is represented by "The Garden of Love's Sleep", "The Development of Love" and two "Love Songs". Its culmination comes in the movements "The Joy in Blood of the Stars" and the "Finale", called upon also to embody the figurative sphere of "Turanga" - movement and rhythm. The symbolic aspect of the content is concentrated in the movements with the title "Turangalila". Their musical language is intended to reflect all the numerous meanings of Sanskrit phrases - hence the predomination not only of non-thematic sources, but also of other irrational, "disorganised" elements: atonality, structural disconnectedness, levelling of intonations.
The magnificent orchestra in Turangalila dazzles the listener with its colours, while always preserving perfect clarity, in spite of the great number of voices and registers. The percussion instruments, whose number is exceptionally large for a composition of the mid-20th century, are emancipated and assume the status of a group in their own right. The keyboard and metal percussion is a kind of "orchestra within the orchestra", imitating the sound of a gamelan - an Indonesian percussion ensemble. The transcendental complexity of the piano part makes Turangalila almost a concerto for piano and orchestra. The part of the Ondes Martenot - an electric instrument invented in France in the 1920s and widely used primarily in works by French composers - is no less important and varied in relation to registers and ways of playing: from soft bass notes to the paroxysm of a superhigh fortissimo, from a playful whistle to a heart-rending wail and the sounds of a "flying saucer" (8th movement). During the symphony Messiaen demonstrates all the expressive potential of this instrument, but he saves the main effect until last: at the end of the work the timbre of the Ondes Martenot takes on the sound of a high female voice, performing trills on a rising scale in a fantastically high register.
Owing to the extreme demands made of virtually every member of the orchestra, one rarely has the opportunity of hearing Turangalila in a live performance.
The ondes Martenot is an electronic musical instrument with a seven-octave keyboard like a piano's. Unlike the piano, however, this instrument can only produce one sound at a time, but this is compensated for with interest by its rich, full timbre.
The instrument was constructed by the French musician Maurice Martenot. The well-known artist Jeanne Loriod, who played the ondes Martenot in the first performance of the "Turangalila" Symphony, recalls: "Maurice Martenot gave the first demonstration of his creation in Paris on 3 May 1928, before I was born. I first heard it in 1937: its extraordinary sound staggered my imagination! I was just a little girl then, and asked my parents what the sound coming from the Eiffel Tower was... An orchestra consisting of 8 or 9 "Martenot electrophones" was playing on the Tower: I suppose Maurice Martenot's sister Ginette was conducting the orchestra".
Works for the ondes Martenot or including the instrument were written by Darius Milhaud, Andre Jolivet, Arthur Honegger and Edgard Varese. It was also frequently used by Olivier Messiaen. The "Turangalila" Symphony is one of the best-known works featuring the ondes Martenot. As Jeanne Loriod says: "the instrument attracted the composer by its extraordinary musicality and moreover by its unearthly sound, hovering over the whole orchestra... Messiaen was a Catholic, and he expected to hear a sound like that in heaven".