MESSIAEN Olivier, Appel interstellaire

On 9 March 1971, Messiaen’s former pupil Jean-Pierre Guézec died at the age of thirty-six. At the Royan Festival a few weeks later, a musical ‘Tombeau’ was dedicated to his memory comprising pieces for solo instruments by composers such as Gilbert Amy, Betsy Jolas, Marius Constant and Iannis Xenakis. Messiaen’s piece was for solo horn and it was written within a few days of Guézec’s death (he noted its completion on 20 March). At the Royan concert it was played by Daniel Bourgue under the title found on the earliest manuscript: ‘Piece for horn, in memory of Jean-Pierre Guézec’. Three years later, with the new title Appel interstellaire, it became the sixth movement of Messiaen’s Des Canyons aux étoiles, first performed in New York on 20 November 1974. While Messiaen subsequently insisted that he wanted the movement performed only as part of the larger work, its origins were as an independent solo. It makes extreme demands on the performer, requiring the use of extended techniques such as glissandos, strange, swirling oscillations, and howling sounds. The result is an astonishing piece of virtuoso writing, composed as a highly personal response to the tragedy of Guézec’s early death.   

© Nigel Simeone 

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