2 Tempo 63 (247) 2–18 © 2009 Cambridge University Press

doi:10.1017/S0040298209000011 Printed in the United Kingdom
«tssiat· a·n rnt ·orio·
or i·riut·ct
Julian Anderson
In 1989, I bought a CD in Paris of the early piano music of André
Like many non-French musicians, I had read the name of
Jolivet but heard little of his music. Jolivet’s reputation as Varèse’s lead-
ing pupil and the extreme avant-gardist of the pre-World War II group
La Jeune France seemed completely at odds with his conventional post-
War music occasionally broadcast on Radio 3, such as the Concertos for
Trumpet, Piano or Ondes Martenot – music which suggested not fully
assimilated influences of Honegger or Hindemith, with little obvious-
ly adventurous about it in its rhythmically conservative phrasing and
standard formal shapes.
The CD came as a shock. Stylistically the extraordinary1935 piano
suite Mana had clearly had a strong impact on the young Boulez, who
would have surely known this music from Messiaen’s private analyses
classes, which he is known to have attended in 1944–5. Boulez’s 1945
Notations for piano frequently inhabit the same elliptical, sharply-etched
pianistic and harmonic world.
But what really surprised was the open-
ing of the third movement of the 1939 Danses Rituelles, entitled Danse
Nuptiale. In spite of this being my first encounter with the music, this
opening seemed very familiar indeed: see Ex. 1.
Jolivet Mana and Danses Rituelles, performed by Jacqueline Mefano (piano) on ADDA 581042,
issued in 1988.
For the most striking instance of this compare the opening bars of Mana with the figuration
and harmony in the seventh of Boulez’s Notations for piano. Furthermore the piano figura-
tion, abruptness and aphoristic brevity of the whole opening movement of Mana are echoed
in the first of the Boulez Notations.



Example 1:
Bars 3–6 of Jolivet’s Danse Nuptiale
followed by harmonic summary of
3-chord progression in those bars.
© copyright 1939 by Durand & Cie.
«tssiat· a·n rnt ·orio· or i·riut·ct 3
In fact I had heard this harmony many times before, not in the music
of Jolivet but in several works by his Jeune France colleague Olivier
Messiaen. Ex. 2 is from the opening song in Messiaen’s 1945 song cycle
Harawi. As can be seen, here Messiaen, startlingly, takes the chord pro-
gression opening Jolivet’s Danse Nuptiale note for note, at exact pitch
level, thereafter immediately transposing it down one whole tone. The
entire progression, comprising both the original Jolivet sequence and its
transposed form, is then immediately repeated. The subject matter of
the first song in Harawi – the encounter between lovers – may have sug-
gested a parallel in Messiaen’s mind with the subject of Jolivet’s ‘nuptial
dance’, which he therefore alluded to as music appropriate to the dra-
matic situation in this first song of Harawi.
At any rate, it is by far the
most chromatic harmony in the entire song, which is otherwise in G
major with slight octotonic and other modal inflections.
In fact Messiaen had already used the chord progression from Jolivet
in the first of his Trois Petites Liturgies (see Ex. 3a) at the words ‘soleil
de sang, d’oiseaux’ in broken arpeggio form. Again, in the context of
the mild, predominantly diatonic atmosphere of the first section of
the music, the sharply coloured chromaticism of this new harmonic
progression comes as a considerable surprise, probably intended by
Messiaen as illustration of the sun-drenched imagery of his poem at this
Whether or not Jolivet himself was ever aware of the extensive use to
which Messiaen put his progression,
it continued to haunt Messiaen’s
music for the next 14 years. In Messiaen it is often (though not always)
followed, as in the example from Harawi, by its transposition down a
whole tone, and usually occurs at moments of drama or tension. Ex. 3b
shows its violent, pivotal intrusion into the piano work Cantéyodjayâ as
Example 2:
Bars 5–6 of Messien’s Harawi
(song 1), piano part only. The
entire double progression is
repeated in bars 7–6.
© copyright 1948 by
A. Leduc & Cie.
When I gave this paper at the Messiaen Centenary Conference in Birmingham in June 2008,
the French musicologist and Jolivet expert Lucie Kayas kindly informed me of her recent
discovery that in 1941, whilst in Vichy after repatriation from his imprisonment in Silesia,
Messiaen gave a radio talk (together with fellow composer Daniel Lesur) about their Jeune
France colleague Jolivet. Fascinatingly, and with most relevance to the present article, Lucie
Kayas says that documents indicate Messiaen performed Jolivet’s Danse Nuptiale over the air
during this talk. This confirms that the work was both in Messiaen’s mind and at his finger-
tips around these years.
Messiaen scholar Christopher Dingle has kindly drawn my attention to the prior use of this
chord progression in Visions de l’Amen (in movt. II, p. 13, last system, piano1 and in movt.
V, p. 54, last bar, piano 2). These uses being more or less as accompanimental figuration, I
still count the progression’s appearance in the opening Liturgie as its first main appearance
in Messiaen’s music. Messiaen’s analysis of Visions refers to the progression as ‘columns of
air in mobile resonances (like the wind [blowing] through trees)’ (see Traité de rhythme, de
couleur et d’ortnithologie, ed. Loriod., Editions Leduc, Paris, 1996, vol. III. p. 238 and p. 261).
Messiaen does not refer to the origins of the progression in Jolivet, here or anywhere else.
In Peter Hill and Nigel Simeone’s Messiaen, there is a tantalizing quote from Messiaen’s diary
of 16

March, just after completing the Liturgies, which shows Messiaen reminding himself
to ‘give the score to Désormière, Jolivet, Martenot, (and Delapierre)’. Désormière was to
conduct the première, Martenot’s sister Ginette was to play ondes in the première, whilst
Delapierre hosted Messiaen’s private analysis classes at this time. As there is no administra-
tive reason why Jolivet should have been given a copy at such an early stage, this entry shows
that he and Messiaen were still in close and frequent contact on compositional matters.
rt«ro 4
a barbaric dance in additive rhythm. This is perhaps the Jolivet progres-
sion’s most extended appearance in Messiaen’s music, as it comprises
roughly 90% of the harmonic material of this entire section of the work
(more than a page of the score). The same progression is re-used for
the repeated, hysterical exclamations on the words ‘Ha! Ha! Ha! Soif !’
(‘Ha! Thirst!’) in the first of the Cinq rechants (see score of Cinq Rechants,
p.2 lowest system, p.5 middle system, p.9 middle system). On its final
appearance in Cinq Rechants, the last of the three chords has a major
third added above its top pitch – the only time Messiaen used this added
pitch B in the progression.
Its other appearances in Messiaen’s music are too numerous to men-
tion here, but its final appearance in this form, as late as 1958–9 in the
final version of La Rousserolle Effarvatte from the Catalogue d’Oiseaux, is
notably different from earlier uses in several regards (see Ex. 3c). First,
here the progression is explicitly associated with an image from nature
– the néaphurs are the water lilies in the pools of the Sologne reed beds,
which suggests that by this time the Jolivet chords had acquired a col-
our-correspondence in Messiaen’s mind. Second, it is surrounded with
phrases of a melody first used by Messiaen in the second movement of
the Turangalîla-Symphony (and subsequently re-used in Cinq Rechants
as well as elsewhere).
Thirdly, this is by far the gentlest and most con-
templative instance in Messiaen’s music of this densely chromatic
See full score of Turangalîla-Symphonie, mvt. II, p. 44, last two bars et seq., parts for Flute 1
and Bassoon 1.
Example 3a:
Trois Petites Liturgies first movement,
fig. 3: the same chord progression
used as broken chords and melodic
line (returns identically in the final
section of same movement).
© copyright 1946 by Durand & Cie.
Example 3b:
Canteyodjayâ, p. 12, middle two
systems. The top two staves have
the Jolivet progression, first at pitch,
then transposed down a whole tone.
(Entire sequence is repeated.)
© copyright 1954 by Universal
Edition, Vienna.
«tssiat· a·n rnt ·orio· or i·riut·ct 5
Even this was not the end of the story. For Chronochromie, composed
in 1959–60, Messiaen made a new adaptation of the Jolivet chords.
Hitherto, the original 3-chord progression had been characterized by
an inverted pedal G as the top pitch common to all three chords.
But in
Chronochromie Messiaen got rid of the inverted pedal G, replacing it with
a rotating pattern in the top part derived from the retrograde inversion
of the lowest part of the chord progression. The newly swivelling, cir-
cular motion between treble and bass parts caused Messiaen to coin the
term ‘turning chords’ for the resultant 3-chord progression (see Ex. 4).
Example 3c:
pp. 25–6 of La Rousserole Effarvatte.
The Jolivet progression and its
transposition down a whole tone are
marked with X. The surrounding
melody is from Turangalîla.
© copyright 1960 by
A. Leduc & Cie.
This type of inverted pedal, effectively a treble drone below which complex harmonic pro-
gressions are perceived, was used occasionally by Messiaen but was to become most charac-
teristic of Boulez from Le Marteau onwards, Stockhausen, Berio from the mid-1960s, as well
as of younger composers as varied as Jean-Claude Eloy, Gilbert Amy, Tristan Murail, Peter
Eötvös and Michael Jarrell. Most of Boulez’s Répons is composed against inverted pedals in
the treble, especially a high B (two octaves above middle C). Most of Stockhausen’s Gruppen
uses a (12-note) sequence of such inverted pedals, and the whole of the first act of his opera
Donnerstag aus Licht uses a pedal high C in the same register.
Example 4:
Gensis of the ‘turning chords’ from
the original Jolivet progression.
rt«ro 6
Unlike the Jolivet original, which Messiaen always used either at its
original pitch level (or its octave duplicate), or else transposed down a
whole tone, these ‘turning chords’ could now be used at any pitch level
at all, as if by altering them as shown in Ex.4, Messiaen had definitively
taken ownership of the progression and freed it of any previous associa-
tions. At any rate, it features prominently in the harmonic vocabulary
of not only Chronochromie but also Sept Haïkaï, Couleurs de la Cité Céleste,
La Transfiguration, and all Messiaen’s later works. In fact the turning
chords are the last harmony to be heard in La Transfiguration before the
concluding E-major chord.
The surprisingly long-range ramifications of this chord progres-
sion from Jolivet’s Danses Rituelles lead one to suspect that it is not the
only instance of Messiaen borrowing from this composer. The earlier
piano work Mana seems the logical place to start searching, not least as
Messiaen famously wrote a laudatory preface to the published score.

The search turns out to be a fruitful one. To anyone with a good work-
ing knowledge of Turangalîla, Ex.5 should be self-explanatory. It is
evident from this that the main theme of movement 4, Chant d’amour
II, was derived by Messiaen conjoining two separate melodic figures in
Mana. As before, the pitch-classes are adopted exactly, not transposed,
thus making the debt to Jolivet absolutely open and clear. (The rhythmic
syntax is quite different, however – here Messiaen’s rhythms are squarer
than Jolivet’s.). Having collated these two melodic passages from Mana
into a new melody of his own, Messiaen appended the Turangalîla
statue-theme’s upper notes to round the melody off.
When I gave this paper in June 2008 at the Birmingham Messiaen Conference, colleagues
pointed out that the musicologist Cheong Wai-Ling, who has done much research on
Messiaen’s chords, had spotted that the ‘turning chords’ used from Chronochromie onwards
are a later form of the progression first used in Visions de l’Amen. I have not to date been able
to see the relevant article by Cheong. The precise analysis of the connexion between the
two forms of the chord progression in this article is my own. To the best of my knowledge,
neither Wai-Ling nor anyone else has until now noticed that this chord progression was bor-
rowed note-for-note from Jolivet’s Danse Nuptiale.
See Messiaen, ‘Introduction au Mana d’André Jolivet’, in the score of Jolivet Mana (Editions
Costallat, Paris, 1946). This was a slightly revised version of an article,‘Le Mana de Jolivet’,
originally published in the musical review La Sirène in December 1937. It was recently
reprinted in the two-volume edition of Jolivet’s complete writings André Jolivet: Écrits, ed. C.
Jolivet-Erlih (Paris: Editions Delatour France, 2006), vol. II, pp. 759–61.
The statue theme duly plays a crucial role in the final tutti of this movement (see Turangalîla-
Symphonie, full score, pp. 156–159, parts for trombones and tuba) where its appearance clari-
fies its relationship to the main theme of the movement, as both occur simultaneously.
Example 4 continued:
Gensis of the ‘turning chords’ from
the original Jolivet progression.
Example 5:
Genesis of scherzo theme of Chant
d’Amour II by the combination of
two fragments of Jolivet’s Mana,
with the addition of the ‘statue’
© copyright 1946 by
Éditions Costallat.
«tssiat· a·n rnt ·orio· or i·riut·ct 7
A less prominent but no less definite adaptation is found in the
opening page of Mana, from which Messiaen adapted a broken-chord
aggregate with minimal change as the refrain chord for the song of the
Ortolan Bunting in Le traquet stapazin from the Catalogue d’Oiseaux.
Again the exactness of pitch-level makes the borrowing absolutely clear.
This chord pattern is very prominent in Messiaen’s piece as it occurs
numerous times in the work (see Exx. 6a and 6b).
Example 5 continued:
Genesis of scherzo theme of Chant
d’Amour II by the combination of
two fragments of Jolivet’s Mana,
with the addition of the ‘statue’
© copyright 1946 by
Éditions Costallat.
Example 6a:
Extract from Jolivet Mana, last
system of movement 1, bars 1–3.
© copyright 1946 by
Éditions Costallat.
rt«ro 8
Returning to the final movement, Pégase, of Jolivet’s Mana, the
very prolonged octave-doubled monody at its heart, already cited as a
source for the theme of Turangalîla’s Chant d’Amour II, had an effect on
an earlier Messiaen composition, Force et Agilité des Corps Glorieux from
the 1939 organ cycle Les Corps Glorieux. The radical reduction of most
of this movement to an octave-doubled monody was surely prompted
by Messiaen’s admiration for the similarly obsessive monodies in the
Pégase movement of Mana. More specifically, the persistently repeat-
ed, roulade-upbeat which starts the majority of phrases in Messiaen’s
movement is in fact a transposition up a whole tone of the same figure
starting many of the phrases in Jolivet’s Pégase (compare Exx. 7a and 7b).
Messiaen’s singular success in building an entire movement from a pow-
erful octave-doubled monody, probably inspired by Jolivet’s Pégase, had
important consequences in his music. The Danse de Fureur from his next
work, the Quatuor pour la fin du temps (1940–1) consists of just such an
octave-doubled monody, up to that time a unique texture in a chamber
music movement.
Jolivet introduced important concepts of harmonic generation,
derived from acoustics, which were to have a crucial effect not only on
Messiaen but, via him, on many later composers. It seems that Jolivet
derived these concepts from his reading of Helmholtz’s theoretical
In any case, Jolivet used the acoustical phenomenon of differ-
ential tones as a source of harmonization. The following example (Ex.8)
The important book André Jolivet – Portraits, ed. Lucie Kayas and Leatitia Chassain-Dolliou
(Actes Sud, 1994) clarifies that Jolivet had a working knowledge of Helmholtz’s theoreti-
cal writings. (See article in this volume by Bridget Conrad ‘Le Language Musical d’André
Jolivet’, pp. 87–122, esp. pp. 103–4). I am also grateful to Christopher Dingle for pointing out
that Jolivet’s knowledge of Helmholtz would surely have been due to his teacher Edgard
Varèse, with whom he studied for several years in the later 1920s and early 30s.
Conrad, op. cit., pp. 103–5. That example is a clarification of the example in Jolivet Réponse
à une enquête in Contrepoints ( January 1946), recently reprinted in the two-volume edition of
his complete writings (see C. Jolivet-Erlih, op. cit., Vol.1, pp. 190–4). Serge Gut’s analysis of
this same passage is erroneous (see Serge Gut, La Groupe de Jeune France, Honoré Champion,
Paris, 1977, p. 53).
Example 6b:
Extract from Messiaen Le Traquet
Strapazin, page 1, second system,
bar 2 (this music recurs six times
in the work).
© copyright 1960 by
A. Leduc & Cie.
Example 7a:
Extract from Jolivet Mana, last
movement (‘Pegase’), p. 15, bar
2. Note the upward flourish (this
recurs many times).
© copyright 1946 by
Éditions Costallat.
Example 7b:
Opening of Messiaen Force et Agilité
des Corps Glorieux. The flourish
at the start is the Jolivet flourish
transposed up a whole tone. Almost
every phrase of the movement starts
with it.
© copyright 1942 by
A. Leduc & Cie.
«tssiat· a·n rnt ·orio· or i·riut·ct 9
is based upon an article by Jolivet published in 1946, properly explained
for the first time by Bridget Conrad.
This shows a chord – the second
of the three chords Messiaen borrowed from the Danse Nuptiale – being
re-harmonized with a lower-tritone in the bass on its re-appearance in
the middle of the piece. As shown in the example Jolivet derived the
added lower tritone by subtracting the difference between the frequen-
cies of two pitches in the original chord, and then going on to produce a
secondary difference tone.
Jolivet referred to these two added lower pitches variously as result-
ants inférieurs or resultants graves.
It has been established that Jolivet
and Messiaen had an exceptionally close friendship in the later 1930s,
which included long one-to-one technical conversations.
It seems
clear that at some point Jolivet explained this novel harmonic procedure
in detail to Messiaen, as the latter used precisely these means, and the
same terminology, to generate his ‘chords of contracted resonance’.
My discovery of exactly how acoustically these chords were generated
is shown in Ex.9 – Messiaen’s own explanation was never acoustically
precise. Messiaen takes a chord – a dominant ninth in A-flat major – then
appends each note of that chord with an anticipating ‘appogiatura’ of
his own chosing. From amongst the pitches of both these chords, he
then selects four which are used to derive, by means of calculating their
acoustical difference tones, what he terms double son resultant grave
– a
term directly borrowed from Jolivet. Finally, this ‘double low resultant
sound’ is octave transposed into the middle register to sit next to a pair
of chords using all the pitch content of the two chords in the second
See C.Jolivet-Erlih, op. cit., p, 191.
See for example Hilda Jolivet’s memoir of an evening-long visit to the Messiaen household
in 1934, dominated by a long private conversation between Jolivet and Messiaen (cited in
translation in Peter Hill and Nigel Simeone, Messiaen, Yale 2006, p. 57).
See Messiaen Traité (op. cit.) vol. VII, pp. 150–1.
Example 8
rt«ro 10
system of Ex.9. The resultant, densely chromatic chord progression
was widely utilized by Messiaen for the rest of his life. This is not an
instance of direct adaptation of pitch-content from Jolivet, but rather an
example of a precise and, for its time, unusual procedure for harmonic
generation from Jolivet being taken on board by Messiaen for his own
This proves Bridgit Conrad right in her assertion that the area of sons resultants inférieurs was
‘an area of the probable influence’ of Jolivet on Messiaen. (Conrad, op. cit., pp. 104–5, my
trans.) Readers may wonder at the likelihood of Messiaen consulting tables of frequencies
and calculating difference tones. Yet he was very close friends with Jolivet who, as proved in
Ex. 7, did just that. It is probable that Messiaen turned to Jolivet for assistance in calculating
such sons resultants anyhow. Messiaen scholar Nigel Simeone agrees with me that this is the
most likely truth of the matter in this case.
Example 9:
Messiaen’s account of the
generation of ‘chords of contracted
resonance’ together with a new
acoustic explanation of his sons
resultants inférieurs using the
principles of Jolivet’s sons resultants
as shown in Ex. 8.
«tssiat· a·n rnt ·orio· or i·riut·ct 11
The procedure of utilizing combination tones – tones which are the
acoustical result of the difference or sum of the frequencies of other
pitches – was to become a mainstay of much later music. In the form
of ring modulation it became a standard procedure in the analogue
electronic studio from the 1950s onwards and remains in use today in
computer music in various forms (notably frequency modulation (FM)).
It was also used from 1975 onwards by various composers in France,
Germany and elsewhere as one of the staple procedures for generat-
ing harmonic sequences in what is now termed ‘spectral music’. Thus
Jolivet’s application of this procedure was one of his most far-sighted
compositional ideas.
Jolivet also sometimes worked from the opposite direction, using
a pair of low bass tones to generate overtones which are used as the
source of harmony in middle and higher registers. Ex. 10a shows such a
procedure from the Danse Initiatique, the first of the Danse Rituelles. This
was cited by Jolivet himself in his aforementioned Réponse à une enquête,
where he explains that the harmonics of the two low bass pitches are
either picked up by the upper harmonies or deliberately contradicted
by them.
To anyone familiar with Messiaen’s music, Ex.10a will by
now look strikingly close to Ex. 10b, the piano solo opening the second
movement of the Quatuor (later reprised thematically in the seventh
movement of the same work). Messiaen’s own account of the genera-
tion of this passage is confused: in the Technique he refers to the two low
bass pitches as a résonance inférieure,
which in the literal sense (i.e. dif-
ference tones) they are not. In the later Traité he states (also incorrectly)
that the first of the upper chords in this progression is the second chord
of contracted resonance.
Ex. 10b is sufficiently close musically to Ex.
10a – the two bass pitches are indeed absolutely identical – for one con-
fidently to assert that this passage in Messiaen was also derived from the
cited passage in Jolivet, even if the derivation is not so exact as in earlier
Jolivet’s process of using dense low bass pitch formations to gener-
ate acoustic overtones which generate the harmony for a passage was
yet another device which became a staple diet of musique spectrale from
See Jolivet article (already cited in note 12) in C. Jolivet-Erlih, op. cit., pp. 190–4.
Messiaen, Technique (op. cit.), p. 72, text to example 218.
See Messiaen Traité (op. cit.), vol. VII, p. 150.
Example 10a:
Jolivet’s example from the first Danse
Rituelle (page 3, last system). ‘Two
low sounds spaced together in such a
way as to engender series of harmonics
which complete each other, allowing one
to superimpose on this sonic background
chords with distant tonalities relating
to the harmonics of one or other of the
two bass sounds. These upper chords in
turn reinforce the harmonic series of the
two low bass notes.’ ( Jolivet, Rèponse
à une enquête, 1946)
© copyright 1939 by Durand & Cie
Example 10b:
Messiaen: end of opening bar of
movement II of Quatuor pour la fin
du Temps. Note the similar chord
formations in the upper parts and
the identical pitches in the extreme
© copyright 1942 by Durand & Cie.
rt«ro 12
1975 onwards. It is used to generate harmony for several sections of
Tristan Murail’s piano work Territoires de l’Oubli (1977); and also used
to generate the harmonies of the third section of the same composer’s
seminal orchestral work Gondwana (1980). The second section of Gérard
Grisey’s Partiels (1975) also uses this technique. Jolivet’s indirect role in
laying down these important groundwork tools for spectral music has
not so far been properly recognized. His later reactionary stance has cer-
tainly contributed to this serious error in the music history of the past
40 years.
We may also surmise that Messiaen’s devising of a two-octave wide
‘chord of resonance’ – comprising harmonics 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 11, 13, and
15 of a low fundamental tone, adjusted to equal temperament
– was
probably prompted by Jolivet’s devising a special mode similarly derived
from the first 15 overtones of a low fundamental, compressed into a
single octave.

Messiaen was always perfectly open about his readiness to adapt
music by composers from past history as the source of chords or
melodic figures – his well-known and widespread adaptation of a frag-
ment from the opening melody of Moussorgsky’s Boris Godunov is the
most obvious instance of this.
If, as shown above, Messiaen was sur-
prisingly ready to adopt or adapt chord progressions and even melodic
figures from a living contemporary such as Jolivet, one is prompted to
wonder what other modern composers he borrowed from, especially
as he himself never commented upon this practice publicly and other
researchers have not yet looked much into this matter. Ex. 11a shows a
passage from an organ work (Paraphrase pour l’assomption, No.35 of the
cycle L’orgue mystique) by his senior contemporary Charles Tournemire,
whom Messiaen knew personally. (Messiaen occasionally replaced
Tournemire as organist at St. Clotilde).

Ex.11b shows the chord pro-
gression in the lower parts of Ex. 11a, as cited by Messiaen himself in a
Ironically, in view of his influence on early Boulez (see Note 2, above) after the war Jolivet
quickly became one of the main opponents of Boulez, and especially of the Domaine
Musical, as his own music became more conservative in manner and substance. What effect
this change of stance had upon his hitherto close relations with Messiaen has not been clari-
fied. In a radio talk in the 1960s, Jolivet played an extract from Messiaen’s Oiseaux Exotiques,
praising it as ‘quite simply remarkable music’ (see C. Jolivet-Erlih, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 409).
Messiaen said next to nothing about Jolivet’s post-War output, a silence that is most elo-
quent given that he continued to refer to Mana and Danses Rituelles with extravagant praise.
In his conversations with Almut Rössler, speaking of the forming of the Jeune France group
of composers, Messiaen said he specifically recruited Jolivet to the group as ‘at that time
[1936] he was a real thunderbolt, a composer of the extreme avant-garde, much more ter-
rible than later on’(see Rössler Contributions to the Spiritual World of Olivier Messiaen, transl.
B. Dagg and N. Poland, p. 105). I take this remark, plus his persistent references to the early
piano works, as tacit admission on Messiaen’s part that he did not find much of Jolivet’s
post-War output of interest, but was much too polite to say so, even after Jolivet’s death. His
brief memorial tribute to Jolivet, reproduced in translation on p. 303 of Hill and Simeone’s
Messiaen (Yale, 2006), confirms this by dwelling at length on the Danses Rituelles (especially
the Danse Nuptiale), whilst only mentioning the post-War symphonies and concertos in pass-
As explained by Messiaen in Technique de mon language musical (trans. Satterfield, Editions
Leduc, 1966, new single-volume edition), p. 70, Ex. 208.
As explained by Jolivet in Genèse d’un renouveau musical, a conference given at the Sorbonne
on 14 January 1937, reprinted in C. Jolivet-Erlih, op. cit., Vol. 1, pp. 53–73. The passage deal-
ing with the mode of harmonics 1–15 is on p.60 of this volume. The volume referred to in
note 11 clarifies that this mode underpins the whole of the last of the Danses Rituelles, a fact
of which I think Messiaen must have been made aware by Jolivet (see Conrad, op.cit., pp.98–
99). Serge Gut spotted a similarity in their approaches on this matter, but not that Messiaen
derived this technique from Jolivet, which is surely the case: see Serge Gut, La Groupe de Jeune
France (Paris: Honoré Champion, 1977), p. 52.
See Messiaen Technique (op.cit.), pp. 32–3.
Olivier Messiaen, personal communication, Bath, 28 May1986.
Nigel Simeone has kindly alerted me to the fact that Messiaen published a review of
Tournemire’s L’orgue mystique, specifically praising this Paraphrase-Carillon (Messiaen L’orgue
mystique de Tournemire in Syrinx, May 1938, cited in Hill and Simeone Messiaen, p. 403).
«tssiat· a·n rnt ·orio· or i·riut·ct 13
section dealing with chord progressions in his treatise Technique de mon
language musical.
Exx.11c and 11d show that Messiaen adopted this
strikingly resonant polytonal progression – which does retrospectively
sound much more like Messiaen than Tournemire to my ears – into the
Quatuor pour la fin du Temps and several of the Vingt Regards. The Regard
du Temps makes particularly obsessive use of Tournemire’s progression,
no fewer than six times in all. As with the Jolivet example, Messiaen
adopts the progression with no change of pitch-class or even of spacing,
save placing the pitch-class E at the top of the first chord (Tournemire
had placed it in the middle, as had Messiaen himself in the example in
See Messiaen Technique, (op.cit), p. 78, Ex. 270. No mention is made of Tournemire in the
accompanying text.
Coincidentally, this Tournemire passage was reproduced in a recent article by Andrew
Thomson in Choir and Organ March/April 2008 (Andrew Thomson The dove descending, pp.
18–21) as an example of ‘birdsong music’ – referring to the repeated high treble figures in
sextuplets. Thomson sees these figures, plausibly, as anticipatory of Messiaen’s later use of
birdsong in his organ pieces. However, Thomson gives no indication that Tournemire’s dis-
sonant chord-progression underneath the ‘birdsong’ was literally borrowed by Messiaen in
several of his own pieces.
Example 11a:
Extract from the middle section of
Tournemire’s Paraphrase-Carillon
for organ, p. 18, middle system,
bar 1. Note the bracketed chord
progression repeated many times in
the work.
© copyright 1936 by A. Leduc &
Cie./United Music Publishers Ltd.
Example 11b:
Example 270, p. 78 of Messiaen’s
Technique – a literal quote from
the pair of chords dominating the
middle section of Tournemire’s
Example 11c:
Extract from piano part of
movement II of Quatuor pour la fin
du Temps (p. 10, last 2 bars). The
bracketed pair of chords is from the
Tournemire Paraphrase (with the
E in the first chord moved up an
octave). This chord sequence recurs
in both this movement and in the
two climactic development sections
of movement VII.
© copyright 1942 by Durand & Cie.
Example 11d:
The same progression (bracketed)
as used for the refrain theme in
Messiaen’s Regard du Temps.
© copyright 1947 by Durand & Cie.
rt«ro 14
What is fascinating about this borrowing is that, as with one of the
Jolivet examples, it originated at a time when Messiaen could not have
had access to the original source, as he was a prisoner of war in Silesia.
Therefore this example shows just how much in Messiaen’s bones the
Tournemire piece was.
Furthermore, the progression plays a quite
important cyclical role in the Quatuor – like the second of the Jolivet
examples, it appears twice in the second movement of the work, and
is then recycled twice in the development sections of the culminating
seventh movement. All this suggests that at a time when Messiaen by
force of circumstance was thrown back upon his own resources, he was
most acutely aware of the memories of sounds, chords and music which
meant most to him before the war, and this had a big effect in enlarging
his harmonic palette significantly at this unusual period.
It should be
emphasized that both harmonically and otherwise the Quatuor is by far
the most harmonically dense and adventurous score Messiaen had com-
posed up to that time.
Messiaen referred to the entire piano part in the middle section of
the Quatuor’s second movement as ‘a cascade of blue-orange chords’

– which might suggest a colour identification with the Tournemire
progression. Yet his use of it in the refrain of Regard du Temps is very
different – Messiaen himself describes this theme as being ‘short, cold,
strange, like the egg-shaped heads of de Chirico’.
The sharp dissonanc-
es and bald parallel fifths in the bass do indeed give this progression an
unsettling character which suits its use in this strange movement espe-
cially well.
Messiaen’s idiosyncratic views on the history of opera were nota-
ble for the exclusion of any 20th-century operas save Pelleas and Berg’s
It seems that Serge Gut, in his fine book about La Jeune France,
was the first to point out in print that Messiaen adapted the 3-chord leit-
motif first heard in Act I, Scene II of Wozzeck as the refrain chords for
the second movement of the Messe de la Pentecôte.
Messiaen himself
was quite open in his classes about his affection for this progression and
his employment of it in his own music.
Despite that, his long use of
this progression in many pieces from 1950 to 1986 has not been noticed
The late Robin Freeman speculated – passingly in ‘Interpretations of Messiaen’s Catalogue
d’oiseaux’ (Tempo 192, April 1995, p. 10), in more detail in ‘Trompette d’un Ange Secret:
Olivier Messiaen and the Culture of Ecstasy’ (Contemporary Music Review Vol. 14 Parts 3–4,
Music and Mysticism II, p. 88) – that Messiaen was influenced by the ‘bracing jolt of har-
monies’ in a late organ work of Tournemire, Les cloches de Châteauneuf du Faou, composed
subsequently to L’orgue mystique, but he does not instance any exact correspondence. (Ed.)
Messiaen often said that running through music he loved in his head saved his sanity whilst
he was in Silesia. He would run through an entire act of Debussy’s Pelléas, at night, finding to
his surprise that he ‘knew words, music and even the orchestration by heart’ (conversation
in an archive film from the INA in Oliver de Mille’s film about Messiaen La liturgie de cristal,
Ideal Audience ( Juxtapositions series) 2007). The borrowings from Tournemire and Jolivet
in the Quatuor suggest that the relevant pieces by those composers also formed a prominent
part of his Silesian internal ‘memory concerts’. Interestingly, music by these composers was
not amongst the much-talked-of ‘kit bag’ of scores in his possession when he was captured.
See Preface to full score of Quatuor pour la fin du Temps, mvt. II.
See preface to score of Vingt Regards, mvt. IX.
Despite his love of Wozzeck, Messiaen loathed Berg’s Lulu in which he found, as he told
Almut Rössler, ‘the music is academic and serial with a silly tone-row which suggests only
black and white – that doesn’t work, that’s a kind of kitsch classicism’ (see Rössler, op.cit.,
p. 143). One imagines Lulu’s widespread use of jazz will also not have endeared the opera to
See Serge Gut, La Groupe de Jeune France p. 104.
Information provided by George Benjamin, who attended Messiaen’s class at the Paris
Conservatoire between 1976–8 and heard Messiaen’s analyses of La Transfiguration and Des
Canyons, where this progression occurs prominently.
«tssiat· a·n rnt ·orio· or i·riut·ct 15
or commented upon in Messiaen literature until now. His first use of
it in the above-mentioned movement of the Messe in 1950 may have
been prompted by the first performance of Wozzeck in Paris in Autumn
the same year, conducted by Jascha Horenstein.
The exhibition cata-
logue Das Himmlische Jerusalem
included a photograph of a page from
Messiaen’s annotated vocal score of Wozzeck – coincidentally the open-
ing of Act I, Scene II.
From what I can decipher of this frustratingly
small photo, it appears that Messiaen annotates the 3-chord leitmotif
with the comment ‘theme noir (harmonique)’ and gives each of the three
chords (which I have labeled A, B and C) an analytic description which I
have attempted to summarize in Ex.12a.
Ex.12b shows Messiaen’s use
of the progression in Messe. In this first instance, Messiaen adapted each
chord of the progression very slightly, as shown – some notes are trans-
posed down one octave and one pitch is also raised a semitone – but its
origins in the Berg are unmistakable.
Messiaen then left the progression unused until composing La
Transfiguration (1965–9), where it features prominently in both of the
chorales concluding each of the work’s two septernaries. Ex.12c shows
its occurrence in the first of the chorales (movement VII). By this time
Messiaen has deleted Berg’s chord B altogether, instead proceeding
straight from chord A to chord C, then transposing each of them before
cadencing backwards from chords C to A in an elegant arc of harmonies.
Unlike the Messe example, in most uses from La Transfiguration onwards
Messiaen restores all pitches of chords A and C to their spacing in Berg’s
original progression. All subsequent uses of this progression follow
this practice – Berg’s chord B is omitted, and transposing sequences are
formed from Berg’s A and C chords. Ex. 12d is from the twice-occur-
ring brass chorale in movement III of Des Canyons aux Etoiles, one of
Messiaen’s most elaborate uses of these chords.
Messiaen’s permanent omission of Berg’s chord B from the late
1960s onwards appears to have been driven by an impulse to render the
progression more sonorous and luminous. Chords A and C both fea-
ture a resonant major 10th in the bass, giving them a rich colour which
contrasts sharply with the tenser dissonances and consequent darker
colours of chord B – featuring a minor 10th in the bass and prominent
sevenths, fourths and tritones. By the time of his final and most extend-
ed use of this progression as a major element in the 10th movement of
the Livre du Saint Sacrement, Messiaen is using it to depict the radiance
of Christ’s resurrection – see Ex. 12e. This brilliantly coloured music is
now a world away from the mysterious initial use of the entire progres-
sion in the Messe, where it depicted ‘things visible and invisible’, let alone
from the its desolate use by Berg as what Messiaen himself had termed
a ‘theme noir’. The sequence of extracts in Ex.12 show stage by stage a
Boulez mentions going to all the 15 rehearsals for this performance in a letter to John Cage
– see Nattiez and Piencikowski (ed.) Pierre Boulez et John Cage: Correspondance et Documents,
Schott Verlag and the Paul Sacher Stiftung, 2002, p. 143, letter not dated – ascribed to the
‘end of summer 1950’.
See Olivier Messiaen, La Cité céleste – Das Himmlischer Jerusalem, ed. Thomas Daniel Schlee and
Dietrich Kämper (Cologne: Wienand Verlag), p. 117.
The commentary to this photograph in the book makes no allusion to the special relevance
of this particular page to Messiaen’s own music; see Schlee and Kämper, op. cit., p. 116.
Readers will note Messiaen’s attempts to classify atonal harmony as appoggiaturas to tonal
chords, a device which remained typical of his harmonic analyses – see Alexander Goehr’s
account of Messiaen doing the same thing whilst analyzing other atonal music by compos-
ers of the Second Viennese School (Goehr Finding the Key, Faber and Faber 1998, p. 55).
Goehr attended Messiaen’s Conservatoire class in the years 1955–6.
rt«ro 16
fascinating process of adoption, creative adaptation and transformation
by Messiaen of found material from the most successful opera of his
Readers interested in further uses of this progression by Messiaen, each quite different,
should be referred to movements of the organ Méditations (1969 – especially at the start
and near the conclusion of Movement VII), as well as to Scene III of the opera St. Francois
d’Assise. There is a putative usage of them (the bass dyads are the same, the upper pitches
more free) in several sections of La Buse Variable from the Catalogue d’Oiseaux (1959). An
exceptional instance of the Berg chords being put to very different use, along with simi-
lar chordal sources in Messiaen’s own Chronochromie, Dutilleux’s Tout un monde lointain
and Britten’s Peter Grimes, can be seen in George Benjamin’s Ringed by the Flat Horizon, in
the full orchestral chorale commencing at letter GG, p. 48 of the first edition of the score
(Faber Music, 1981). This is a perfect, if unusual, example of a younger composer following
Messiaen’s example in adapting chordal formations from an unexpected variety of sources.
As with Messiaen, the powerful music Benjamin forms from them is paradoxically wholly
original and unmistakably characteristic of Benjamin’s musical style.
Example 12a:
Messiaen’s analysis by
resolutions onto tonal chords
of the Berg 3-chord theme from
Wozzeck as (faintly) reproduced
in Schlee, 1998, p. 117.
Example 12b:
Messiaen – first adaptation of Berg’s
progression as the refrain for the
Offertoire from the Messe.
© copyright 1953 by
A. Leduc & Cie.
Example 12c:
Messiaen’ – second adaptation of
Berg’s progression in movement 6
of La Transfiguration (chorus and
orchestra, p. 163). Chords A and C
are transposed, while chord B has
been eliminated. The progression is
re-used in the final movement.
© copyright 1972 by
A. Leduc & Cie.
Example 12d:
Messiaen, Des Canyons, movement
III – brass chorale (p. 66 – recurs
later in the movement)
© copyright 1978 by
A. Leduc & Cie.
«tssiat· a·n rnt ·orio· or i·riut·ct 17
See note 19.
Conversation in July 1988 at the Darmstadt Summer School, where this quartet was per-
formed by the Arditti String Quartet.
To conclude this preliminary sortie into what promises to be a rich
area of future exploration, I would like to suggest an unexpected source
for the opening of one of Messiaen’s first wholly mature works, La
Nativité du Seigneur. Messiaen always cited the melody of this opening as
one of many uses by him of a melodic fragment from near the opening
of Boris Godunov.
In fact the music of a different, later Russian compos-
er would now seem to have been its true source. In 1988, the composer
Chris Dench drew my attention to Scriabin’s late piano piece Etrangeté,
not in connection with Messiaen but in connection with the title of his
own (otherwise unrelated) string quartet Strangeness.
To my surprise,
the opening of the Scriabin piece fitted under the hands in an almost
exactly identical manner to the opening of La Nativité – readers are
encouraged to play the two extracts in Ex.13a and 13b for themselves.
The Messiaen in Ex.13b has been transposed down one octave to give
the effect of Messiaen’s prescribed 4-foot registration.
The comparison is startling. The octotonicism in both examples is not
in itself cause for remark, given how often both Scriabin and Messiaen
employed octotonic modal formations. Yet the similarity of pitch levels,
pitch and interval contents, the very similar intervallic content of the
Example 12e:
Messiaen’s final use of the Berg-
derived progression in bars
1,4,8 of the opening page of ‘La
Résurrection du Christ’ from the
Livre du Saint Sacrement (1984). As
for Exx. 12c and d, only the first two
chords of Berg’s progression are
used, now transposed to start on a
bass C#, so as to fit the final home
of the movement in F sharp major.
© copyright 1986 by
A. Leduc & Cie.
rt«ro 18
grace-note formations in each (quasi-inverted from the Scriabin into the
Messiaen) and the identical sequential repetition of each down a minor
third, strongly suggest that Messiaen consciously or unconsciously
recalled the Scriabin piece and converted it into the striking opening of
his first large organ cycle. (The opening is reprised at a different pitch
level at the conclusion of the first movement, with the same sequence).
Nonetheless the musical effects of Exx.13a and b are notably different
– Scriabin’s quixotic strangeness is worlds away from the intimate devo-
tion of Messiaen’s Le Vierge et l’enfant. Messiaen’s musical results, far
from being eclectic or stylistically incongruent, are thoroughly and last-
ingly typical of him and of no-one else.
I have concluded from these numerous and surprising instances of
creative adaptation from modern composers’ harmonies and melodies
that Messiaen’s view of all music was highly and engagingly subjec-
tive. Such borrowings are indicative of a strong creative persona, not
the reverse. Messiaen himself would rightly have seen these as acts of
homage to composers whose work he deeply admired, and I certainly
imagine that is how André Jolivet, for one, would have received them
had he noticed (and it is hard to imagine he never did).
Messiaen’s own
creative identity was so strongly defined that any other composer’s
work was inevitably filtered through his own highly developed ears and
musical tastes. Hence in each of the above examples, the extracts from
Messiaen sound entirely and immediately like him. Perhaps, in effect, all
Messiaen could hear in other music was Messiaen. In reality, Messiaen
borrowed and adapted from no-one at all. Rather Jolivet, Berg, Scriabin
and Tournemire metaphorically borrowed the progressions and melo-
dies, ahead of time, from Messiaen.
Interestingly, Jolivet himself made no further use of his striking 3-chord progression in Ex.1
after the Danses Rituelles.
Example 13a:
Scriabin, Étrangeté, op. 63 no. 2,
opening (refrain theme).
Example 13b:
Messiaen, La Nativité, opening.
(The music has been transposed
down an octave to clarify the effect
of the registration.) The music
strongly resembles the Scriabin in
many respects – both pitch content
and in harmonic sequence.
© copyright 1936 by
A. Leduc & Cie.

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