Messiaen later said this sequence of poems influenced him deeply and he cited it as prophetic of his future artistic career. There Messiaen became fascinated with drama, reciting Shakespeare to his brother with the help of a home-made toy theatre with translucent backdrops made from old cellophane wrappers. His interest included the recent music of French composers Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel , and he asked for opera vocal scores for Christmas presents. In his father returned from the war and the family moved to Nantes.

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Completed in , Chronochromie The color of time was his first work for large orchestra, minus the solo piano and Ondes Martenot, since the Turangalila-Symphonie of In much the same way birds sing in the continuous present and mountains remain stationary and unyielding, the musical time of Chronochromie exists within a frame rather than a flow. Therefore, repetition and stasis become more important than progression or development.

Chronochromie is cast in seven large, block-like structures whose durations are carefully controlled by a mathematical formula of thirty-two durations. Within this web of durations and its many permutations, Messiaen places bird calls from France, Sweden, Mexico, and Japan. These calls are most often heard in the percussion and woodwinds.

Messiaen depicts mountains through the resonant, low hum of bassoons and tuba, huge chords that represent rocks, and quieter sounds that depict streams, foam, and droplets. The full orchestra is heard only in the introduction and the coda. Otherwise, Messiaen blends smaller instrumental combinations within the ensemble.

In essence, Chronochromie is an impressionistic tone-painting of a natural world without people, where birds and mountains exist within a cage of motionless time. In Chronochromie, Messiaen has also forged a relationship between his scale of thirty-two durations and the scale of pitches.

The durational scheme, or "mode of limited permutation," is a direct corollary to his pitch-related "modes of limited transposition" as detailed in his famous treatise Technique de mon langage musical The Technique of my Musical Language. Messiaen was particularly enamored of the "charm of impossibilities" inherent in both these systems -- of the fact that after a certain number of rotations or transpositions, these symmetrical modes inevitably return to their point of departure.

Furthermore, Messiaen "colors" the durational scheme through melody, harmony, and timbre. For instance, the melodic shapes of the birdsongs are often used to "color in," or make perceptible, a larger durational scheme.

Messiaen uncages, if not unleashes, the birdsongs from any underlying rhythmic or harmonic framework in this stunning, kaleidoscopic maze of sound.





Olivier Messiaen


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