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17 Dec 2019

MESSIAEN: “Bryce Canyon and the Red-Orange Rocks” & “Cedar Breaks and the Gift of Awe” from Des canyons aux étoiles

by Michael Clive

Commissioned in 1971 by the American philanthropist and arts patron Alice Tully to celebrate the bicentenary of the Declaration of Independence, Des canyons aux étoiles is a suite of twelve orchestral movements arranged in three groupings of five, two and five. When all twelve are performed together, the movements are operatic in scope, spanning more than an hour and a half.Messiaen specified that the twelve movements of Des canyons aux étoiles were to be played in three parts, and “Cedar Breaks” concludes the first part; “Bryce Canyon” concludes the second.

Like Ferde Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite, Messiaen’s Des canyons aux étoilesis intimately connected to a particular place in the American Southwest — in this case, the state of Utah. Messiaen took inspiration from the landscape and the birds of the Beehive State while composing this suite, and was particularly moved by visiting Bryce Canyon National Park. The suite’s movements describe his experiences of Bryce as a divine creation. The cathedral-like grandeur of the park’s rock formations echoes through movement seven.

Olivier Messiaen