1908-1992. One of the true giants of 20th century music. A complete original who incorporated elements of plainsong, Hindu rhythms, and bird song into his unique musical language. Messiaen was a devout Roman Catholic with a mystical bent, and nearly all of his later work is on religious themes. One of his best known pieces is Quartet for the End of Time, which was composed and first performed in a German concentration camp.

1908-1992 French composer

Influenced by Igor Stravinsky (Le Sacre du printemps) for rhythm, co-founded the group Le Jeune France,

Iin 1939 was called to serve in the French armed service, was captured and held prisoner in a German concentration camp, where he composed Quatuor pour la fin du temps in 1941. After his release, was appointed as Professor of harmony at the Conservatory in 1941.

From 1943-47 gave seminars on analysis and composition to a private group of avant-garde spirits, "les fleches", including Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and his future wife, Yvonne Loriod. Then he began to teach abroad including Budapest, Tanglewood, Darmstadt, and Saarbrueken. His teachings explored anything from Greek meters and Hindu rhythms to birdsong.

In 1965, was commissioned by the French government to write a dedication to those who died during the two World Wars, Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum.

In 1966, appointed professor of composition at the Paris Conservatory. In 1967, was elected into the Institut.

His music was influenced by nature, especially birdsong. explored rhythm adopted Greek meters, medieval rhythms, and western developments. experimented with rhythms using odd numbers, symmetrical and asymmetrical blending of different of rhythms, with permutation and overlapping. Inspired by Hindu rhythms, derived the thirteenth century Salgita-Ratnakara by Carnagadeve; was interested in the religious and philosophical significance. Cinq rechants, Livre d'orgue. experimented with ways of modifying rhythms; developed non-retrogradable rhythms, essentially a rhythmic palindrome. Western influences in work include Stravinsky and Claude Debussy. blends tonality, atonality, modality, and serialism. created different tone-colors, adapting organ techniques, pitches in vertical combinations corresponding to a natural harmonic series.



  • L'Ascension (for orchestra, later for organ) (1933)
  • Turangalila-Symphonie (1948)
  • Reveil des oiseaux
  • Oiseaux exotiques (1955)
  • Chronochromie
  • Sept haikai
  • Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum


  • O sacrum convivum! (1937)
  • La transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jesus Christ
  • Trois petites liturgies de la Presence Divine


  • Le banquet céleste (1928)
  • Diptyque (1930)
  • Apparition de l'eglise &eactue;ternelle (1932)
  • L'Ascension (1933-34)
  • La nativite de Seigneur (1935)
  • Les corps glorieux (1939)
  • Messe de la Pentecote (1950)
  • Livre d'orgue(1951)
  • Meditations sur le mystere de la Sainte Trinité (1969)
  • Livre du saint sacrement (1984)
  • Instrumental
  • Quatour pour la fin du temps (1941)
  • Catalogue d'oiseaux for piano (1958)
  • "Vingt Regards sur l'enfant Jésus"

General Characteristics of the Music of Olivier Messiaen

BIRDSONG. The composer's use of oddly-metered, jarring melodies is audible in the majority of his works. The songs are sometimes faithful quotes from the birds themselves. Messiaen adopted the style of birdsong into original melodies as well. Over seventy species are quoted in the Catalogue d 'oiseaux. Reveil des oiseaux, Oiseaux exotiques, Le merle noir, Petites esquisses des oiseaux, and Un travail et des oiseaux all present obvious references to the tiny creatures, but major works such as Quatour pour le fin du temps and Turangalila-Symphonie feature the animated style as well. The Ondes Martenot's timbre is strikingly reminiscent of a bird's song, and the use of the instrument as the focal voice in Turangalila-Symphonie illustrates Messiaen's ornithological fascination.

COLOR. Turangalila-Symphonie is scored for augmented orchestra, pitched percussion, piano, and Ondes Martenot. The work contains timbres and sonorities that act upon each other through juxtaposition and blend. Even with limited instrumentation, Messiaen' 5 pieces depict the spectrum of timbre. Striking intervals in which overtones conflict and adapt are a result of his harmonic writing. Notes and tonal centers are often treated as dabbles of paint, as specific pitches held intrinsic qualities to the composer. Messiaen experienced visual sensations in response to certain sounds, and he saw different colors for different tonalities or pitches (synesthesia). Following the music on a tonal instead of harmonic basis shows his formalization.

TIME. Melodies often propagate themselves, each successive return goes on longer with the same material. In this sense, the music spins out through time. Rhythmically, there is little that can be settled into, for change comes before it is ready. The alternative is stately tempos which draw on the infinite. There is no moderato in this music. Selected Works of Olivier Messiaen Quatour pour le fin du temps for clarinet, violin, cello, and piano The quartet was written during Messian's imprisonment as a soldier of war at Gorlitz in Silesia. It was performed by Messiaen, on the piano, and three other prisoners. Influences of Bartok are clearly audible in the work's second movement. Violin and cello in octaves melodically glaze over the unrelenting forward motion of the piano, drawing from much the same tonal language as Bartok's Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celeste. The third movement is for solo clarinet, while the fifth and eighth movements contain Messiaen' 5 most diatonic writing.

Catalogue d'oiseaux for piano solo:

These works basically follow a theme and variations form. The theme is a transcribed melody based on an actual birdsong. The variations are the result of numerous types of treatment of the original melody. There are thirteen separate movements in the series. Turangalila-Symphonie for orchestra, piano, and Ondes Martenot: Of all of Messiaen' 5 works, this is the most monumental. It programmatically deals with love, and uses melodic icons to symbolize the union of two entities. The masculine "statue theme" and the feminine "flower theme" contribute elements to the "chant d'amour," which is usually played by the Ondes Martenot. There is an abundance of notes in this piece, and rhythmic stability is infrequent. Development of sections occurs by a melodic cell circling throughout the orchestra. The larger formal aspects show adherence to symphonic principles. The recurring "statue theme" appears in several movements. Eclairs sur 1 'Au-Dela... (illuminations of the Beyond...) for orchestra: Messiaen's final major work was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic in 1987. The scale of the work is comparable to Turangalila-Symphonie, but it is in general a calmer, more resolved work, relying less on rhythmic virtue. The sacred program of this piece was a common characteristic of the composer. The first movement's orchestration of wind instruments creates a vocal, chant-like quality.

Related nodes:

Sources: http://www.classical.net/music/comp.lst/messiaen.html www.emory.edu/MUSIC/ARNOLD/messiaen.html http://www.xs4all.nl/~gaud/biobak/m/messiaeo.htm Last Updated 05.28.03

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