Messiaen: Turangalîla-Symphonie

Duration : 1 heure 18 minutes

The Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, conducted by Susanna Mälkki, performs Olivier Messiaen's "Turangalîla-Symphonie", with Roger Muraro (piano) and Cynthia Millar (Ondes Martenot). Concert recorded live on 29 March 2019 at the Radio France Auditorium.

Olivier Messiaen's Turangalîla-Symphonie was premiered on 2 December 1949 in Boston with Leonard Bernstein conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra. It was performed for the first time in France during Aix-en-Provence festival on 25 July 1950, and least that can be said is that it sparked a lively reaction: "Like a punch to the chest" wrote the journalist Maurice Brillant (for the Epoque newspaper), for whom the Turangalîla-Symphonie was "Messiaen's Rite of Spring", whereas the two French composers Francis Poulenc and Georges Auric argued over the work's importance .

The work was certainly noteworthy: a monumental composition 85 minutes in length, with a colossal orchestration (103 musicians and a long list of percussion and keyboards), a symphony with 10 "movements" resembling a concerto for piano and Ondes Martenot... This freedom of form and structure came also from the freedom of the commission by Serge Koussevitsky: "Write for me the work that you want, in the style that you want, as long as you want, with the instrumental composition that you want, and I will give you as long as you want". Messiaen's wild imagination did the rest...

The word "Turangalîla" is derived from two words in Sanskrit: "In sanskrit, Lîlâ literally means the game, but on a divine and cosmic level, the game of live and death. Lîlâ is also love. Turanga is passage of time like a galloping horse, time that is running out like sand in an hourglass. Turangalîlâ therefore refers to a song of love, a hymn to joy, time, movement, rhythm, life, and death." The work therefore contains a strong thematic reference to love, even referencing the tale of Tristan and Iseult, and a strong thematic reference to religion and mysticism.

The orchestration is noteworthy in particular for its great use of keyboard instruments (celesta, piano, vibraphone and glockenspiel), bringing to mind the gamelan tradition of Javanese music, with a virtuosic piano part and numerous cadenzas, and the characteristic use of the Ondes Martenot and their alien sonority, giving the "love theme" both a soft but no less horrifying aspect. A love that is fully realized in death: "To understand the excesses of this work, we must remember that the union of true lovers is for them a transformation, and a transformation on a cosmic scale."

Messiaen: Turangalîla-Symphonie - Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, conducted by Susanna Mälkki
Full concert
Messiaen: Turangalîla-Symphonie - Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, conducted by Susanna Mälkki
Maison de la Radio, Paris
Olivier Messiaen
Olivier Messiaen
All artists
  • Susanna MälkkiConductor
  • Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio FranceOrchestra
  • Roger MuraroPerformer