So I am learning Messiaen's Transports de Joie from L'Ascension suite. Things are fine until there is an ambiguous note on the top of page 16 (we are in F♯ Major and both hands are in the treble clef):

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(Please excuse the heavily marked score.) I have marked with pencil a sharp sign next to the E, but I am really not sure how this should be played. Previously, as in the first and second beat in this measure, there is a melody line in the left hand that is frequently tied to the bottom note of a chord in the right hand. However, since we are in F♯ Major, I do not know what the bottom not of the chord indicated should be. According to the key signature, it should be an E♯, but according to the fact that it's tied, it should be an E♮.

Has anyone performed this piece before or knows enough about music typography to answer this for sure?

  • Also, wonder why there are # put before notes that are sharp due to the key sig. as in D# 1st chord, R.H. The E on 4th chord L.H. should also be a #. As the 'melody' is copied an octave higher in the R.H., E natural seems correct. Maybe it's a typo.
    – Tim
    Commented Sep 28, 2013 at 17:30
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    That's another thing: The bottom note of the LH 4th chord is an E♯, according to the key signature... how strange.
    – Richard
    Commented Sep 28, 2013 at 17:35
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    I have played this piece, and the chord must definitely be e-a-c sharp-d sharp. So the fact that there isn't a natural accidental in front of the e is simply an editor's error. Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 12:56

1 Answer 1


I have a couple suggestions and an answer:


1.) I would check at least one other version / edition of the score to make sure it is properly notated. If it's different, you have your answer.

2.) Messiaen used / created modes of limited transposition so if you want to get really nerdy you can either read an analysis or do an analysis yourself to see whether or not the pitch is supported in the given mode. Though the key signature might say you're in F# major, with Messiaen you are most likely using some sort of pitch collection (note all of the accidentals!)


With respect to notation, accidentals only apply to the octave in which they are written. So if it says E# in the top voice but is not marked similarly at the bottom of the chord, it is E natural. Both / all octaves must be notated with an accidental if an accidental is desired. The same is obviously true between hands on the piano as well.

In the LH, the E nat. moves down to D#, exploiting a half-step relationship that seems to be evident in Messiaen's fauxbourdon-like texture here. On the chord in question, the E# now serves as a leading tone resolving to F# in following chord, which as you state in your question is the tonic (or local tonic at least.)

Lastly, I just want to point out that although it wasn't stated, we are speaking about the above excerpt as if both hands are in treble clef.

  • The slur could indicate that the chromatic movement is melodically important, too. Ie. you're supposed to hear the E♮ -> E♯ movement and notice how the chords support it. $.02 Commented Sep 29, 2013 at 7:09
  • Yes, also definitely possible. It is hard to say exactly without having done an analysis of the piece and without comparing different editions or looking at the original manuscript. Commented Sep 29, 2013 at 14:05
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    It seems like Alphonse Leduc Cie. is the only manufacturer of the score. Looking at the series of chords, it seems that we are entirely in Mode 2 except for that one note, if we follow the time signature. So I am inclined to think it is a typo and that E♮ is correct, because E♯ is not in that transposition of Mode 2. And besides, that is the only instance where it would have been a cross-staff slur rather than a tie. So that's my verdict. Thank you for recommending I analyse the piece. Learning the scales used makes the piece itself less of a nightmare to play.
    – Richard
    Commented Sep 30, 2013 at 20:54
  • You're welcome - as I'm sure you know, analysis is great for performers because everything is so much clearer and effective! Commented Sep 30, 2013 at 21:27

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