Turangalîla is a purely an instrumental work, and its
title is more enigmatic than descriptive. 
The title comes from two Sanskrit words: turanga, meaning “time” as applied to movement and rhythm, and lîla, meaning “‘play’ in the divine
sense of cosmic creation and destruction, life and death” (Barker 54).  It is imperative to examine the works
composed before and after Turangalîla to
then better understand the work’s programmatic content.  At the time of the commission Messiaen was
deeply fascinated by the myth of Tristan
und Isolde, and his symphony is the central work in a trilogy concerning the
themes of love and death.  Preceding Turangalîla is Harawi (1945), a song cycle for soprano and piano, and it is the
first work in the triptych.  The piece
receives its name from a Quechan word utilized in Peruvian folklore meaning “an
irresistible and profoundly passionate love, which often leads towards the death
of the two lovers” (Sholl 35).  This idea
provides Messiaen with an impetus to continue his exploration on the love-death
theme from the Tristan myths, as these
two themes are explicitly stated in the work’s subtitle: Chant d’amour et de mort (“Song of love and death”).  Harawi can
be considered a cathartic work, 

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