From The YouTube Music Archives: Des Canyons aux Etoiles by Olivier Messiaen


Des canyons aux étoiles… (From the Canyons to the stars…) is a large twelve-movement work (between 90 and 100 minutes in length) by the French composer Olivier Messiaen. It was written to a 1971 commission by the American Alice Tully for a work to celebrate the bicentenary of the United States Declaration of Independence. It was first performed in 1974.

While preparing the work, Messiaen visited Utah in 1972, where he was inspired by the landscape and its birds, and particularly Bryce Canyon and its colours. The work is also notable for its use of modern instrument techniques, including a “thunder sheet” and a “wind machine”.

The movements are as follows:

Le désert (“The desert”)
Les orioles (“The orioles”)
Ce qui est écrit sur les étoiles (“What is written in the stars”)
Le cossyphe d’Heuglin (“The white-browed robin-chat”)
Cedar Breaks et le don de crainte (“Cedar Breaks and the gift of awe”)
Appel interstellaire (“Interstellar call”)
Bryce Canyon et les rochers rouge-orange (“Bryce Canyon and the red-orange rocks”)
Les ressucités et le chant de l’étoile Aldebaran (“The resurrected and the song of the star Aldebaran”)
Le moquer polyglotte (“The mockingbird”)
La grive des bois (“The wood thrush”)
Omao, leiothrix, elapaio, shama (“Omao, leiothrix, ‘elepaio, shama”)
Zion Park et la cité céleste (“Zion Park and the celestial city”)

The piano is treated as a solo instrument throughout the work, with the fourth and ninth movements being extended piano cadenzas, while the sixth movement Appel interstellaire is for horn alone. Messiaen specified that the work is in three sections: the first section contains movements 1-5, the second contains movements 6 and 7, and the third section contains movements 8-12.


  1. Jonathan Webb says

    Marvelous. Thanks.

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