Olivier Messiaen - Cantéyodjayâ

Messiaen himself has described the circumstances in which he composed Cantéyodjayâ, one of his most concisely argued and significant works from the late 1940,. written just after he had completed the vast Turangalila- Symphonie. According to his own account, Cantéyodjayâ was:

''composed at Tanglewood (Massachusetts) between 15 July and 15 August 1949 during the rare moments of rest I had while teaching courses in rhythmic analysis and composition at the Berkshire Music Center - a huge school of music founded by Koussevitzky, set in an immense park, with a lake, with country houses for the musicians of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and with a number of concert halls of which the largest could hold 15,000 people. [...)I was only able to be alone first thing in the morning in my classroom - before the students arrived - with an excellent Steinway for company. lt was here that I started and finished this substantial piano piece.''

Cantéyodjayâ is a study in rhythm, using, particularly, Hindu rhythms drawn from the 120 Deçi-tâlas (rhythms from different regions) in the treatise entitled San gita-ratnakara (literally 'Ocean of Music') by Çarngadeva, a Hindu theoretician of the 13th century. These 120 rhythms had long fascinated Messiaen: he worked out the rules by which they were constructed and also studied their religious and philosophical symbolism. lt is on the basis of these rhythms that this remarkable work is built. Stylistically it was a bold departure for Messiaen: drier, more percussive and harmonically more uncompromising than a work such as Turangalila, yet there are moments when it clearly harks back to this and the other works in the 'Tristan' trilogy which immediately preceded it: the Cinq rechants and the song-cycle Harawi. But the result is something new - a departure without which some of the later works (notably the Catalogue d'oiseaux)would have been inconceivable. Appropriately, Cantéodjavâ was first published in August 1953 by Europe's most progressive music publisher, Universal Edition in Vienna, and was first performed at the Domaine musical by Yvonne Loriod on 23 February 1954.

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Peter Hill