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Serge Koussevitzky (1874-1951)

Koussevitzky as Patron: The Koussevitzky Music Foundation and Commissioning Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie

Ever the entrepreneur in seeking ways to support and promote living composers, Serge Koussevitzky established the Koussevitzky Music Foundation to honor his beloved wife Natalie when she passed away in 1942, ensuring a legacy that continues to support new works till this day. One work that the foundation commissioned was Olivier Messiaen's Turangalîla-Symphonie, commissioned in 1945, and premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra on December 2, 1949 with Leonard Bernstein conducting.

Catalog cover for the Koussevitzky Music Foundation with a profile view of Koussevitzky conducting and an elaborately designed medallion

Cover for the catalog of works commissioned by the Koussevitzky Music Foundation

Working Together: Summer of 1949

A group of students and faculty at the Tanglewood Music Center sit and stand on a grassy lawn
Serge Koussevitzky with TMC faculty and students getting ready for their class picture, ca. 1949. All three men involved in the premiere of Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie spend the summer of 1949 together as faculty at the Tanglewood Music Center, mentoring the next generation of musicians. Serge Koussevitzky, whose foundation commissioned Turangalila, is seated near the center in a white hat, with composer Olivier Messiaen seated directly to his right (viewer’s left). Conductor Leonard Bernstein is seated two seats to the left (viewer’s right) of Koussevitzky, next to Aaron Copland. Photograph by Heinz Weissenstein (Whitestone Photo)
Autographed manuscript of the first page of the sixth movement from Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie, signed and dated December 2, 1949 The entire composition comprises ten movements and takes about 90 minutes to perform. The sixth movement is entitled “Jardin du Sommeil d'Amour [Garden of the Sleep of Love]. The composer’s program note describes this movement as a “long and slow melody of the Ondes Martenot and the strings, infinitely tender and gentle.”

Leonard Bernstein Conducts a BSO Rehearsal in November 1949 to Prepare for the Premiere of Messiaen's Turangalîla-Symphonie

Listen: Excerpt from a rehearsal of Messiaen's Turangalila with the BSO by Leonard Bernstein, November 28, 1949

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Seiji Ozawa discusses Turangalîla with Michael Tilson Thomas

In 1970, then BSO Associate Conductor Michael Tilson Thomas interviewed an up-and-coming Seiji Ozawa, and the conversation turned to Messiaen and Ozawa's numerous performances of the difficult Turangalîla, even before he became the BSO's Music Director three years later in 1973.

Listen: Seiji Ozawa talks with Michael Tilson Thomas about Messiaen's Turangalîla-Symphonie in 1970

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Seiji Ozawa conducts Messiaen's Turangalîla-Symphonie in Cologne, Germany, May 7, 2000: Excerpt from Introduction