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Marius Constant and Symphonie Pelleas et Melisande

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Marius Constant (February 7, 1925 – May 15, 2004) was a Romanian-born French composer and conductor, who was known in the classical world primarily for his ballet scores, but is best remembered for his iconic theme for the Twilight Zone TV series.  Constant was born in on February 7, 1925, Bucharest, Romania, and studied piano and composition at the Bucharest Conservatory, receiving the George Enescu Award in 1944. In 1946 he moved to Paris, studying at the Conservatoire de Paris with Olivier Messiaen, Tony Aubin, Arthur Honegger and Nadia Boulanger. His compositions earned several prizes. From 1950 on he was increasingly involved with electronic music and joined Pierre Schaeffer’s Groupe de Recherche de Musique Concrète.

From 1956 to 1966 Constant conducted at the Ballets de Paris, then directed by Roland Petit. To this period belong the numerous ballet scores for Petit and Maurice Béjart, namely: Haut-voltage (1956), Contrepointe (1958), Cyrano de Bergerac (1959), Éloge de la folie (1966) and Paradis perdu (1967). For the 1957 Aix-en-Provence Festival 1957 he wrote a piano concerto, but won wider recognition for the premiere, conducted by Leonard Bernstein, of 24 Préludes pour Orchestre (1958). Turner (1961) was a tone poem inspired by the English painter William Turner.

In the late 1950s, Constant was commissioned by Lud Gluskin of CBS to create a number of short pieces for the CBS stock music library that could be used as music for CBS radio and TV shows. The unusual, sometimes discordant nature of Constant’s work meant that the pieces were seldom heard or used, but in 1960, Gluskin edited two pieces together (“Etrange No. 3,” a series of repeated four-note phrases on electric guitar, and “Milieu No. 2,” an odd pattern of guitar notes, bongo drums, brass and flutes) to create a new theme for the CBS television series The Twilight Zone, then entering its second season. The theme quickly became iconic, and is easily Constant’s most well-known work in the public mind. Constant himself was apparently unaware for some years that his music was being used as The Twilight Zone’s theme, this music being a part of a “work made for hire” agreement with CBS, Constant thereby derived no ongoing income from it.

In 1963 Constant founded the pioneering Ensemble Ars Nova. In 1970 he took over the musical direction of the ORTF; from 1973 to 1978 he directed at the Paris Opera, and in 1988 and 1989 was Professor of Orchestration at the Paris Conservatory. Besides these appointments, he taught at Stanford University and in Hilversum. Later ballets include Septentrion (1975), Nana (1976) and L’ange bleu (1985). La tragédie de Carmen (1981), his adaptation of Bizet’s opera for director Peter Brook, was an international success.  He 1983 wrote a Symphonie based on Claude Debussy’s opera Pelléas et Mélisande.   In 1987 he arranged the orchestral music for the ballet Les mariés de la tour Eiffel, a pastiche by various French composers, for an ensemble of 15 instruments. In 1990 he also made an orchestral arrangement of the piano composition Gaspard de la nuit by Maurice Ravel.  He died in Paris on May 15, 2004, aged 79.

The following work by Marius Constant is contained in my collection:

Symphonie Pelleas et Melisande (after Debussey)

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