Dissertation Index

Author: Harris, Joseph H.

Title: Harmony in Olivier Messiaen's Eclairs sur l'Au-Dela

Institution: University of Iowa

Begun: January 1998

Completed: September 2000


The aim of my dissertation is a comprehensive examination of the harmonic language of French composer Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992). I will systematically define Messiaen's harmonic techniques, then demonstrate his use of these techniques in his late orchestral work Eclairs sur l'Au-Dela (1991).

Although Messiaen's music has been the subject of much scholarly research, his harmonic techniques have never received a rigorous examination. Most authors who have addressed this topic do little more than quote Messiaen's writings. In my dissertation, I intend to follow Messiaen's theories whenever possible; when his theories alone do not provide enough guidance for a complete analysis, I extrapolate and formulate new analytical strategies.

As a result of my preliminary research, I have concluded that Messiaen's harmonic language comprises five elements: birdsong, modal passages, color chords, resonant sonorities, and free harmonic passages. Messiaen treats these elements as distinct categories and rarely combines them. However, he does use them simultaneously, juxtaposing and layering them in his music much the same way an abstractionist painter might juxtapose blocks of colors on the canvas. To faithfully analyze Messiaen's music, one must first be able to separate and identify each of these elements. Once this is done, one can then analyze relationships between the elements and a work's overall structure.

To demonstrate Messiaen's harmonic techniques within the context of his music, I will analyze Eclairs sur l'Au-Dela, an orchestral work in eleven movements. This particular work is one of Messiaen's last completed compositions and provides perhaps the clearest illustration of his compositional methods. The size of the orchestra is small and the scoring (the distribution of musical materials among the instruments) tends to remain uniform. More importantly, Messiaen's compositional style evolved over the course of his career; late works such as Eclairs tend to offer the most concise and distinct examples of his harmonic techniques.

Keywords: Olivier Messiaen, Eclairs sur l'Au-Dela, analysis, atonal, harmony


Chapter 1: Introduction

1. Goals of the present study
2. Historical background of Eclairs sur l'Au-Dela and relevance to the present study
3. Assessment of previous research on Messiaen's harmonic language

Chapter 2: Classified Harmonic Elements

1. The modes of limited transposition
2. The turning chord group
3. The chord of resonance
4. The chord with contracted resonance
5. The chord in fourths
6. The chord of total chromaticism
7. The chord on the dominant
8. Chords of transposed inversions

Chapter 3: Unclassified Harmonic Elements

1. Resonance
a. Pitch-class complementation
b. Chromatic saturation
2. Voice leading
a. Chromatic voice leading
b. Split transformation

Chapter 4: Messiaen and Color

1. The historical relationship between color and pitch-class
2. Messiaen's relationship to contemporary artists
3. Messiaen's synesthetic experience of color
4. The influence of color on Messiaen's harmonic language
5. Cataloging colors in Messiaen's music
a. Modal colors
b. Non-modal colors

Chapter 5: Analysis of Individual Movements of Eclairs sur l'Au-Dela

1. "Apparition de Christ glorieux"
2. "La constellation de Sagittaire"
3. "L'Oiseau-Lyre et la Ville-Fiancee"
4. "Les Elus marques de sceau"
5. "Demeurer dans l'Amour"
6. "Les sept Anges aux sept trompettes"
7. "Et Dieu essuiera toute larme de leurs yeux"
8. "Les Etoiles et la Gloire"
9. "Plusieurs oiseaux des arbres de Vie"
10. "Le chemin de l'Invisible"
11. "Le Christ, lumiere du Paradis"

Chapter 6: Conclusion

1. Relationships between harmonic elements
2. Critique of my analytical methodology
3. My analytical methodology applied to other works of Messiaen, and to works of other French composers


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