Aspects and features of Western and Indian cultures in Olivier Messiaen’s conception of music.
by Giusy Caruso

On request of: Codarts World Music Research Group Program, Rotterdam Conservatoire Teacher-coach: Prof. Willem Tanke Supervisor: Prof. Joep Bor Proof-reading: Prof. Caroline De Iacovo

Western twentieth century music is perhaps the most complex to define as to the variety of directions composers were bound to choose from. Together with the revival of interest in classical forms and techniques (from Bach backwards to the Renaissance and the Middle Ages), the development of music in Europe was also characterized by the discovery of new elements from native folk songs (especially when nationalist composers began to employ folk material in their symphonies and operas) and from the music of far-off lands (India, Africa, America). New techniques were being experimented by modern composers all over Europe, particularly in Paris, which was the world’s music capital after the first World War. A French composer who introduced new harmonic elements from the Oriental culture was Claude Debussy. His novelty stands in the use he made of both the whole-tone scales and the pentatonic scales (easily played on the black keys of the piano) as well as his modal harmonic approach by which he combines tones in a chord to achieve “the colour” of a harmony - an impressionistic harmony, typical of the French twentieth century classical art. The melody, developing from the “colour” of the chords, takes priority over the counterpoint with the result being: a parallel movement of the chords which gives the idea of a sudden tonal change without modulation. It was in this revolutionary environment that Messiaen’s conception of music was forged, bringing out aspects and features marked by the influences he received from the Western music of the past (as the Gregorian Chant and the Greek modes, in particular) and by the “peculiarities” he discovered in Indian classical music. Messiaen may be seen as a link between the avant-garde concepts and modern music, because he is on the same line as the French twentieth century musical tradition like Debussy and Ravel, yet original in the musical novelties he expressed by his new system of modes and by introducing Indian rhythm and the ragas to the traditional European music. Thus, Messiaen’s typically original style lies in having successfully combined the traditional

in Silesia. 1975. his student and second wife. Messiaen. Only after the First World War. DENT & SONS LTD. J. from then on. Messiaen. he became involved with the Roman catholic liturgy from which he grasped its deep religious meaning. . After his repatriation. in 1944. after having studied at the conservatoire with Maurice Emmanuel (l928). he wrote and performed the Quatuor pur la Fin du Temps. London. in 1942. however. Messiaen was allured by “le charme de ______________________ 1 2 From the website: http://en. rhythm. Technique de mon langage musical. 10. Ibid.2 Western idea of form.M. there ensued his most important formative years for composing. when he was taken prisoner at Gorlitz camp. where his musical conception of forms. p. In order to explain the essential features of his musical language. his interest for ancient Greek rhythms and the exotic modes were strengthened even more by his coming in contact with the rhythms of the Indian provinces in Lavignac's Encyclopédie de la Musique in which he found a reproduction of the 120 Indian 'deçî-tâlas' taken from the Sharngadeva's treatise Samgîta-ratnâkara 3. DanielLésur and Baudrier – to form La Jeune France whose function was to restore to music a more human and spiritual quality together with a vent of seriousness which was sadly lacking in much of the French music of the time. Actually. Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) taught himself to play the piano at an early age. Later. did not use Debussy’s style in his compositions because he thought that after Debussy and Dukas there was “nothing to add”2. 3 Johnson Sherlaw R. In 1931. In 1936 he joined three other composers – Jolivet. there. his first theoretical treatise.org/wiki/OlivierMessiaen. did he receive his first formal tuition in piano and harmony. Jehan de Gibon (1918). being asked to analyze a score of Debussy's opera Pelléas et Mélisande on request of one of his teachers. Messiaen published. when his family moved to Nantes. he was appointed Professor of Harmony at the Paris Conservatoire and. melody and harmony with Indian musical elements he learned and cherished so much. he was appointed organist at La Sainte Trinité in Paris and. He met the pianist Yvonne Loriod. who prompted him to write his major works for piano. Born at Avignon. into a learned French family (his mother was a poetess and his father a teacher of English and a Shakespearian scholar). Messiaen described it as “a thunderbolt” and later declared it to be: “probably the most decisive influence on me”1. melody and harmony is revealed. at the Paris Conservatoire which he attended until 1930.wikipedia.. During the Second World War.

this conviction fostered his appeal for the Indian conception of irregularity in the rhythmical procedures. as stated above. The a-metric effects are an important part of Messiaen’s music. From this compositional concept too. Leduc.7. from the website: http://www-student.5 The absence of metric definition is reflected in Messiaen’s use of highly structured rhythms that do not fall into periodic metres. English translation by E. but on the first beat of the following one. Ronchetti. 6 The Raga Guide.. and later. the cosmic and religious symbols contained in each 'deçî-tâlas' from some Sanskrit translations made by a Hindu friend7.A. so as to have a continuous overlapping. he was studying the reproduction in Lavignac's Encyclopédie de la Musique of the 120 Indian 'deçî-tâlas' written by the Indian thirteenth century theorist Cârngadeva .edu/users/r/rkelley/messiaen. Although Messiaen had never been to India. following fluctuations.6 The most unfamiliar aspect of tala to the Western ear is that the end of one cycle comes not on its last beat. like the noise of the wind. 1999.8.furman. T. like the waves of the sea.3 l’impossibilité”4 by which he meant hat musical impressions should sound each time differently in order to infuse delightful and refined sensations to the listener’s ear in an almost contemplative state. Rotterdam Conservatory of Music. Portland U. Paris. and Individuality in the Music of Messiaen. he assimilated the Indian musical conception at first when. like the shape of tree branches». in fact. p. Amadeus Press. Tala is a rhythm cycle which consists of a fixed number of beats (matras) and each beat is defined by a combination of rhythmical sections growing into fixed patterns. the Avant-Garde. Consequently.htm. Technique de mon langage musical (1944). p. Glasow. Tradition. p. which often seems simply to exist as a single ecstatic moment associated with nature as he himself stated: «Most people believe that rhythm means the regular values of a military march.. Whereas. rhythm is an unequal element. In India. when he could appreciate the rhythmic rules.S. 1986. Bor. 77. 1994. Olivier Messiaen : Musique et couleur. Messiaen’s interest in capturing the listener’s attention by using “variations” also stems from the relatively a-metrical sound when compared to most Western rhythms. Italian translation by L.. T. the conception of rhythm (tāla) is not a succession of isochronous movements like in the Western conception. J. 5 Kelley R. _____________ _______________________ Messiaen O. it is evident how he comes close to that of Indian music with its predominant aim at capturing the listener’s attention. 4 . 7 Samuel C. ed.

1999. like a note (e). it is taken from the old Indian musical treatise Samgîta-ratnâkara.17. To the above Indian rhythmical pattern Messiaen applied the inversion form (a) and transformed it (b). “additive” rhythms. or interpolating a short note into an otherwise regular rhythm which means that a short value. 10 Ibid.. This involves lengthening individual notes slightly. Leduc. Technique de mon langage musical. p. a dotted note/rest (f). was greatly important for his composing 8: This rhythm does no longer exist in modern Indian music but.10. 1944. Messiaen based his theory of rhythm on valeur ajouté. a rest (g).10 ____________________________________________ Messiaen O. could be added to a rhythm as shown below. Paris. as shown below9: a b In order to enforce this conception of irregularity in rhythm.4 He explained openly in Chapter II of his Technique that the Indian rhythm “râgavardhana”. 9. theoretically. 9 . one of the 120 'deçî-tâlas'. Ronchetti. pp. 9 Ibid. Italian translation by L. p. while the traditional augmentation and diminution technique may also be applied onto them. 8 .

Amadeus Press.11 «It’s extraordinary to think that the Hindus were the first to point out and use. Samuel C. symmetrically inverse figures… Ancient magic spells contained words which seemed to have an occult power…reading words from left to right and right to left this time had (sic) the same sound and same order of letters…A final symbol – the moment which I live…this time which I beat. He called these rhythmic mirror-structures “unretrograde” because when one is read backward (in retrograde) it is exactly the same as when read forward.A.5 e f g Messiaen’s fondness for the “râgavardhana” rhythm led to his lifelong concern with the creation of palindrome-rhythms. Portland U. 1994. . and even modern art. According to Messiaen. 1986. the principle of nonretrodradation…it’s a principle long applied to architecture. T. Gothic and Romanesque cathedrals. p. p. 17... 77. Glasow. rhythmically and musically. Olivier Messiaen: Musique et couleur. before and after lies eternity: it’s a nonretrogradable rhythm »12 ____________________ 11 12 Ibid. these rhythms would embody the symbol of eternity in that they have no well-defined starting or ending point. in ancient art. thus. English translation by E. the decorative figures are.S.

L’Ascension (1933). very much appreciated by Messiaen. de Couleur. de Couleur. after having displayed an accurate transcription of Indian talas and a painstaking comparison of these with Western musical signs in Tome I. Zanibon. the music would eventually run through all the possible permutations and return to its starting point. Perinu R. p. occurring either on the left hand or the right hand and on the pedal. for its natural resolution to the tonic. He makes examples of some “refined” melodies that are taken not only from the Western folk songs and the Gregorian chant but literally from the Indian raga (melodic type). Messiaen gives more meticulous explanation on the non-retrograde rhythm in Tome II. 2. He achieved this by using the technique known as the “continuous variation” (from the Classical and Romantic traditions. mainly Beethoven and Brahms) which he extended to all the melodic lines. . and that it was also used in magic formulas and codes to symbolize the symmetry found in nature. The variable-ostinato implies “intrinsic oppositions” which means that the accompaniment (ostinato) is repeated each time with a different variation (variable). For instance.. Paris. It is not surprising that Messiaen had a great admiration of Igor Stravinsky’s use of rhythm and of colour. is a musical principle also found in Stravinsky’s La Sacre du Printemps. et d'Ornithologie (1949-1992).13 Messiaen combined rhythms with harmonic sequences in such a way that if the process were allowed to proceed indefinitely. in the second piece of one of his early organ work.14 ___________________ 13 14 Messiaen O. These are the augmented descending fourth. 48. In his great last treatise Traité de Rythme. Milano.6 Messiaen elucidates that the non-retrograde principle has been for long recognized in architecture. as well as including the pedal in his organ compositions. Messiaen focussed his attention on some intervals he considered most important for a refined melodic quality. Alphonse Leduc. he already used this principle of “continuous variation” with different textures in the accompaniment. Traité de Rythme. vol. On discussing about melody and the choice of its shape in Chapter VIII of his Technique. like the welldefined structure of the butterfly wings or the symmetrical parts of the human body. 1. Another aspect of Messiaen’s conception of music particularly related to the Indian culture regards the concept of melody. and the major descending sixth. et d'Ornithologie (1949-1992). called variableostinato.. This process. La Musica Indiana. especially in ancient art and in decorative arts.

metaphysical ideas as well as the seasons. Messiaen finds an unshaken driving force for his musical creativeness in his Catholic faith. Another aspect common to both Messiaen and Indian music. There are about 60 main ragas that the performer can choose from. either the fourth (ma) or the fifth (pa). when talking about melody (or music in general). thus. regards the transcendent symbolic meaning they confer to it: music is not a simple succession of notes (melody . There are some rules characterising the raga: it must have the tonic (sa). This relationship between music (raga) and feelings. the weather or the time of day. p. _______________________ 15 16 Ibid. Its essence is the expression of emotions. at least.15 During an Indian performance musicians choose one raga at the beginning and they go on playing improvising around it. The performance lies on his capacity to improvise extensively without abandoning the chosen raga. p. Every raga can evoke to the listener a particular aesthetic reaction or feeling called rasa.raga) or chords (harmony) but rather it is a means that leads to an aesthetic rapture. 75. he uses the musical language to let the listeners meditate on the Mysteries of the divine truth. and the term “colour” in Hinduism stands for the reaction of the soul to emotions. according to the mood he wants to evoke. time etc. meaning “colouring”. the word raga comes from the Sanskrit base form ranj. in accord with this Indian aesthetic theory concerning the essence of melody (raga). have social and religious implications. 37. Messiaen is. seasons. can be the expression of nature (like the songs of birds he had been recording throughout France and all over the world to make use of them in his composition). it also can be the expression of colours (similar to the principle of synaesthesia by which his chords and his modes can be transcribed into colours). While the Indian musician aims at choosing musical elements (raga . feelings. In fact.16 This link between raga and rasa is the most important principle by which Indian music aims at giving the listener a specific effect or “mood” wanted by the raga.melody) to achieve the “transcendent” by conveying a mystical message to the listener.7 The raga is not actually a simple melodic outline but it contains a symbolic meaning too. . Melody. Drawing his inspiration from the Catholic doctrine. for him too. Ibid.

19 Samuel C.p. this concept already belonged to the Pythagorean metaphysics which held a rational. who is at the same time the “composer”. wanted to give no other but his Catholic interpretation to his composition and ____________________________________________ 17 18 Ibid. Messiaen. in fact. 1994. improvises on a raga chosen from those he learned in infancy directly from his teacher (guru). he was only interested in the symbolic. in the second piece of this work the contrary and parallel movements of the two pianos evoke the sound of “the dancing planets”. 1986. T. mathematical interpretation of the Universe by comparing the intervals of the scales to the harmonic movement of the planets. . In music. philosophical meaning of the Hindu rhythms and melody. English translation by E. Olivier Messiaen: Musique et couleur. Hinduism or Shivaism. p. He never converted to Buddhism.17 The Indian ontological and aesthetic conceptions were absorbed in the Western philosophy by Schopenhauer and by the Romantic view of music. Amadeus Press. Glasow.8 In Indian music the performer. According to Perinu’s version. declares that his being attracted by the mystery and the magic of Hindu music ought not be considered an offence towards his Catholic religion..18 Messiaen undoubtedly grasped the symbolic meaning of music from both the Western and the Indian metaphysical interpretations but he actually stood fast to his unfaltering Catholic faith. Music is considered the immediate and direct expression of the unspeakable primordial Sound -Verb (Logos) which is the creative energy (shabda. nâda) that vibrates in the universe from the very beginning of time in the mantra sound OM-AUM. the very essence of the divine being (in a pure pantheistic sense) is revealed. See his notes in Les visions de l’Amen (1943). Earlier before that. 190. In the Conversation with Claude Samuel (1986). S. For instance. over which the Catholic doctrine predominates in his linking the Western and non-Western musical traditions. the Indian meaning of music is implied in the Yogic interpretation of the world in one of the branches of the Tantric philosophy. Messiaen’s interpretation of the Universe comes close to that of the Pythagorean’s and to the Indian one as we can infer from his notes of Les visions de l’Amen (1943) for two pianos. Portland U.19 From a philosophic point of view. Messiaen. 181 . 78. A. p. his music was to derive from his deeply rooted personal convictions. as part of their oral tradition. as well as in poetry (chant). This sound comprises all the harmonics and it is the first perceptible expression of the divine being (Braham) whom all living beings are a part of.

At the same time Indian improvisations are conceived in a horizontal way. for instance. 178.20 Messiaen uses long and solemn chords in the first piece of Les visions de l’Amen. is linked to its aesthetic conception of “transcendent”. without modulation which makes the harmonic speed seem “static”.“the particulars”. on long chords. Messiaen uses mostly a parallel movement of the melody and of the chords with sudden tonal changes. The continuation of a tone centre without modulation is another feature in Messiaen’s composition which can be traced back to the Indian musical technique. the divine truth behind.9 made. which comprises all the multiple varieties (pantheism). Since the corrupted human senses perceive the phenomena as multiple varieties (“the tangible particulars”). where the second piano presents the theme of Creation (Genesis) with long vibrating chords in order to put the listener in a meditative and religious mood. Such idea is reflected in the Indian conception of music. In this work he aims at giving a complete interpretation of “Amen” as the total submission of all the living creatures to God (the Verb / the Almighty Father). in Les visions de l’Amen. through the tangible world. to which the other notes of the scale ..can be referred to. Perinu R. by which a melody can be traced back and held by one note only . without modulation. the truth lies. They are based on one line (melody /raga) held by a continuous accompaniment of the tonic in which some specific tones come back (like the fifth) but without modulation between modes. specific notes on his work-sheets like. Milano. like an “éblouissement” which. ________________________ 20 21 See his notes in Les visions de l’Amen (1943). p. for Messiaen.“the transcendent” (the tonic or the dominant). La Musica Indiana.the divine being).21 For the Indian people the essence of Art is to feel. These expedients are also found in his early organ production. The sound impression is a melody. based mostly on one fundamental note (the tonic).it starts and finishes in the dominant of G. instead. is the mystical message he wanted to confer to his composition. Zanibon. in particular in the last piece of L’Ascension (1933) where the tempo is very slow and the harmony is static . creating a static harmonic process. in only one element (“the whole” . . for this reason. The structure of Indian music.

or to the relative minor tonality. The four pieces of L’Ascension are written in respect of the classical forms in that the first and the fourth are in an ABA. F major. into frameworks. This dynamic . Messiaen wants to represent Heaven by using C major in a really slow movement. It is interesting to see how Messiaen combines the classical forms with the use of the static harmonic processes. under the principle of continuous variation. whereas the static harmonic process is used in contrast to the classical dynamic harmonic one. but the same tonality (C minor) is kept with short fragments in F minor or in G minor. are combined with modulations from a tonic to a dominant. one for organ and one for orchestra. In fact. These modulations help to create a harmonic process which is essentially dynamic. The classical sonata of the eighteenth century is based on a dynamic harmonic process. we can find a strong use of the static harmonic process probably associated to a mystical message: all the notes are related to the fundamental (tonic) like all living creatures to God. the second and the third are in rondo form. F sharp major and the dominant of G major (D major). In the first part Messiaen represents human troubles through a fast succession of chords where each chord is changed in some details. where the tonic chord plus the seventh create a dominant sensation imbued with expectations causing a feeling of endlessness. ( the second and the fourth book of La Nativité du Seigneur -1945). for example. is based on C sharp major or F sharp major. without a real modulation occurring from the beginning to the end of the piece. In Dyptique (1930). Such a dynamic process continues to be accepted throughout the Romantic period when music was given an “infinite” connotation from its becoming the expression and the language of feelings. In the second part. and here again without modulation. Although Messiaen uses mostly the static harmonic processes there are some exceptions where he integrates complex modulation like he does in the last part of Le Verbe and in the central part of Dieu parmi nous. Messiaen makes these tonalities follow one another as they actually run from E to G in an ascending way. like two contrasting forces. Le banquet céleste (published in 1928). Wagner spoke about an “infinite melody” in his works. This work has two versions. Liszt used the “cyclic form” and Brahms the continuous variation technique. the same harmonic processes are observed in both his organ and his Quartet version.10 Upon analysing some other of Messiaen’s organ works. The symbolic meaning of Christ ascending to Heaven can be found both in the title L’Ascension and in the choice of these tonalities. as he did in L’Ascension. and it is divided into 4 pieces in the following tonalities: E major. since two opposite themes.

performance is based on formal structural sections similar to the Western classical forms. creating in this way a double counterpoint ______________________ 22 Messiaen O. taking priority over the counterpoint. while each one pursues his own individual variations on the raga and the tala chosen at the beginning.11 Romantic view is linked to Hegel’s philosophy and his Dialectics which is based on the forward movement from Thesis to Antithesis to Synthesis. with a sudden tonal change without modulation. p. Paris. only later a rhythmical pulse is introduced in the jod in a medium tempo and then in the jhala in a fast tempo. and “development” and variation on the themes in the Sonata. After these three sections of alap the soloist starts the composition and is accompanied by another musician (percussionist) improvising together. creating a personal.22 Messiaen focuses on the essential parts of these forms which are “divertissement” and “stretto” in the fugue. 1999. . meditative “mood-setter” in free rhythm. Ronchetti. and then Ravel. where the musician presents and unfolds the raga. Although Indian music seems mostly free from compositional rules on account of its improvising characteristic. Leduc. Then. The first part of an Indian performance is called alap which is a slow. there is the jor in which the performer still plays without a very rhythmical pattern (tala). well-balanced and original mélange in his compositional technique. There is also a casual closeness between Messiaen’s respect of the classical form and the Indian musicians’ observance of the structural sections during their performance. his static harmonic approach reveals to be completely opposite to the dynamic classical one. 51. by some virtuoso passages. Something changes in the twentieth century music with. Technique de mon langage musical (1944). at first Debussy. It is from these principles that Messiaen shows his classical background renewed by the twentieth century French novelties on one side and by Indian music on the other. in the way they begin to use a modal approach in combining tones in a chord. like a long introduction. From a parallel movement of the chords the melody develops. Italian translation by L. His studies concerning the classical forms (in particular the fugue and the sonata) are concentrated in chapter XII of his Technique. While “the variation technique” remains the most important element in Messiaen’s compositional structures..

6 times. de Couleur. Olivier Messiaen : Musique et couleur. Amadeus Press. ed. the sixth and the seventh modes. and the fifth. T. Leduc. the unique one. implied in melody. . six possible colours for mode four and mode six27. et d'Ornithologie (1949-1992) Messiaen made the exact correspondance between his modes of limited transposition and the limited numbers of colours they should evoke: three possible colours for mode two. >> 25 Messiaen declares that. 87 – 94. Paris. like normal scales. 5-6-7. pre-existing within melody and drawn from melody where it laid hidden until its outbreak. Even if Messiaen is open-minded towards Indian musical concepts. English translation by E. joyful in its essence. ___________________ 23 24 The Raga Guide. 1986. A. Paris. S.24 Messiaen emphasises the originality of such expedient in that his seven modes are not transposable 12 times. Technique de mon langage musical (1944).23 Printed scores or written scores do not exist in Indian music. 4 times. Portland U. four possible colours for mode three. et d'Ornithologie (1949-1992). Messiaen O.. which is not to be confused with the Indian one. p. 75. 25 Ibid. 26 Samuel C. Originally the composition form was called dhrupad which later became known as gat (an instrumental composition form) and bandish (a song).. J. vol. but only a fixed number of times: the first mode is transposable only 2 times. 1994. and that is his own scale system based on seven “modes of limited transposition”. Bor. 27 Messiaen O. Glasow. 40. he clearly states in chapter XVI of his Technique that there is one particular element. as seen so far.26 He set the conception of tone-colour to the harmonic “modes of limited transposition” giving rise the idea of individual coloration. de Couleur. the second. p. Traité de Rythme.12 The Indian composition form is not completely fixed but consists of free elements. p. 7. Messiaen clearly states that his research regarding the modes must not lead astray from natural harmony: <<… true harmony. under the principle of synaesthesia he perceived the soundcolour relationship physiologically. (called the octatonic scale or diminished scale) 3 times. patterns are handed down orally and are varied during the performance that are mostly based on improvisations. In Tome VII of Traité de Rythme. the third. Italian translation by L.. Alphonse Leduc. p. 1999. Ronchetti.. Rotterdam Conservatory of Music.

Paris. . 1999. as he said. Italian translation by L. which comprises all the notes of the major scales. 70. called “Chord on the dominant”: 29 These chords can be transposed in their inversion on the same bass note giving. violet. 69. leaden grey” etc…28 There is another particular chord in Messiaen’s harmonic system. “the resonance chord”.30 _______________________________________________________ 28 Messiaen O. a “rainbow effect” which recalls the effect of refracting light through a window glass in a Cathedral. p. Leduc. p.13 Then he combines the 15 natural harmonics into one chord. Ronchetti. Technique de mon langage musical (1944).. 30 Ibid. which he describes through a variety of colours as “yellow. 29 Ibid. 69. mauve. p.

beauty and might.31 This bar is taken from the beginning of the sixth Prelude (1930). almost as revealing a juxtaposition of the Indian metaphysical conception of music to his own background. gives a symbolic meaning to his music by transcending towards the divine truth. it is worth saying that Messiaen can be considered an eclectic musician of European twentieth century music because his personal style stands in the originality and the ease by which he ranges from the Western classical tradition to the Indian one. harmony) used by Messiaen have this symbolic connection with nature (like in the above examples: “rainbow”. shades of colours) because nature clearly had a great impact on him as it is part of his belief in the Almighty God: in it he sees the reflection of all His goodness. . _______________________ 31 Ibid. melody. where Messiaen uses the resonance homophony in the sixth mode above the principal homophony in the second mode to reproduce the resonance of tolling bells through a “a waterfall of chords” in the lower and middle register of the piano. which he calls “resonance effect”. 71. yet placing his unfaltering Catholic faith as the fundamental leitmotive throughout his works.14 Messiaen also wants to reproduce the natural sound effect using a succession of chords. Messiaen. thus. As an end analysis. All the musical elements (rhythm. like a “waterfall of chords”. “waterfall”. p. Cloches d’angoisse et larmes d’adieu.

Perinu R. Paris. Alphonse Leduc.furman. .. Articles on Olivier Messiaen: Troncon P. Johnson Sherlaw R. notes on Les visions de l’Amen. Simundza M..htm http://en. Messiaen. Milano.A. Technique de mon langage musical.. 7. Ronchetti. Torino. Semestral issue on Musical Researches and Musicology.. Bor. 1..D. DENT & SONS LTD. 1975.S. 1986. Zanibon. ed.org/wiki/Olivier_Messiaen. Paris. English translation by E. Glasow. London. and Individuality in the Music of Messiaen. From the website: http://www-student.15 Bibliography Works by Olivier Messiaen: 1943. the Avant-Garde. Italian translation by L.M. 1991. Diastemia. La nascita del Novecento. International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music 18 (1987). 2. T. Books on Indian music: The Raga Guide. Messiaen. Ricordo di O. July 1992.T. Amadeus Press. de Couleur. Olivier Messiaen: Musique et couleur. Books on Olivier Messiaen: Samuel C.. Traité de Rythme. T. Messiaen's Rhythmical Organisation and Classical Indian Theory of Rhythm (I-II). Tradition.. J. 1999.wikipedia.. Alphonse Leduc. et d'Ornithologie vol. 1944.edu/users/r/rkelley/messiaen. La Musica Indiana. E. Rotterdam Conservatory of Music. 1994. J. General research on early twentieth century music: Salvetti G. Portland U. 1949-1992. Kelley R.

which moves through the augmented fourth melodic interval (the tritone). La Colombe – “The Dove” is a binary sentence based on the second mode of limited transposition which evokes bright colours like orange veined with violet. four times. Yvonne Loriod. in all his works because he considered the augmented fourth the most important interval in the harmonics produced by the natural resonance of the sound. the third. Messiaen underlined that. the second. generally. “the resonance chord”. when he had not yet undertaken to experiment with rhythm nor was he completely involved with bird singing yet. contrary to normal scales. recall the effect of refracting light through a window glass in a cathedral. Messiaen annotates that the colours in his work as a whole are basically violet. These chords. six times. Each Prelude is based on one mode creating a particular atmosphere with a specific colour. the sixth and the seventh modes. Messiaen appreciated this interval. 1. Messiaen himself defined his Préludes “studies in colour”. pupil of Messiaen and then his second wife. a phenomenon which Messiaen calls “rainbow effect”. He used this interval in all the Préludes and. In the booklet included. This Prelude starts with a simple melody . made an historical recording of the Prélude. and the fifth.16 APPENDIX An analysis of Messiaen’s Huit Préludes by Giusy Caruso The Huit Préludes are among Messiaen’s early works. orange and purple. He was only twenty years old. familiar with the conception of tone-colour and he had already set up the harmonic “modes of limited transposition” which gave rise to his idea of individual coloration.on an obstinate accompaniment in E major . (called the octatonic scale or diminished scale) three times. Messiaen associates colours to his modes and combines the fifteen natural harmonics into one chord. which he describes through a variety of colours. however. played in turned over manner. which was not used in the past on account of its dissonant character and its complex intonation. He was. At the end. his seven modes are not transposable 12 times but only a fixed number of times: the first mode is transposable only twice. This explains how early Messiaen had in mind the relation between colours and tones. at the time. Under the principle of synaesthesia. a great pianist. The parallel movements of the chords (at the beginning only on the right hand and at times on both hands) recall .

3. evokes not an orange bright colour. 4. and the main homophonic theme on the left hand in the second mode. This Prelude is based on the seventh mode of limited transposition which expresses a dark mood in the following colours: velvet grey with reflections of mauve and green. The part. It opens with a polymodal passage consisting of a pedal-group of chords on the right hand in the third mode. The colours of the Prelude are basically orange blue in the . here. however. with the same colour: orange veined with violet. is a faster. not of limited transposition. At the beginning and at the end of the piece. The next section is based partly in the second mode and partly in a different mode. Instants défunts – “Defunct Instants” has a fragmentary structure expressed by two distinct musical idea in alternation. The middle part. Chant d’extase dans un paysage triste – “Song of ecstasy in a sad Landscape” is a symmetrical rondo form based on the second mode of limited transposition (used in the first Prelude) which here. by Messiaen’s system of modes which he developed into a typical feature of his musical language.17 much of Debussy and Ravel’s harmonic technique. with the second appearance of the theme presented in the dominant and treated as a canon in the coda. mauve. a simple melody on a melancholy obstinate introduces the static atmosphere. This Prelude illustrates how modes can be used variedly. silvery. This Prelude is based again on the second mode of limited transposition. the harmonic intervals come closer and create a dissonant sound. Le nombre léger – “The light number” is a short moto perpetuo in a binary form. Les sons impalpables du Rêve – “The impalpable sounds of dreams” is again a symmetrical rondo form plus a coda where the asymmetry introduced by the expansion and contraction capture the listener’s interest. in its second transposition. but a dark grey. like the first Prelude. Prussian blue like the mysterious mood of a “sad landscape” should be. instead. The middle section is in the seventh mode and. is based on contrary movements of chords in the sixth mode. The static canons are colouristic rather than structural anticipating the important use of mensural canons found in Messiaen’s later music. 2. renewed. which introduces again the polymodal section. Each “instant” is a musical period with a different rhythm so that the piece has a polirhythmic structure. brilliant section whose colour is again bright: diamond-like. 5.

orange and violet. instead. the whole of which in turn adds resonance to the chords in the lower and middle register of the piano. The second theme. The light storm that opens and closes the piece. as purple. 6. evokes orange veined with green colours. a “waterfall of chords” played in the upper register of the piano. 1905) where the sound of the bells is rendered by a simple succession of fourth and fifth descending harmonic intervals. describes the colour of the last three notes. based on the third mode in its fourth transposition. Unlike Ravel’s La Vallée des cloches (the last piece of Miroirs. Messiaen in particular. It is an example of Messiaen’s “development-exposition” form. The piece begins with an “additive” rhythm (unusual for this period) on repeated G. . dappled with a few black spots. which he calls “resonance effect”. All the high harmonics of the bells resolve into luminous vibrations. The beginning of this Prelude involves the use of resonance homophony in the sixth mode above the principal homophony in the second mode. treated in brass timbre. anticipates future developments.A’ + coda. differently from the Impressionists. Un reflet dans le vent – “A reflection in the wind” is a clear reminiscence of Debussy with its occasional touch of surrealism. Messiaen uses the second mode in its third transposition evoking dark colours of velvet grey with reflections of mauve and green. which is typical of classical development sections. uses a definite formal structure: A . 8. A sense of intensification. as the previous Prelude.18 obstinate on the left hand and a violet purple in chordal cascades on the right hand. suggesting the tolling of a bell. Plainte calme – “Calm lamentation” is in a simple ternary form and its first section is repeated with “open” and “closed” cadences. 7. The central development is more luminous. is achieved in the first section by simple contracted repetitions of the same material in successively higher keys. Messiaen uses a succession of full chords. but Messiaen. the adieu. Cloches d’angoisse et larmes d’adieu – “Bells of anguish and tears of farewell”. is very melodic and coated in sinuous arpeggios with an orange blue colour in the first exposition and orange green in the recapitulation.B(development) .