Olivier Messiaen (1908 - 1992)
Pièce pour piano et quatuor à cordes (1991)
for Piano and String Quartet
Quator Rosamonde; Yvonne Loriod
One of my students asked me one day for whom did I compose music. This kind of question cannot be answered. One could just as well ask: why do you live in the city? Why do you prefer the mountains to the city, or the sea to the mountains? Why are you married? Why aren’t you? Why do you have enemies? Why are you alive and not dead? etc. I tried to respond to my student through successive elimination: I do not compose for the general public, neither do I compose for a few initiates. Then – said the student – you compose for a single listener who is yourself? There I found myself very embarrassed. I compose for the pleasure of internal hearing at the precise moment of composition. And I arrive thus at a new, completely abstract rhythmic order. There is the heard rhythm, transmitted by the interpreter of the sound. There is the notated rhythm, conceived and internally unfolded as one runs down a few lines of a theological or philosophical work. There is even the rhythm conceived by an individual in one unique moment, solely for the intellectual pleasure of the number, an absolutely personal rhythm, like prayer – and incommunicable.
One last word: the creator of rhythms has an incontestable superiority over the hearer and over the reader. Bergson says quite justly, “every number is one, but this unity is that of a sum… The idea of numbers implies the simple intuition of a multiplicity of parts or unities which are absolutely similar to each other.” (Données immédiates) To appreciate a duration, however long, the listener must be familiar with the unified value that can divide it into equal parts: this unified value is imposed by the author. If it is imposed before, all is easy. If it is imposed after, a considerable effort of memory is necessary on the part of the listener. For the reader, the possibility of going back, of repeating a passage at will, of consulting the preceding context and following it, suppresses a large part of the problem. The unity of value remains imposed upon it. The creator chooses the division at the same time as the sum, the parts and the same time as the unity: his pleasure depends on nothing but his own will. This is certainly the abstract and intellectual will of the Number; a unique ecstasy that surpasses the Quantitative Order to attain the grandest of all Rhythmic Orders; the distinct order of all times and of all rhythms that arranges itself around us; the distinct order of our physiological time, and even of the flow of our states of consciousness; an order absolutely independent of all sonorous phenomena that can be imposed upon us; a unique and singular order, without repetition and without recognition; a personal, intimate and incommunicable order that is a creation, a parturition, a ceaselessly renewed flower: The Order of Interior Rhythm.
- Messiaen, Treatise on Rhythm, Colour and Ornithology, 65-7.
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