UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Aspects of structure in Olivier Messiaen’s Vingt regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus Rogosin, David


The paper explores various structural aspects of the 1944 masterwork for piano, Vingt Regards sur I'Enfant-Jesus, by Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992). Part One examines elements of the composer's style in isolation, focusing principally on the use of the modes of limited transposition to generate diverse tonal styles, as well as the use of form and "cyclical" or recurring themes and motifs to both unify and diversify the work. The author divides Messiaen's tonal styles into three broad groups. The first, closest to traditional tonality, is based on mode 2, while the second, with its whole-tone and bitonal associations, relies on modes 1 and 3 respectively. The use of modes 4 through 7 generate essentially atonal harmonic structures. Forms in the Vingt Regards are treated variously as unipartite, simple repetitive forms of two or three ideas, more elaborate sectional forms, or adaptations of traditional forms. Fifteen of the twenty pieces fall into the first two categories, leaving only five whose forms could be described as complex. At the same time, various musical processes frequently enrich and transform the basically simple sectional structures, creating complex and evolving masses of patterned sound. Along with the three principal themes identified by the composer in the preface to the score, eight other themes and motifs are discussed. Musical associations and relationships between these themes are also examined. Part Two presents six analyses showing how the elements previously described interact in larger contexts. Pieces numbers 2, 9, 11, 13, 15, and 16 are analyzed in whole or in part. Five synoptic tables of features in the Vingt Regards make up Appendix 1, while Appendix 2 gives English translations of some of the French titles and terms in the score. Appendix 3 reproduces Messiaen's comments—not found in the score or published elsewhere—on each of the twenty pieces.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.