Harawi is the first part of Messiaen's 'Tristan Trilogy', preceding the Turangalîla Symphony and the Cinq Rechants (both completed in 1948). The cycle takes its name from the 'Harawi' or 'Yaravi', a love song genre of Andean music which often ends with the death of the two lovers, thus providing a vehicle from the composer's exploration of the theme of love-death central to the myth of Tristan and Isolde. These themes are explicitly stated in the work's subtitle: "Chant d'amour et de mort" ("Song of love and death"). The ideas of love-death may have had a deeper personal significance to Messiaen, whose first wife, Claire Delbos had begun to suffer from mental illness in the years preceding Harawi's composition. Though the work bears no explicit dedication to Delbos, it is impossible to consider that her condition cannot have been at the forefront of the composer's mind while working on the cycle.
The text of Harawi is Messiaen's own (as is the case for all almost all of the composer's vocal works) following Wagner's music dramas of and Debussy who set his own symbolist poetry in his four Proses Lyriques. Messiaen's text is highly surrealist, and generally comprises isolated symbols, raised to the ultimate symbolic ideal in that they are emancipated from grammatical on syntactical constructions, as demonstrated by the cycle's second movement 'Bonjour toi, colombe verte': "Etoile enchaînée, Ombre partagée, Toi, de fleur, de fruit, de ciel, et d'eau, Chant des oiseaux" ("Enchained Star, Shared shadow, Thou of flower, fruit, sky and water, Bird song.") In addition to the French text, Harawi also uses Quechua[unreliable source?] words, not for their semantic meaning, but for their sound, that is, their timbral qualities. For example, the fourth movement, 'Doundou Tchil', uses these two words onomatopoeically to represent the ankle bells used by Peruvian-Indian dancers. The eighth, 'Syllabes', uses repetitions of the word 'pia' to simulate the cries of apes, descending from a Quechua legend in which these animals' cries rescued a prince from danger.
A typical performance of Harawi lasts about 50 minutes; the cycle's twelve movements being as follows:
- La ville qui dormait, toi (The City That Slept, You)
- Bonjour toi, colombe verte (Hello There, You Green Dove)
- Montagnes (Mountains)
- Doundou tchil
- L'amour de Piroutcha (Piroutcha's Love)
- Répétition planétaire (Planetary Repetition)
- Adieu (Farewell)
- Syllabes (Syllables)
- L'escalier redit, gestes du soleil (Staircase Retold, Gestures of the Sun)
- Amour oiseau d'étoile (Love Star-bird)
- Katchikatchi les étoiles (Katchikatchi the Stars)
- Dans le noir (In the Dark)
- Daphénéo, 3534610812038, distribution Codaex, record. Conservatoire de Montreuil, October 2008
- Erato, 2292-45505-2/IX ECD 75501, record. Studio 107 Radio-France, Paris, February 1988
- This assertion may be a mistake, 'Doundou Tchil' means nothing in Quechua and even is at variance with Quechua phonetics.