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Olivier Messiaen

December 10, 1908 - April 27, 1992
born in Avignon, France, composed during the Modern period
Olivier Messiaen was a French composer, organist, teacher, and ornithologist whose music is distinguished by his deep devotion to Catholicism, exoticism, and nature. At the age of 11 he entered the Paris Conservatoire, studying organ and improvisation with Marcel Dupré and composition with Paul Dukas. In 1930, he became the principal organist at La Trinité Cathedral in Paris, a post he held for more than 40 years. His distinguished teaching career is marked by appointments in Darmstadt (1950-1953), his famous courses in harmony and analysis at the Paris Conservatoire beginning in 1947, and his appointment as professor of composition there in 1966. His impressive list of students includes Boulez, Stockhausen, and his second wife, keyboardist Yvonne Loriod, among many others.

In synthesizing an individual style, Messiaen discovered in the music of Debussy the properties of "exotic" modes such as the whole-tone and diminished scales, calling them "modes of limited transposition." The inherent symetricalities of these modes enabled Messiaen to create progressions and melodies free of the tonic-dominant polarity of traditional tonal music, while remaining independent of the twelve-tone system as well. Messiaen was gifted with a strong sense of "synaesthesia" or hearing in colors. He often described his music in terms of "color progressions," also equating key signatures and collections (sets) of pitches with specific colors. At an early age, Messiaen developed a strong interest in rhythm, particularly fostered by Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring. His rhythmic investigations ranged from Gregorian chant, to ancient Greek poetic meters, to Indian raga, to gamelan music. He soon left regular metric divisions behind, although repetition remained an integral part of his rhythmic vocabulary. All of these elements are explained in great detail in his 1944 publication, Technique de mon langage musical (Technique of my musical language).

In 1940, while a prisoner of war of the Germans, Messiaen composed Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time). The quartet's unique instrumentation of piano, clarinet, violin, and cello was written for, and premiered by Messiaen and three fellow inmates while in detention; it became one of the great chamber works of the twentieth century. Messiaen was one of the first composers to apply serial techniques to parameters other than pitch (such as duration, register, and dynamics) in Mode de valeurs et d'intensités (1949) for solo piano. His interest in plain chant and rhythm led him to the ancient Greeks and Hindus, where he discovered processes such as nonretrogradable, additive, and subtractive rhythms. The Turangalila-symphonie of 1948 is the most synthetic of his early works. It features rich orchestration, imaginative use of tonal colors, Hindu rhythms, and a formal scheme that unfolds in large, block-like structures. Also of note here is one of the earliest uses of the Ondes Martenot, an electronic instrument capable of producing eerie glissandi, as well as monophonic melodies. Messiaen had a deep love of birdsong, and spent much time in the wild making extensive transcriptions, many of which would surface in his works, most notably in an arresting orchestral passage in Chronochromie (1960) and the monumental Catalogue d'oiseaux (Catalog of the Birds) (1958) for solo piano. His large body of organ music, composed primarily during his tenure as organist at the Sainte Trinite Cathedral, is highly idiomatic, colorful in harmony and registration, and rhythmically ingenious. From 1950, his Messe de la Pentecote (Mass of the Pentecost) is a collection of improvisations that he shaped into a composition. His only opera, St. Francis d'Assise, was completed in 1983. ~ Todd McComb, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

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Track List: Messiaen: Catalogue D'Oiseaux- Complete Seven Books

Disc 1
Title: Catalogue D'oiseaux (In 7 Books), For Piano, I/42
Disc 2
Disc 3
Title: La Fauvette Des Jardins, For Piano, I/50
Title: Petites Esquisses D'oiseaux (6), For Piano, I/54
x

Track List: Messiaen: Livre du Saint Sacrement, Diptyque, Verset - Jennifer Bate

Disc 1
Title: Diptyque, For Organ, I/3
Title: Verset Pour La Fête De La Dédicace, For Organ, I/44
Title: Livre Du Saint-sacrement, For Organ, I/53
Disc 2

5. Livre Du Saint-sacrement, For Organ, I/53: XIII. Les Deux Murailles D'eau

x

Track List: Messiaen: Oraison

1. Oraison, For Ondes Martenot: Fete Des Belles Eaux: Fete Des Belles Eaux: Oraison (Arr. For 5 Ondes Martenot) (From "The Revenant")

x

Track List: Messiaen: Saint François d'Assise / van Dam, Upshaw, Nagano

Disc 1
Title: Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52

1. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: Un Peu Vif (J'ai Peur, Sur La Route - 1st Strophe)

2. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: J'ai Peur, Sur La Route - 2nd Strophe

3. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: J'ai Peur, Sur La Route - 3rd Strophe

4. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: S'il Se Met Pleuvoir

5. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: Saint Francois Et Frere Leon Remettent Leur Capuchon...

6. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: Un Peu Lent

7. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: Lou Sois-tu, Mon Seigneur, Pour Frere Vent

8. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: Lou Sois-tu, Mon Seigneur, Pour Soeur Eau

9. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: Lou Sois-tu, Mon Seigneur, Pour Soeur Notre Mere La Terre

10. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: Saint! Saint! Saint!

11. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: O Toi! Toi Qui As Fait Le Temps!

12. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: Bien Modere

13. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: Comment Peut-on Vivre Une Telle Vie?

14. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: Entre Saint Francois...

15. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: La Penitence! La Penitence! Enleve-moi D'abord Mes Pustules

16. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: Lepreux, Ton Coeur T'accuse

17. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: Pardonne-moi, Pere, Je Recrimine Toujours

18. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: Miracle! Regarde, Pere

19. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: Pere, Pere, J'ai Tellement Protest Contre Mes Souffrances

Disc 2

1. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: Act II: Un Peu Vif

2. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: J'ai Peur, Sur La Route

3. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: Frere Massee Rentre Dans La Salle Conventuelle...

4. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: Qui Peut Frapper De La Sorte?

5. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: Pourquoi Me Derange-t-on Sans Cesse?

6. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: Mais, Il Frappe Encore!

7. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: Dieu Te Donne Sa Paix, Bon Frere!

8. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: Puis-je A Mon Tour Te Poser Une Question?

9. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: L'ange Fait Un Petit Geste De La Main...

10. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: Act II: Bien Modere

11. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: Toutes Ces Gloires Dont Parle L'apotre Me Ravissent

12. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: Montre-moi Combien Est Grande L'abondance De Douceur

13. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: Chant De La Fauvette Gerygone...

14. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: Que Me Veux-tu, Frere Gheppio, Faucon Crecerelle?

15. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: Francois! Francois!

16. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: Pardonne Ma Priere, Bel Ange De Dieu...

17. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: L'ange Se Prepare Jouer De La Viole...

18. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: J'ai Peur, Sur La Route (Bien Modere)

19. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: Mes Petites Brebis, Merci De Vos Soins

Disc 3
Disc 4

1. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: Act III: Bien Modere

2. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: Seigneur Jesus-christ, Accorde-moi Deux Graces

3. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: Les Miens, Je Les Ai Aimes

4. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: O Faiblesse!... Ame Tres Meprisable!...

5. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: Une Lueur Rouge Et Violette Enflamme Toute La Scene...

6. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: Si Tu Portes De Bon Coeur La Croix

7. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: Tres Modere

8. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: Adieu, Creature De Temps! Adieu, Creature D'espace!

9. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: Loue Sois-tu, Mon Seigneur, Pour Soeur Mort

10. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: J'appelle: Ha! Et Ma Voix: Ha!

11. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: Francois! Francois! Rappelle-toi

12. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: Seigneur! Seigneur! Musique Et Poesie M'ont Conduit Vers Toi

13. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: Il Est Parti... Comme Un Silence

14. Saint François D'assise, Opera In 3 Acts, I/52: Autre Est L'eclat De La Lune, Autre Est L'eclat Du Soleil, Alleluia!

x

Track List: Olivier Messiaen: Des Canyons aux Etoiles; Oiseaux Exotiques; Couleurs de la Cité Celeste

Disc 1
Title: Des Canyons aux étoiles, for piano & orchestra, I/51
Disc 2
Title: Oiseaux exotiques, for piano, 11 winds & 7 percussion, I/41
Title: Couleurs de la cité céleste, for piano, 13 winds & 6 percussion, I/46
x

Track List: Olivier Messiaen: Turangalîla Symphony; L'ascension

x

Track List: Olivier Messiaen: Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus

Disc 1
Title: Regards (20) Sur L'enfant Jésus, For Piano, I/27
Disc 2

Comments

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hi
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Like a dark prayer.
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pianoprayert r a c y
Le Merle Bleu is such an awesome song!
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Wow
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Music to open your sonic sinuses. Yes. (Cee Rex)
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johnafjr
I feel very lucky to have found the Quartet for $1 at a thrift store. It has changed & is still changing my life. Bravo!
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Sonic stained glass that splashes and beads like water. Birds of mercury. Cities of light and crystal.
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kenn7727
It's a music too esoteric not to listen to, too beautiful to miss, too striking to understand.
Report as inappropriate
2008 is a "Messiaen Centennial." To see worldwide listing see:
www.messiaen 2 0 0 8 . c o m

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