From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

for piano, ondes martenot, and orchestra
by Olivier Messiaen
Olivier Messiaen (1986).jpg
Messiaen (1986)
Other nameTurangalîla
CatalogueSimeone: I/29
Period20th-century music
Commissioned bySerge Koussevitsky
Based onTristan and Iseult
Composed17 July 1946 – 29 November 1948 (rev. 1990)
DedicationIn memoriam Natalie Koussevitsky (manuscript; published copy bears no dedication)
Durationabout 80 minutes
ScoringLarge orchestra, Ondes Martenot, and piano
Date2 December 1949
ConductorLeonard Bernstein
PerformersBoston Symphony Orchestra
Yvonne Loriod (piano)
Ginette Martenot (ondes Martenot)

The Turangalîla-Symphonie is the only symphony by Olivier Messiaen (1908–1992). It was written for an orchestra of large forces from 1946 to 1948 on a commission by Serge Koussevitzky in his wife's memory for the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Along with the Quatuor pour la fin du temps, the symphony is one of the composer's most notable works.

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 trios of soprani, alti, tenors, and basses.[5] It is considered one of the greatest musical compositions of the 20th century; being described by its commissioner as 'the most important piece of classical music ever written since Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring'. A typical performance runs around 80 minutes in length. Messiaen famously summarised the entire symphony as being "a love song; a hymn to joy."[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 (a work Messiaen quotes in the fourth movement), 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, turaṅga (तुरङ्ग) and līlā (लीला), 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 a large orchestra with a particularly large percussion section:

The demanding piano part includes several solo cadenzas.

Cyclic themes[edit]

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.[a]
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

No recording was made of the world premiere, and Bernstein himself did not return to the work in either concert performance or in the recording studio, however a recording exists of part of the rehearsals for the premiere in Boston, featuring the fifth and sixth movements.

It was released in 2013 as part of a set of previously unissued Bernstein recordings (Music and Arts WHRA-6048).

Recordings of Turangalîla-Symphonie
Conductor Orchestra Piano Ondes martenot Label Catalog Released Format Notes
Roger Désormière Orchestre National de la RTF Yvonne Loriod Ginette Martenot INA [full citation needed] 1950 Live recording on 25 July 1950, of the European premiere at the Aix-en-Provence Festival
Hans Rosbaud SWF-Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden Yvonne Loriod Ginette Martenot Wergo WER 6401-2 1992 Recorded 23/24 December, 1951
Maurice Le Roux Orchestre National de la RTF Yvonne 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 Loriod Jeanne Loriod Q Disc [full citation needed] 1967 Live
Seiji Ozawa Toronto Symphony Orchestra Yvonne Loriod Jeanne Loriod RCA [full citation needed] 1967
André Previn London Symphony Orchestra Michel Béroff Jeanne Loriod EMI SLS 5117 1977 Double LP
Louis de Froment Orchestre Symphonique de RTL Yvonne Loriod Jeanne Loriod Forlane [full citation needed] 1982 Live
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 Murail EMI
  • EX270468-3
  • 747463-8
  • LP
  • CD
Myung-Whun Chung Orchestre de l'Opéra Bastille Yvonne Loriod Jeanne Loriod Deutsche Grammophon 0289 431 7812 9 1990 CD First 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-Claverie RCA 09026 61520 2 1992
Yan Pascal Tortelier BBC Philharmonic Howard Shelley Valérie Hartmann-Claverie Chandos CHAN9678 1998 CD
Antoni Wit Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra François Weigel Thomas Bloch Naxos 8.554478-9 December 1998 CD
Hans Vonk Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra Garrick Ohlsson Jean Laurendeau Pentatone [full citation needed] 1999 Live
Kent Nagano Berliner Philharmoniker Pierre-Laurent Aimard Dominique Kim Teldec 8573-82043-2 2001 CD Live recording in March 2000 in Berlin
Norichika Iimori Tokyo Symphony Orchestra Kazuoki Fujii Takashi Harada Canyon [full citation needed] 2001
Ryusuke Numajiri Japan Philharmonic Orchestra Ichiro Nodaira Takashi Harada Exton [full citation needed] 2002 Live
Thierry Fischer BBC National Orchestra of Wales Roger Muraro Jacques Tchamkerten BBC Music [full citation needed] 2006 Live
Hiroyuki Iwaki Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Kaori Kimura Takashi Harada ABC Classics 4812873 2007 CD Live recording in 1985. Re-released 2007.
Sylvain Cambreling SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg Roger Muraro Valérie Hartmann-Claverie Hänssler Classic 93.225 2008 CD
Juanjo Mena Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra Steven Osborne Cynthia Millar Hyperion A67816 2012 CD
Hannu Lintu Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra Angela Hewitt Valérie Hartmann-Claverie Ondine ODE12515 2014 CD
Yutaka Sado Tonkünstler Orchestra Roger Muraro Valérie Hartmann-Claverie Tonkünstler Orchestra TON2005 2018 CD

See also[edit]


  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).


  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. ^ a b c d e 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. ^ a b c d e 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

External links[edit]