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Classical 101

Olivier Messiaen's Little Known Love Song

Olivier Messiaen, a French composer, organist and ornithologist (a branch of zoology that concerns the study of birds), is on the program for this weekend's concerts with the Columbus Symphony. Christopher Purdy has already posted a blog about the lineup, which includes Messiaen's Oiseaux exotiques ("Exotic birds") for solo piano and orchestra. He also has a talk with conductor Jean-Marie Zeitouni about this fascinating composer.


Zeitouni mentions some day wanting to do Messiaen's Turangalîla-Symphonie, which turns out to be my favorite work by this eclectic composer. It's a large-scale piece from 1948 made up of ten movements and lasting over an hour. Messiaen wrote it as "an extended meditation on the joy of human union and love," inspired by the myth of Tristan and Isolde, and expressing the composer's belief that sexual love is a divine gift and not an anguish and guilt-ridden experience, as it often is for the protagonists of Wagner's opera. The title was derived from two Sanskrit words, "turanga" and "lila," which the composer understood as meaning, "love song and hymn of joy, time, movement, rhythm, life and death." He describes the joy of Turangalila as "superhuman, overflowing, dazzling and abandoned." That's about how it seems to me, with its exotic sounds that include the ondes Martinot, an early electronic instrument that produces sliding tones that remind one of the bird-song Messiaen would soon incorporate into his music. Here is the fifth movement of the Turangalila-Symphonie, "Joy of the Blood of the Stars." Dazzling music, played brilliantly by a youth orchestra no less: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tv67YkOWJNA