Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Olivier Messiaen

Dr. Bob Prescribes Olivier Messiaen’s ‘Turangalîla’ Symphony

Yesterday’s Music History Monday post noted and celebrated the premiere of Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalîla Symphony in Boston, on December 2, 1949, by the Boston Symphony conducted by Leonard Bernstein. Composed between 1946 and 1948, the Turangalîla Symphony caps the first part of Messiaen’s compositional career.  There’s nothing else like it in the repertoire, for which we should probably be grateful; frankly, given its climax laden expressive content, I’m not sure any of us could survive listening to two works like the Turangalîla Symphony back-to-back.  The Turangalîla Symphony is 10-movement, 80 minute (that’s 1 hour, 20 minute) long Tantric orgasm, “rapturous overkill” in the words of one critic, “a sonic Mount Everest”, an almost non-stop exercise in rhapsodic bliss, amazing and a tad freaky. If the Turangalîla Symphony were itself a prolonged erection, the time to seek medical attention would have long since passed.  Messiaen (1908-1992) was fascinated by various Eastern cultures: their spirituality, rituals, and music, all of which are reflected in the Turangalîla Symphony. “Turangalîla” is a compound word in Sanskrit, meaning something on the lines of “a hymn of love to the play of joy, time, life and death.” A “hymn of ecstatic love” the piece most surely […]

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Music History Monday: Turangalîla

December 2 is – was – a great date for world premieres, as well as for one unfortunate and extremely notable exit.   Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 received its first performance on December 3, 1883 – 136 years ago today – in Vienna, when it was performed by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Hans Richter.   On this date in 1949 – 70 years ago today – Béla Bartók’s Viola Concerto, completed posthumously by Tibor Serly [TEE-bor SHARE-ly] (Bartók himself had died four years earlier, in 1945), received its premiere in Minneapolis, where it was performed by violist William Primrose and the Minneapolis Symphony, conducted by Antal Dorati.    We would note the unfortunate exit, on December 2, 1990, of the composer Aaron Copland.  He died at the age of 90 in North Tarrytown (known today as “Sleepy Hollow”), New York, about 30 miles north of New York City. There’s one more premiere to note, which will occupy the remainder of today’s post.  We mark the premiere, in Boston on December 2, 1949 – the same day as the premiere of Bartók’s Viola Concerto – of Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalîla Symphony, by the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by […]

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