Paul Dukas died in 1935. Henry Prunières, the editor of La Revue musicale
, asked a group of Dukas’s friends and former pupils to write short works to be published in a memorial volume. ‘Le tombeau de Paul Dukas’ was published as the musical supplement to La Revue musicale
in May–June 1936; it included Messiaen’s striking homage to his teacher, entitled simply Pièce
, along with works by eight other composers (among them Falla, Rodrigo and Florent Schmitt). Messiaen wrote his contribution for the ‘tombeau’ before returning to Paris for the start of the new academic year in October 1935. Many years later, he described its musical language:
My piece is quite simple: it uses mode 3 in its first transposition, whose orange, white and gold light perpetually falls onto a long dominant seventh. It is static, solemn and stark, like a huge block of stone.
The piece was first performed at the Ecole Normale on 25 April 1936, in a concert which included all nine contributions to ‘Le tombeau de Paul Dukas’. The pianist was another Dukas pupil, Joaquín Nin-Culmell (1908–2004); a few months later Messiaen played his own piece, as well as those by Rodrigo and Falla, at a concert in Lyon on 11 January 1937.
from notes by Nigel Simeone © 2004