Cantéyodjayâ (1948) by Olivier Messiaen
for piano

Messiaen’s Cantéyodjayâ was composed in the summer of 1949 during his visit to Tanglewood. He had only just completed the Tristan trilogy, consisting of the song cycle Harawi (1945), the massive symphony Turangalîla (1948), and the choral work Cinq Rechants (1948). He had already begun work on his Études de rythme, which would be completed in 1950. Cantéyodjayâ draws upon thematic material from the Tristan trilogy and anticipates compositional ideas Messiaen would bring to fruition in his Études de rythme.

Very broadly, Cantéyodjayâ consists of two large sections plus a brief coda. The first large section is a kind of rondo form with the initial Cantéyodjayâ theme in alternation with five other distinct themes, strung together in mosaic fashion, without transition or variation. One theme, labeled "ragarhanaki", is drawn from the “pillar of chords” in Turangalîla. Another theme, a tenor melody marked "alba" (medieval song of the dawn), derives from the "alba" in Messiaen’s Cinq Rechants.

After the sixth and abbreviated appearance of the Cantéyodjayâ theme, the second large section begins with a series of entirely new themes (or brief refrains) in alternation with immense couplets. The very expressive and tender first refrain "doubleaflorealila" is particularly memorable, and will be dramatically transformed later in this section. Each couplet consists of many ideas, including some development of the "ragarhanaki" theme from the first section. It should be noted that the Cantéyodjayâ theme is nowhere in evidence in the second section. In fact, only the "ragarhanaki" theme from the first section appears in this section. Everything else is new. The second section is more cohesive than the first, and leads in waves to a climax with the "doubleaflorealila" and the "ragarhanaki" themes.

Both large sections include material in which not only pitches but note values and dynamics are serialized according to various schemes. In one section the material is presented in a threevoice texture, each voice assigned its own eight pitches of fixed register, duration, and intensity, which then flow along in free counterpoint. In another section a fragment of a chromatic scale is repeated sequentially, with each succeeding note value decreased by one thirty-second-note increment. Near the climax of the piece a short phrase of specific chords appears in palindromic rhythm, then is repeated several times, each time with an added chord which sustains, and of course, lengthens the palindrome.

The brief coda seems almost an afterthought, with references to the Cantéyodjayâ and "alba" themes, and the two hands flying apart in a final flurry of notes.

[from program for May 20, 2009 concert]