Messiaen and the celestial city

February 19, 2016

Alex Ross has a nice short essay in The New Yorker on Messiaen (Hat-tip: The Music Salon). Ross writes mostly about Des Canyons aux Étoiles…, the orchestral work Messiaen wrote about the Grand Canyon:

“Zion Park and the Celestial City,” the final movement of “From the Canyons to the Stars . . .” (1971-74), dwells for a short eternity on a hyper-luminous chord of A major. What makes it unlike any A-major chord in history is the noise that wells up within it: clanging bells, bellowing gongs, an upward-glissandoing horn, the sandy rattle of a geophone (a drum filled with lead pellets). This supreme consonance seems less to banish dissonance than to subsume it.

Ross writes that the continuing interest in Messiaen’s music “suggests that the composer is destined to be the next Mahler — a cult figure who becomes a repertory staple.” I hope so! A few years ago I missed hearing a live performance of his Turangalîla Symphony, and I’m still kicking myself.

Here is “Zion Park and the Celestial City”, featuring that wonderful A-major chord:

2 Responses to “Messiaen and the celestial city”

  1. Mac Horton Says:

    I would love to have heard and seen that St. Louis performance. I’m still somewhat undecided about Messiaen, although I’ve loved “Quartet for the End of Time” for years. I recently heard Turangalila for the first time (on a used LP that I bought years ago and had never gotten around to listening to). I wasn’t listening closely but it seemed appealing, and I’ll definitely give it more attention

  2. cburrell Says:

    Turangalila is a wild piece of work: sumptuous and bursting with vitality. it almost seems wrong to listen to it during Lent. It’s not the sort of thing to which I normally gravitate, but in this case it’s so over-the-top that hearing it becomes something of an event.


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