Messiaen and his Technique. Messiaen composer,
teacher, organist, bird watcher, interested in ancient and non-Western
musical cultures, neumatic notation, etc.
His ideas regarding Rhythmic structure and notation.
- Four ways of notating complex rhythms
- non-measured phrases, without time signatures (recitation,
- time signatures which change frequently
- rhythmic symbols (conducting patterns) marked in the score
- "false" meter with accents and ties (4/4 with syncopations)
- rhythmic transformations of motives
- added value rhythms
- extra value (sound)
- added silence
- added "dot"
- augmentation/diminution based on a variety of factors
- irregular but constant values (similar to aksak)
- rhythmic canons
- rhythmic pedal (ostinato)
- non-retrogradable rhythms (palindromes)
His ideas regarding pitch structure
- Modes with limited transpositions
- equal partitions of the chromatic scale (12 divided by
1,2,3,4, and 6)
- the charm of impossibilities.
- added notes
- 13th chords
- "resonance" chords and "natural harmony"
- chord progressions litanie
A mode with limited transpositions is a scale which is divided
in segments of the same size and containing the same exact arrangement of
steps and halfsteps. Whithin an octave (12 semitones), there are a
number of such divisions possible:
The last case produces the chromatic scale - not a very interesting
result. The mode whose repeating segment is a major second long is the
wholetone scale and there are only 2 such scales possible. Dividing the
octaves by 4 leads to scales build around the pillars represented by a
fully diminished chord and there are 4 possible transpositions
for each of them. When the octave is divided by 3, the mode is built
around an augmented triad and there are 3 possible transpositions
of that scale. For modes built around the interval of a tritone there
are 6 possible transpositions.
- 12 : 2 = 6 (the repeating segment is a tritone -6 semitones- long)
- 12 : 3 = 4 (the repeating segment is a major third -4 semitones- long)
- 12 : 4 = 3 (the repeating segment is a minor third -3 semitones- long)
- 12 : 6 = 2 (the repeating segment is a major second -2 semitones- long)
- 12 : 12 = 1 (the repeating segment is a minor second -1 semitone- long)
C, D, E flat, F, F#, G#, A, B: repeating
2 + 1 = 3 semitones (fully diminished chord)
C, C#, D#, E, F, G, G#, A, B: repeating
1 + 2 + 1 = 4 semitones (augmented triad)
Messiaen combines modes with limited transpositions with
nonretrogradable rhythms in order to create a sense of "failure
of the rational thinking", an impasse created by a logical proceedure.
Compare this with certain images (optical illusions) created by the
For more details, see Olivier Messiaen - Technique of my
musical language on reserve.
back to Class Notes |
back to Music 202 |
to Reserve list |
to Syllabus |
back to Courses |
back to Sever Tipei's home page |
Computer Music Project