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Messiaen: "Couleurs de la Cite Celeste"

On our final concert of the year, we will perform our second Messiaen piece of this year, and the third in two years. Couleurs de la Cite Celeste was written the year before Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum, and portrays colors as represented by the multi-colored wall in the book of Revelation. Below is the program note from Messiaen.

Couleurs de la Cité Celeste was composed in 1963, and first performed on October 17, 1964 at a concert at the Donaueschingen Festival under the direction of Pierre Boulez. These "inner colours" spring from five quotations from the Apocalypse: Revelations IV, 3; Revelations VIII,6; Revelations IX,1; Revelations XXI,11; and Revelations XXI,19-20. The form of the piece depends entirely on colours. The themes, melodic or rhythmic and the complexes of sounds and timbres evolve like colours. In their perpetually renewed variations, there can be found (by analogy) colours that influence their neighbors, shading down to white, or toned down to black. These transformations can be compared to the superimposition of plays enacted on several stages, the simultaneous unfolding of several different stories that assume and call out for it. Plainsong Alleluias, Greek and Hindu rhythms, permutations of note-values, the bird-song of different countries were all collected and used in this work. All these accumulated materials are placed at the service of colour and of the combinations of sounds that assume and call out for it. The sound-colours, in their turn, are a symbol of the Celestial City and of Him who dwells there. Above all time, above all place, in a light without light, in a night without night... That which the Apocalypse, still more terrifying in its humility than in its visions of glory, describes only in a blaze of colours... To the song of two New Zealand birds is opposed "the abyss", with its pedal-notes for the trombones and the resonance of tam-tams. To the cries of the Brazilian Araponga is opposed "the coloured ecstasy" of pedal points. The work ending no differently from the way it began, but turning on itself like a rose-window of flamboyant and invisible colours.

- Oliver Messiaen

Oliver Messiaen, Couleurs de la Cite Celeste

National Symphony Orchestra of Mexico, Rossen Milanov, conductor

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