Appel Interstellaire [Interstellar Call] for Solo Horn by Messiaen


I mentioned in my previous post hearing the Appel Interstellaire [Interstellar Call] of Olivier Messiaen performed by Patrick Hughes at the Northwest Horn Symposium. This is a work that I know is being performed more and more by horn players and is certainly one that more horn players should know about.

This work is actually the sixth movement of the piece Des canyons aux étoiles [From the Canyons to the Stars…], a work commissioned in 1971 and subsequently inspired greatly by a trip by the composer to Utah in 1972, especially by Bryce Canyon, seen in the photo.

This particular movement is for solo horn. The score has two Biblical passages in French on the page before this movement to set the mood. The first is listed in the score as being Psalm 146: 3-4, but [UPDATED twice, thanks to comments #3 and 7] is by the Hebrew system of Psalm divisions the text of what I would think of as Psalm 147: 3-4,

He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.
He determines the number of the stars
and calls them each by name.

and Job 16:18,

O earth, do not cover my blood;
may my cry never be laid to rest!

They are powerful passages to ponder listening to this work. Below is a great performance from YouTube; start listening to this work now!

The horn soloist on the video is Jean-Jacques Justafré. Several passages are to represent bird calls but always strike me as sounding also like Native American flute. The work certainly for me very effectively conjures up mental images of the southwest.

This work I have heard is, if you are serious about winning the International Horn Competition of the Americas, a must play work. As the full work was only premiered in 1974 it was not well known when I was in school and I did not study it at the time but it has become much better known today. I have heard it performed several times recently and it is certainly a work serious students of the horn should know.

“So, how do I get music for this great work!” you may be asking yourself now that you have heard it and read something about it. According to Douglas Hill in his book Collected Thoughts, “Messiaen eventually decided it should not be played separate from the symphony.” In reflection of this fact it is actually impossible to purchase a part (it is a rental) but you can buy a score and perform it from that as an orchestral excerpt.  Arizona State for example owns the score; it is divided into three volumes and you need volume 2 of the set. However, be warned: the score is in C!

The music situation makes it a bit harder to learn than most comparable works but the work is certainly worth the effort. I hope to see ASU students make use of our score of the work many times in the coming years.

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