when after five endless movements heard in the studio, I was told, innocently unprepared as I was, that there were another five to come, I began to realise to the full what the evening’s ordeal meant. Being well seasoned to that sort of thing, I could bear the harsh sounds that must have made many listeners in their homes turn off their sets precipitately; but the “beautiful” passages of a lushness never experienced before outside a cinema during the organ interlude, were not easily endurable.Heh! What is really interesting is not the complaint about the harsh sounds, but about the lush ones! Boulez famously criticised Messiaen for writing beautiful passages because they were outside the ideology of what was permitted in "serious" music post-WWII. Ironically, I suspect that we will be listening to Messiaen long after we have forgotten just who Pierre Boulez was. Here, have a listen for yourself:
Yes, it is a love song in ten movements for enormous orchestra with a lot of unusual instruments, but it is hard to think of a more aesthetically interesting and challenging 20th century work for orchestra. There are more unpleasant works, certainly, and more dull ones, but none quite as bold as this.
Much of what is written these days by John Luther Adams, or Esa-Pekka Salonen or Thomas Adès is pretty weak tea compared to this piece by Messiaen.
But if you want to really compare past to present--the Turangalîla Symphony dates from 1949--you should watch any of the old William F. Buckley jr. Firing Line episodes, like this interview with Tom Wolfe from 1970 when "Radical Chic" had just been published describing a notorious party thrown by Leonard Bernstein to support the Black Panthers:
Never mind the subject matter, what is interesting is the level of discourse. Would anyone be introduced in those measured periods on television today? Believe me, if this is what was on tv now, I would never have cut my cable! Discussion these days seems more to resemble the howling of dogs and barking of hyenas.