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date: 20 January 2018

Messiaen, Olivier Eugène Prosper Charles

Source:
The Oxford Dictionary of Music
Author(s):
Tim Rutherford-JohnsonTim Rutherford-Johnson

Michael Kennedy,

Joyce Bourne Kennedy

Messiaen, Olivier Eugène Prosper Charles (b Avignon, 1908; d Clichy, Hauts‐de‐Seine, 1992) 

French composer, organist, and teacher. In his youth he studied Indian and Greek music rhythms, plainchant, and folk music. He also notated the songs of all French birds, classifying them by region. Several of his works quote and make great use of birdsong. In 1931 he became org of L'Église de la Trinité, Paris, holding the post for over 40 years. In 1936 he became a teacher at the École Normale de Musique and Schola Cantorum, and founded Jeune France, a group of young musicians, with Jolivet, Daniel Lesur, and Baudrier. He was imprisoned by the Germans for 2 years during the war, but on release, 1942, he was appointed a teacher at Paris Cons. (harmony, then analysis from 1947 and comp. from 1966). His pupils incl. Boulez, Stockhausen, Barraqué, Xenakis, Amy, Sherlaw Johnson, and Goehr. His 2nd wife, the pianist Yvonne Loriod, exercised great influence on his work.

Messiaen's music, which is among the most influential and idiosyncratic of the century, was compounded from his deep Catholic faith, his celebration of human love, and his love of nature. He gave a new dimension of colour and intensity to organ music, making special use of acoustic reverberations and contrasts of timbres. His harmony, rich and chromatic, derived from Debussy's use of 7ths and 9ths and artificial, symmetrical scales or ‘modes of limited transposition’. In his orch works he made use of the ondes Martenot in the vast Turangalîla‐symphonie and, inspired by Indonesian gamelan, large numbers of keyed perc instrs. His treatment of rhythm was novel, involving irregular metres, some of them originating in ancient Gr. procedures. Prin. works:

opera:

Saint François d'Assise (lib. by comp., f.p. Paris 1983) (1975–83).

orch:

Le Banquet eucharistique (1928);

Les Offrandes oubliées (1930);

Le tombeau resplendissant (1931);

Hymne au Saint Sacrement (1932);

L'Ascension (1933);

Turangalîla‐symphonie (1946–8);

Réveil des oiseaux (1953);

Oiseaux exotiques (1955–6);

Chronochromie (1960);

7 Haikai (1962);

Couleurs de la cité céleste (1963);

Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum (1964);

Des canyons aux Étoiles (1970–4);

Un vitrail et des oiseaux (1986);

La ville d'en haut (1987);

Éclairs sur l'au‐delà (1988–92);

Un sourire (1989).

vocal:

2 Ballades de Villon, v., pf (1921);

3 Mélodies, sop., pf (1929);

La mort du nombre (1929);

Mass, 8 sop., 4 vn (1933);

Vocalise, sop., pf (1935);

Poèmes pour Mi, sop., pf (1936), orch (1937);

O sacrum convivium (1937);

Chants de terre et de ciel (1938);

3 Petites Liturgies de la présence divine, women's ch, pf, ondes Martenot, orch (1944);

Chants des Déportés, sop., ten., ch, orch (1945);

Harawi, chant d'amour et de mort, sop., pf (1945);

5 Rechants, 12 vv. (1948);

La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus‐Christ, ten., bar., ch, pf, orch (1965–9).

pf:

8 Préludes (1929);

Fantaisie burlesque (1931);

Pièce pour le tombeau de Paul Dukas (1936);

Visions de l'Amen, 2 pf (1943);

Rondeau (1943);

20 Regards sur l'Enfant Jésus (1944);

Cantéyodjayâ (1948);

4 Études de rythme (1949–50);

Catalogue d'oiseaux (1956–8);

La Fauvette des jardins (1970);

Petites esquisses d'oiseaux (1985).

organ:

Variations Écossaises (1928);

Le Banquet céleste (1928);

Diptyque (1929);

Apparition de l'Église éternelle (1931);

L' Ascension (1934);

La Nativité du Seigneur (1935);

Les Corps glorieux (1939);

Messe de la Pentecôte (1950);

Livre d'orgue (1951);

Verset pour la fête de la dédicace (1960);

Méditations sur le mystère de la Sainte Trinité (1969);

Livre du Saint Sacrement (1984).

misc. instrs:

Thème et Variations, vn, pf (1932);

Fêtes des belles eaux, 6 ondes Martenot (1937);

2 Monodies en quart de ton, ondes Martenot (1938);

Quatuor pour la fin du temps, vn, cl, vc, pf (1940);

Le Merle noir, fl, pf (1951);

Timbres‐durées, musique concrète (1952);

Le Tombeau de Jean‐Pierre Guézec, hn (1971).