Programme Guide

Hardly any other composer combines as many contradicting elements in his works as Olivier Messiaen. Inertia and dynamic force, deep piety and passionate sensuality, highly complex rhythmic structures and exuberant melodies, esoteric design principles and tremendous popular appeal are juxtaposed in his music. Messiaen is thus regarded as the most important French composer between Claude Debussy and Pierre Boulez, who studied with him.

The Turangalîla-Symphonie, the premiere of which was conducted by Leonard Bernstein in Boston in 1948, is Messiaen’s best-known work and features an ensemble typical of him. The large, dazzling symphony orchestra is augmented by an often percussive piano and the distinctively iridescent sounds of the ondes Martenot, one of the first electronic musical instruments.

The symphony, whose title comes from ancient Indian Sanskrit, comprises ten movements connected by recurring themes and depicts Messiaen’s exploration of a love that exceeds all earthly limits and leads to death. It is the central instrumental work of the composer’s Tristan trilogy and is framed by two vocal works. In this concert from September 2008 Sir Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker prefaced the work with the orchestral version of the Prelude and Liebestod from Wagner’s opera Tristan und Isolde. The concert took place during the Berlin Musikfest, which devoted one of its programmatic focusses to Messiaen, marking the 100th anniversary of his birth.

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