Olivier Messiaen

OLIVIER MESSIAEN (1908, Avignon –1992, Clichy, France) studied organ (with Marcel Dupré) and composition (with Paul Dukas) at the Paris Conservatoire. He graduated as an organist and rehearsal pianist as well as in improvisation, counterpoint and composition. In 1931 he became organist in the Cathedral of the Trinity in Paris. Since 1936 he taught at the École normale de musique, during the years 1942–1979 he led the class of harmony at the Conservatoire. In 1936 together with A. Jolivet and others, he formed the group Jeune France. Being a strongly religious Catholic with an affinity to mysticism, Messiaen always looked for unusual inspirative sources for his creation. He was interested in the study of Hindu rhythms (namely with problems of deci-Talas, which are rythms of ancient India, according to Indian theorist Garngadeva), in Greek measure, plain-chant, theology as well as exotic folklore. He was also interested in ornithology. He tried to create a notation system, with which he could write down the bird calls of all birds of the French land. He classified the birds according to their surroundings and regions: birds living in meadows, in the forest, in the high mountains, at the seaside, in the bushes, moorlands and swamps.

In the 1950’s he created a theory of the modes, concerning the pitch, dynamics, duration and tone creation, according to prior mathematic relations. By this he immensely influenced Boulez and other serialists. Majority of his works attract attention by their timbre (Messiaen speaks of rainbow sounds; this is achieved by frequent usage of Ondes Martenot).

Works (selection): Préludes for piano (1929), Les Offrandes obliées, symphonic meditation for orchestra / piano (1930), Hymne au Saint Sacrement for orchestra (1932), L’Ascension, 4 symphonic meditations (1933), L’Ascension for organ (1934), La Nativité du Seigneur for organ (1935), Poème pour Mi for soprano and piano / orchestra (1936/1937), Chants de Terre et de Ciel for voice and piano (1938), Les Corps Glorieux for organ (1939), Quatuor pour la fin du Temps for violin, clarinet, cello and piano (1941), Visions de L’Amen for 2 pianos (1943), Trois petites liturgies de la Présence Divine for female choir, Ondes Martenot, piano, celesta, vibraphone, percussion instruments and string orchestra (1944), Vingt regards sur l’Enfant Jésus for piano (1944), Harawi for soprano and piano (1945), Turangalila-Symphony (1946 – 1948), Cinq rechants for 12 voices (1949), Cantéyodjaya for piano (1949), Messe de la Pentecôte for organ (1951), Livre d’Orgue (1951), Reveil des oiseaux for piano and orchestra (1953), Oiseaux exotiques for piano and orchestra (1956), Catalogue d’oiseaux for piano (1956–1958), Chronochromie for orchestra (1960), Sept Haikai, esquisses japonaises for piano and chamber orchestra (1962), Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum for orchestra (1964), La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus Christ for orchestra, mixed choir and solo instruments (1965 – 1969), Méditations sur le Mystère de la Sainte Trinité for organ (1969), Des Canyons aux Étoiles for piano, percussion and chamber orchestra (1971 – 1974), Saint François d’Assise, opera on composer’s libretto (1975 – 1983), Livre du Saint Sacrement for organ (1984 – 1985), Petites Esquisses d’oiseaux for piano (1985), Un vitrail et des oiseaux for piano and chamber orchestra (1986), La Ville d’en Haut for piano and chamber orchestra (1987), Un sourir for orchestra (1989), Pieèce pour piano et quatuor (1991), Eclairs sur l’au-del`a for orchestra (1988 – 1991).