Pierre Laurent Aimard, Cynthia Millar, Andrew Davis, and the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain playing Messiaen’s Turangalîla Symphonie, 5th Movt “Joy of the Blood of the Stars” at the 2001 Proms.

The Turangalîla-Symphonie is a large-scale piece of orchestral music by Olivier Messiaen (1908–92). It was written from 1946 to 1948 and is considered a 20th-century masterpiece.

Turanga (time) and lîla (love) come together in this epic symphony by a modern master — complete with the mysterious sounds of the ondes Martenot.

The ondes Martenot or ondes musicales (“musical waves”) is an early electronic musical instrument. It is played with a keyboard or by moving a ring along a wire, creating “wavering” sounds. A player of the ondes martenot is called an ondist.

The ondes Martenot was invented in 1928 by the French inventor Maurice Martenot. Martenot was inspired by the accidental overlaps of tones between military radio oscillators, and wanted to create an instrument with the expressiveness of the cello.

A typical performance of the Turangalîla-Symphonie runs around 80 minutes in length. When asked about the meaning of the work’s duration in its ten movements and the reason for the use of the ondes Martenot, Messiaen simply replied, “It’s a love song.”

The unusual sounds of the ondes Martenot mean that it has featured in many films, particularly science fiction and horror films. It has also featured in popular music. Jonny Greenwood of the English rock band Radiohead is credited with bringing the ondes Martenot to a larger audience. He became fascinated with the instrument after hearing a performance of the Turangalîla-Symphonie when he was 15.

Jonny Greenwood playing a 1980s student-model ondes Martenot at the 2010 Glastonbury Festival
One of Radiohead’s songs that feature a ondes Martenot

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