Messiaen's Turangalila-Symphonie

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Messiaen's Turangalila-Symphonie

Post by slofstra » Mon Feb 01, 2016 5:19 pm

Well, we're feeling fairly settled in our renovated "small house". We're in the downtown area of our city and I can walk to my office in the tech district. My library and CD collection are back in order, and hopefully I'll be able to post with a little more regularity.
One of my long awaited projects is to listen through the ouevre of Messiaen, at least the two box sets that I have.

This afternoon's project was to play two renditions of the Turangalila-Symphonie. One is conducted by Myung-Whun Chung, apparently recorded with the guidance of Messiaen himself. The other is an older recording (1977) with the LSO under Andre Previn.

Both are excellent performances and I've had no trouble listening to the two back to back. The Previn recording is a bit smoother sounding, and at times, almost like a B movie soundtrack. The Myung-Whun Chung recording has a sharper edge. The orchestral movements have a more mystical, Oriental sound (which does not mean, Asian). And the "Jardins du sommmeil d'amour' is more ethereal.

Does anyone else hear a wonky theme from Gershwin's American in Paris repeated frequently in this music? It's more apparent in the Previn recording, unless I'm now just tuning it out.

It'd be a tough call to say one performance is better than the other. What do you think? Or are you like me up until this year, and listen to Messiaen but very little.
Last edited by slofstra on Mon Feb 01, 2016 7:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Messiaen's Turangalila-Symphonie

Post by John F » Mon Feb 01, 2016 5:29 pm

Some of Turangalila (and Messiaen's other music) does indeed sound like a Hollywood soundtrack score of the more garish kind, but I can't say I heard Gershwin in it. If it is, that would be quite a discovery!

One work by Messiaen I want to hear (and see) is the opera "Saint Francis of Assisi." Otherwise I've heard as much of his music as I care to.
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Re: Messiaen's Turangalila-Symphonie

Post by slofstra » Mon Feb 01, 2016 8:16 pm

John F wrote:Some of Turangalila (and Messiaen's other music) does indeed sound like a Hollywood soundtrack score of the more garish kind, but I can't say I heard Gershwin in it. If it is, that would be quite a discovery!

One work by Messiaen I want to hear (and see) is the opera "Saint Francis of Assisi." Otherwise I've heard as much of his music as I care to.
Why do I have the sinking feeling that yours is the most enthusiastic response I'll get? I should have known as it's not like we see a lot of Messaien postings on the board.
Anyway, thanks John, for stepping up to the plate on this topic.

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Re: Messiaen's Turangalila-Symphonie

Post by stenka razin » Mon Feb 01, 2016 9:39 pm

Did you all know that Leonard Bernstein was scheduled to record Messiaen's gorgeous monsterwork? Considering the fact that Lenny premiered this always fascinating work, what a recording for the ages that would have been.

Regards,
Mel 8)
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Re: Messiaen's Turangalila-Symphonie

Post by John F » Tue Feb 02, 2016 4:35 am

I didn't know that, and I wonder how you know it. Bernstein never conducted the piece with the New York Philharmonic nor, as far as I know, anywhere else; its Philharmonic premiere was given by Zubin Mehta in 1988.

Quite a few recording projects were talked about in Bernstein's last years that never happened, such as a complete "Peter Grimes," whose American premiere he had conducted at Tanglewood in 1946. As it happened, only the sea interludes were recorded during Bernstein's last concert of all, when he was dying of emphysema. (It was a heart attack that finally killed him.)
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Re: Messiaen's Turangalila-Symphonie

Post by lennygoran » Tue Feb 02, 2016 6:49 am

John F wrote:I didn't know that, and I wonder how you know it. Bernstein never conducted the piece with the New York Philharmonic nor, as far as I know, anywhere else; its Philharmonic premiere was given by Zubin Mehta in 1988.

Quite a few recording projects were talked about in Bernstein's last years that never happened, such as a complete "Peter Grimes," whose American premiere he had conducted at Tanglewood in 1946. As it happened, only the sea interludes were recorded during Bernstein's last concert of all, when he was dying of emphysema. (It was a heart attack that finally killed him.)
"Just a wild stab-could this have anything to do with it:
"An awful lot of paths meet here. My header image is taken from the poster for Franco Zeffirelli's 1973 biopic about Saint Francis, Brother Sun, Sister Moon. Franco Zeffirelli's first choice to score the film was the unlikely partnership of Leonard Bernstein and Leonard Cohen. Cohen, a sometime Zen Buddhist monk, was influenced by Jacques Brel, who collabarated with Paul Touvier who in turn was protected by Monsignor Marcel Lefebvre. While Bernstein conducted the 1949 Boston premiere of devout Catholic Messiaen's erotic Eastern influenced Turangalîla-Symphonie."

http://www.overgrownpath.com/2010/02/an ... nging.html Regards, Len

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Re: Messiaen's Turangalila-Symphonie

Post by lennygoran » Tue Feb 02, 2016 6:53 am

And this:

"That Bernstein was a Jewish man composing a Catholic Mass shouldn't be seen as a betrayal of his origins. His all-embracing attitude toward music no doubt set his tone with religion: It's all good. Before Mass, he was working on a piece about St. Francis of Assisi with Leonard Cohen that never came to fruition. A Greek cross given to him by fellow conductor Dmitri Mitropoulos was often around his neck. "But don't print that!" Bernstein once told me. "Vera Stern" - then wife of violinist Isaac Stern - "will kill me."
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/columnists ... lAkterJ.99

Is Mel confusing Bernstein's Mass with the Messiaen opera? Probably wrong on this but if the opera ever comes to NYC I'll be there. Regards, Len

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Re: Messiaen's Turangalila-Symphonie

Post by stenka razin » Tue Feb 02, 2016 7:34 am

The Messiaen was one of the projects that sadly never came to fruition. Peter Grimes was another casualty, of Lenny's passing on. Remember, Bernstein's death happened in 1990 and what I read was probably in a publication long since gone with the wind.

Regards,
Mel 8)
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Re: Messiaen's Turangalila-Symphonie

Post by John F » Tue Feb 02, 2016 9:32 am

You mean, you read in some publication that Bernstein intended to record the Turangalila Symphony? Coule b, I suppose, but I don't believe it. If he cared that much about that music, he would surely have conducted it at lesat once in concert, and as far as I can tell, he never did. Boulez never did either, despite having been Messiaen's pupil and having conducted a good deal of his music.
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Re: Messiaen's Turangalila-Symphonie

Post by slofstra » Tue Feb 02, 2016 2:40 pm

John F wrote:You mean, you read in some publication that Bernstein intended to record the Turangalila Symphony? Coule b, I suppose, but I don't believe it. If he cared that much about that music, he would surely have conducted it at lesat once in concert, and as far as I can tell, he never did. Boulez never did either, despite having been Messiaen's pupil and having conducted a good deal of his music.

Both you and Norman Lebrecht do not warm to Messiaen's ouevre (see link below). Is it Messiaen in general you dislike, or just the Turangalila-Symphonie? Do you share Lebrecht's reasons; you and Lebrecht are often of the same mind, aren't you?

http://www.scena.org/columns/lebrecht/0 ... saien.html

I tend to view the aesthetic behind Messiaen's music skeptically; it seems pretentious to me. But that doesn't mean I don't enjoy the music; I do. By contrast, I've never warmed to Bernstein's compositions, but also much of his recording legacy is not my first choice. And then again, some of it is fantastic. I'd have to review and sample the recordings I have to elaborate on that. Whether Bernstein did or didn't like Messiaen's music is of no import that I can see.

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Re: Messiaen's Turangalila-Symphonie

Post by jbuck919 » Tue Feb 02, 2016 3:35 pm

John F wrote:Some of Turangalila (and Messiaen's other music) does indeed sound like a Hollywood soundtrack score of the more garish kind, but I can't say I heard Gershwin in it. If it is, that would be quite a discovery!

One work by Messiaen I want to hear (and see) is the opera "Saint Francis of Assisi." Otherwise I've heard as much of his music as I care to.
Amen. What I wonder is why you think the opera would be an exception. As an organist, I have had to live a life with the absurd notion that he is the second most important composer for organ after Bach. (There is no second most important organ composer after Bach, but if there were, it would not be Messiaen.) Churches that can still afford it (there is one in NYC, which I cannot recall just now) still commission barely possible new organs around some supposedly visionary organist's dream that they should be ideal instruments for those two composers. Years ago, someone posted a video of Messiaen briefly improvising. It sounded like the way I would improvise, meaning awful to be kind, not to a standard of superior organists of any nationality, including emphatically French. (I was roundly criticized at the time for my evaluation.)

In response to Henry Slofstra, I did listen to the first few minutes of the Too-long-no-really Symphony and I did indeed hear an approximate quotation of Rhapsody in Blue. (I owe people this much for my recent failure to hear in Schubert a quotation of Beethoven.) Advance to 3:00 in the following. Is it coincidence, unintentional influence, or something intentional? Who cares?

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
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Re: Messiaen's Turangalila-Symphonie

Post by slofstra » Tue Feb 02, 2016 4:38 pm

jbuck919 wrote:
John F wrote:Some of Turangalila (and Messiaen's other music) does indeed sound like a Hollywood soundtrack score of the more garish kind, but I can't say I heard Gershwin in it. If it is, that would be quite a discovery!

One work by Messiaen I want to hear (and see) is the opera "Saint Francis of Assisi." Otherwise I've heard as much of his music as I care to.
Amen. What I wonder is why you think the opera would be an exception. As an organist, I have had to live a life with the absurd notion that he is the second most important composer for organ after Bach. (There is no second most important organ composer after Bach, but if there were, it would not be Messiaen.) Churches that can still afford it (there is one in NYC, which I cannot recall just now) still commission barely possible new organs around some supposedly visionary organist's dream that they should be ideal instruments for those two composers. Years ago, someone posted a video of Messiaen briefly improvising. It sounded like the way I would improvise, meaning awful to be kind, not to a standard of superior organists of any nationality, including emphatically French. (I was roundly criticized at the time for my evaluation.)

In response to Henry Slofstra, I did listen to the first few minutes of the Too-long-no-really Symphony and I did indeed hear an approximate quotation of Rhapsody in Blue. (I owe people this much for my recent failure to hear in Schubert a quotation of Beethoven.) Advance to 3:00 in the following. Is it coincidence, unintentional influence, or something intentional? Who cares?
"The following" does not appear to be following. :)

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Re: Messiaen's Turangalila-Symphonie

Post by jbuck919 » Tue Feb 02, 2016 6:28 pm

Oh shoot. Sorry.


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Re: Messiaen's Turangalila-Symphonie

Post by John F » Tue Feb 02, 2016 9:25 pm

jbuck919 wrote:
John F wrote:One work by Messiaen I want to hear (and see) is the opera "Saint Francis of Assisi." Otherwise I've heard as much of his music as I care to.
Amen. What I wonder is why you think the opera would be an exception.
It could just be the work Messiaen was born to compose, as a devout Catholic and collector of birdsong. But I don't know that the opera would turn out to be an exception; I'm just curious about it, one of those works like "Moses und Aron" that I feel like climbing because it is there. The Schoenberg was worth it, and more. If the Messiaen isn't, my curiosity will have been satisfied. But I want to see it in the theatre, not just listen to a recording. That's what it's composed for and if I lose interest in the music, I'll still have to stick it out until the end, and meanwhile there'll be stuff to look at.
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Re: Messiaen's Turangalila-Symphonie

Post by stenka razin » Tue Feb 02, 2016 9:32 pm

John F wrote:You mean, you read in some publication that Bernstein intended to record the Turangalila Symphony? Coule b, I suppose, but I don't believe it. If he cared that much about that music, he would surely have conducted it at lesat once in concert, and as far as I can tell, he never did. Boulez never did either, despite having been Messiaen's pupil and having conducted a good deal of his music.

John, doesn't giving the premiere performance of Turangalila mean anything to you? Are you saying I made up the story that Bernstein planned to record this piece? And why would a person, who has been immersed in classical music for 60+ years, not know something that might not be widely known! I have been living and breathing classical music since I was 12 years old. Trust me, I am an honest man.


Regards,
Mel 8)

P.S. Bernstein did record another work by Messiaen, his 1961 account of the Trois Petites Liturgies. Does this count as anything?
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Re: Messiaen's Turangalila-Symphonie

Post by John F » Tue Feb 02, 2016 10:35 pm

Oops! Sorry. Bernstein did indeed conduct the premiere in 1949, when Serge Koussevitzky didn't conduct it himself and handed it off to his assistant Bernstein. I didn't know that, obviously, and as far as I know, he never conducted it again.
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Re: Messiaen's Turangalila-Symphonie

Post by lennygoran » Wed Feb 03, 2016 6:58 am

John F wrote:That's what it's composed for and if I lose interest in the music, I'll still have to stick it out until the end, and meanwhile there'll be stuff to look at.
Let's turn it over to William Kentridge-he's 2 for 2 on doing a great job with way-out operas! Regards, Len :lol:

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Re: Messiaen's Turangalila-Symphonie

Post by John F » Wed Feb 03, 2016 11:08 am

He'd certainly be a better choice than Peter Sellars, whose Salzburg Festival production filled the huge stage with television sets facing the audience. The Messiaen heirs objected strongly but weren't able to prevent it, if indeed they tried.
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Re: Messiaen's Turangalila-Symphonie

Post by BWV 1080 » Wed Feb 03, 2016 11:13 am

There is also Kent Nagano, which I have in the Messiaen Edition boxed set of Erato and Teldec recordings:

http://www.amazon.com/Messiaen-Edition- ... B000A2ACWO


But the Myung Whun Chang is the one to have if push comes to shove.

I love the work, but think his later orchestral pieces like Chronochromie, Et Expecto Resurrectionem.., Des Canyons, Eclairs sur l'Au-Dela hold up better under repeated listening

Transfiguration is the only dud in his later output

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Re: Messiaen's Turangalila-Symphonie

Post by BWV 1080 » Wed Feb 03, 2016 11:15 am

My favorite shorter orchestral piece is Couleurs de la Cite Celeste, which is a good intro to the later work


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Re: Messiaen's Turangalila-Symphonie

Post by slofstra » Wed Feb 03, 2016 1:10 pm

BWV 1080 wrote:There is also Kent Nagano, which I have in the Messiaen Edition boxed set of Erato and Teldec recordings:

http://www.amazon.com/Messiaen-Edition- ... B000A2ACWO


But the Myung Whun Chang is the one to have if push comes to shove.

I love the work, but think his later orchestral pieces like Chronochromie, Et Expecto Resurrectionem.., Des Canyons, Eclairs sur l'Au-Dela hold up better under repeated listening

Transfiguration is the only dud in his later output
I'm glad you weighed in, "in favour". It's all fairly new to me, so I don't have a strong opinion and may not have for some time. It's difficult work to judge because the music is very complex, and even quite unlike other modern composers, like Hindemith or Stravinsky, who I think of as his contemporaries. I have enjoyed listening to what of Messiaen I have heard so far.

Is that Nagano on jbuck's video above? I don't have Flash at work so can't check.
Last edited by slofstra on Wed Feb 03, 2016 1:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Messiaen's Turangalila-Symphonie

Post by BWV 1080 » Wed Feb 03, 2016 1:28 pm

No, jbuck's post is Chang conducting.

The interesting thing about messiaen's music is that it really blossomed and became fully realizied after he absorbed post-war modernism. Hindemith never left neoclassicism and stravinsky adopted serial techniques in his own idiosyncratic way. Messiaen produced works as striking as anything by Boulez or Stockhausen but have none of the sense of contrivance or self-conciousness that is at times mars the latters output. Certainly no latter 20th century composer surpasses Messiaen in his harmonic sense

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Re: Messiaen's Turangalila-Symphonie

Post by BWV 1080 » Wed Feb 03, 2016 1:54 pm

FWIW, Oraison - an earlier ondes martinot version of the Louange à l'Éternité de Jésus from Quatuor pour la fin du temps - is part of the soundtrack to The Revenant

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Re: Messiaen's Turangalila-Symphonie

Post by slofstra » Thu Feb 04, 2016 1:35 pm

BWV 1080 wrote:No, jbuck's post is Chang conducting.

The interesting thing about messiaen's music is that it really blossomed and became fully realizied after he absorbed post-war modernism. Hindemith never left neoclassicism and stravinsky adopted serial techniques in his own idiosyncratic way. Messiaen produced works as striking as anything by Boulez or Stockhausen but have none of the sense of contrivance or self-conciousness that is at times mars the latters output. Certainly no latter 20th century composer surpasses Messiaen in his harmonic sense

As I get further into these two box sets I'm enjoying the shorter pieces, some of them anyway, that are easier to get your head around. Later I may update this thread with some more impressions on the pieces I've heard.

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Re: Messiaen's Turangalila-Symphonie

Post by diegobueno » Fri Feb 05, 2016 2:11 pm

Turangalila is my favorite of Messiaen's works. That along with the numerous other masterworks he wrote in the 1940s, such as the celebrated Quatuor and the Vingt Regards, represent the best Messiaen had to offer. His inspiration rather faded in the 1950s while he was too busy trying to keep pace with his students.

I'm really enjoying this performance by Dudamel with Yuja Wang on the piano.


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Re: Messiaen's Turangalila-Symphonie

Post by slofstra » Sat Feb 06, 2016 12:34 pm

I will have to catch up with the youtube clips later. In the meantime my Messaien sojourn continues.

Generally, I've been playing two versions of each piece. Actually, you need to hear a piece more than twice to get a proper sense of it, but twice is better than once.

Two pieces I have liked are the excellent "La Ville d'en haut" from 1987 and the interesting "Chronocromie" from 1959.

I listened to two versions of "Et exspecto resurrectionem morturom" and found it ponderous and muddled.

This morning I began to listen to "Eclaire sur l'au-dela" led by Chung and found it barely listenable. I bailed out around the sixth movement. The first movement is especially dull, with the horns sounding like slow-breathing bellows. The mind screams "get on with it". Ironically, the movement is subtitled "Apparation of Christ in glory". If a sermon on this topic can be made excruciatingly dull as some are, then this is just the music to go with it.

I anticipated that Sir Simon Rattle would do a better job with this material, and sure enough, his 2004 recording with the Berlin Philharmonic represents a rescue for me. Each movement of the piece has a dominant abstract effect, and the instruments need to blend in, but Rattle wrings a bit of expressiveness and edge out of each instrumental section, such as the horns in the first movement, to keep one's ears attuned and interested, for the full hour and 4 minutes this piece requires.

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