Living archives expressed in the body — Repetition utilized in order to better understand — Improvisation encouraged — Complex rhythms articulated — Movement and sound become extensions of each other — Broken words are uttered — To voice one’s surroundings is a way to be immersed in and expanded by them.*  These are some values intrinsic to the traditions of Harawi (Qarawi) — Andean music which is still embodied across the diverse cultures and peoples in Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador and beyond. 

Olivier Messiaen only became aware of Andean Harawi traditions through an ethnographic anthology written by Marguerite and Raoul d’Harcourt, however the melodies and themes seemed to provide a means through which Messiaen could process why love, loss, absence and presence are human preoccupations; and how shattered realities give way to expansiveness. 

Messiaen’s life circumstances, relationships, and beliefs always seem to infuse his compositions, oftentimes with explicit symbols and associations. Messiaen began to write this song cycle when he came  home after being a prisoner of war during World War II. Shortly after his return, the mind and body of Claire Delbos –– a fellow musician, source of inspiration, and his wife –– had begun to slowly degenerate, including total amnesia, and a new love partner was entering his life.

While appropriating elements of Quechuan languages and Andean Harawi traditions, Messiaen’s song cycle Harawi explores dichotomies: life and death, pain and joy, spirituality and sensuality, sacrifice and preservation, fulfillment and loss. He seems to be asking from a place of personal grief: how do you stay connected to someone you love while the accumulated memories of your relationship begin to fade or drift? How do you recover and move on?  

Our desire to perform this work originated from an intuitive interest in Messiaen’s expressions through his poetry and music. However, our discussions with artists Luz Zenaida Hualpa García and Karen Michelsen Castañón, and a direct acknowledgement of Olivier Messiaen’s difficult life circumstances while he wrote this piece, have informed our explorations and revealed deep threads of resonance. We look forward to continuing these conversations and sharing where they have led us.

* these are fragments and impressions from conversations with Luz Zenaida Hualpa García, dancer and choreographer & Karen Michelsen Castañón, visual artist

This production was performed in Aix-en-Provence, De Singel, Leverkusen, and Elbphilharmonie.