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Olivier Messiaen
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1908-12-10
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Olivier Messiaen

Biography

Messiaen was born in Avignon; his father taught English, his mother was a poet. During the First World War the family moved to Grenoble in the French Alps – a landscape to which Messiaen would constantly return throughout his life ...

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Biography

Messiaen was born in Avignon; his father taught English, his mother was a poet. During the First World War the family moved to Grenoble in the French Alps – a landscape to which Messiaen would constantly return throughout his life in order to compose. The other constant in his life was a deep Catholic faith, which he found early and which never left him.

In 1919 Messiaen entered the Paris Conservatoire, where his teachers included Marcel Dupré (organ and improvisation) and Paul Dukas (composition). There he discovered the key elements of his composing technique: Indian rhythmic cycles, and ‘modes of limited transposition’ (exotic scales constructed differently from the traditional Western major and minor ones). Le banquet céleste (1928) for organ, a set of piano Préludes (1928–9) and the orchestral Les offrandes oubliées (1930) already show the trademark features of Messiaen’s mature style: slow meditation in richly refracted chord-sequences (as an image of eternity); bounding dances of despair or joy; and irregular, objectively unfolding rhythmic sequences (another image of timelessness in musical time).

In 1931 Messiaen was appointed organist at the church of La Trinité in Paris, a post he held until his death. Major statements from this period were La Nativité du Seigneur (1935) and Les corps glorieux (1939) for organ, and the song-cycles Poèmes pour Mi (1936) and Chants de terre et de ciel (1938). When the Second World War broke out, Messiaen was called up as a medical orderly, captured, and sent to a prison camp in Germany. There he met up with a violinist, a cellist and a clarinettist, for whom he wrote the Quatuor pour la fin du temps (1940–41). The premiere took place, in freezing conditions and with the composer playing a decrepit upright piano, before an audience of fellow-prisoners in Stalag VIIIA.

Repatriated to France, Messiaen taught at the Paris Conservatoire, where his pupils included Yvonne Loriod, his future second wife. Her dazzling pianism helped to inspire the cascade of works that followed – among them Visions de l’Amen (1943) for two pianos, the solo piano cycle Vingt regards sur l’Enfant- Jésus (1944) and the Turangalîla-Symphonie (1946–8) for large orchestra, piano and ondes martenot. Stimulating contact with the European avant-garde engendered more piano and organ music (notably Livre d’orgue, 1951) and the orchestral Chronochromie (1959–60). And Messiaen’s love of birdsong – for him, a symbol of the resurrected soul in flight – flowered in the piano cycle Catalogue d’oiseaux (1956–8).

Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum (1964) for wind and percussion introduced a monumental, apocalyptic element that pointed towards Messiaen’s later works. These included huge, multi-faceted proclamations of his faith that drew together every aspect of his style: the choral and orchestral La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ (1965–9); Des canyons aux étoiles … (1971–4) for piano, horn, xylorimba, glockenspiel and chamber orchestra; an immense opera-as-fresco, Saint Francis of Assisi (1975–83); and the orchestral cycle Éclairs sur l’Au-delà … (1988–92).

Profile © Malcolm Hayes

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Tracks (47)

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Olivier Messiaen & Peter Hill
La fauvette passerinette for piano
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La fauvette passerinette for piano
Olivier Messiaen, Donal Doherty & Codetta
O sacrum convivium! for chorus SATB (or soprano & organ)
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O sacrum convivium! for chorus SATB (or soprano & organ)
Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Dominique Kim, Olivier Messiaen, Kent Nagano & Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Turangalila Symphony- Final movement
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Turangalila Symphony- Final movement
Olivier Messiaen, The Choir of St John's College, Cambridge & Andrew Nethsingha
O Sacrum Convivium
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O Sacrum Convivium
Olli Mustonen, Steven Isserlis & Olivier Messiaen
Quatuor pour la fin du temps - Louange a l'Eternite ...
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Quatuor pour la fin du temps - Louange a l'Eternite ...
Olivier Messiaen, Tzimon Barto, Christoph Eschenbach & London Philharmonic Orchestra
Des Canyons Aux Etoiles For Piano, Horn And Orchestra: Part 3; Les Ressuscites et le chant de l'etoile Aldebaran
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Des Canyons Aux Etoiles For Piano, Horn And Orchestra: Part 3; Les Ressuscites et le chant de l'etoile Aldebaran
Michel Lethiec, Olivier Messiaen, Edgar Moreau, Kaja Danczowska & Yeol Eum Son
Quatuor pour la fin du temps for clarinet, piano, violin and cello
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Quatuor pour la fin du temps for clarinet, piano, violin and cello
Yvonne Loriod & Olivier Messiaen
Le Rousserolle Effarvatte (Catalogue d'Oiseux)
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Le Rousserolle Effarvatte (Catalogue d'Oiseux)
Olivier Messiaen & Pierre-Laurent Aimard
8 Preludes for piano
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8 Preludes for piano
Peter Hill & Olivier Messiaen
Morceau de lecture à vue
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Morceau de lecture à vue
Peter Hill & Olivier Messiaen
La Fauvette Passerinette
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La Fauvette Passerinette
Olivier Messiaen, BBC Symphony Orchestra & Sakari Oramo
Un Sourire
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Un Sourire
Olivier Messiaen & Peter Hill
8 Preludes for piano: no.1; La Colombe
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8 Preludes for piano: no.1; La Colombe
Olivier Messiaen, Peter Oundjian & William Tritt
Theme and Variations for violin and piano
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Theme and Variations for violin and piano
Peter Hill & Olivier Messiaen
Piece pour le tombeau de Paul Dukas for piano
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Piece pour le tombeau de Paul Dukas for piano
Olivier Messiaen & Members of Royal Northern Sinfonia
Fouillis d’arc-en-ciel (Quartet for the End of Time)
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Fouillis d’arc-en-ciel (Quartet for the End of Time)
Bernard Wisson, Olivier Messiaen & Thomas Bloch
Feuillet inédit No. 4
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Feuillet inédit No. 4
Olivier Messiaen, Kent Nagano & Berlin Philharmonic
The Turangalila Symphony - final
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The Turangalila Symphony - final
Olivier Messiaen, Olli Mustonen, Joshua Bell, Steven Isserlis & Michael Collins
Quatuor pour la fin du temps: VIII. Louange à l'Immortalité de Jésus
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Quatuor pour la fin du temps: VIII. Louange à l'Immortalité de Jésus
Olivier Messiaen, Yvonne Loriod, Maurice Le Roux, Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française & Jeanne Loriod
Turangalila Symphony (5th mvt "Joie du sang des étoiles")
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Turangalila Symphony (5th mvt "Joie du sang des étoiles")
Olivier Messiaen, Myung-Whun Chung & Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra
L'Ascension: Quatre Meditations symphoniques pour orchestre
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L'Ascension: Quatre Meditations symphoniques pour orchestre
Olivier Messiaen, Leonard Elschenbroich & Zhang Zuo
Louange a l'Eternite de Jesus (Quatuor pour la fin du temps)
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Louange a l'Eternite de Jesus (Quatuor pour la fin du temps)
Olivier Messiaen, Yvonne Loriod, Václav Neumann & Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Reveil des oiseaux for piano and orchestra
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Reveil des oiseaux for piano and orchestra
Olivier Messiaen & Håkon Austbø
Petites Esquisses D'Oiseaux - 2. Le Merle-Noir
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Petites Esquisses D'Oiseaux - 2. Le Merle-Noir
Olivier Messiaen & Håkon Austbø
Petites Esquisses D'Oiseaux - 1. Le Rouge-Gorge
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Petites Esquisses D'Oiseaux - 1. Le Rouge-Gorge
Olivier Messiaen & Håkon Austbø
Catalogue d'Oiseaux/Book III. V La Chouette Hulotte (Tawny Owl)
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Catalogue d'Oiseaux/Book III. V La Chouette Hulotte (Tawny Owl)
Olivier Messiaen, Timothy McAllister - saxophone & Juliet Edwards - piano
Vocalise - etude
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Vocalise - etude
Olivier Messiaen, Leonard Elschenbroich, Elena Urioste, Mark Simpson & Zhang Zuo
Quatuor pour la fin du temps
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Quatuor pour la fin du temps
Olivier Messiaen & Yvonne Loriod
Vingt regards sure l’enfant Jesus: Regard du Pere
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Vingt regards sure l’enfant Jesus: Regard du Pere
Olivier Messiaen, Tamara Stefanovich & Pierre-Laurent Aimard
Visions de L'Amen
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Visions de L'Amen
Olivier Messiaen, Richard Marlow & Choir of Trinity College
O sacrum convivium
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O sacrum convivium
Olivier Messiaen, Combattimento Consort Amsterdam & Olivier Latry (organ of Notre-Dame de Pairs)
L'Ascension; Transports de joie
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L'Ascension; Transports de joie
Olivier Messiaen, Hannu Lintu, Angela Hewitt, Valerie Hartmann-Claverie & Finnish R S O
Turangalila-symphonie
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Turangalila-symphonie
Olivier Messiaen & Steven Osborne
20 Regards sur l'enfant Jesus for piano
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20 Regards sur l'enfant Jesus for piano
Olivier Messiaen & Chamber Music Northwest
Quator pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time): I. Liturgie de Cristal (Crystal Liturgy)
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Quator pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time): I. Liturgie de Cristal (Crystal Liturgy)
Olivier Messiaen, Joshua Bell, Steven Isserlis, Olli Mustonen & Stephen Collins
Quartet for the End of Time
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Quartet for the End of Time
Olivier Messiaen & Håkon Austbø
L’alouette calandrelle Catalogue D’oiseaux
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L’alouette calandrelle Catalogue D’oiseaux
Olivier Messiaen & Kathryn Stott
Theme and Variations
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Theme and Variations
Dominique Kim, Berlin Philharmonic, Olivier Messiaen, Pierre-Laurent Aimard & Kent Nagano
Turangalila-Symphonie: Final
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Turangalila-Symphonie: Final

Turangalila-Symphonie: Final

Performer
Dominique Kim, Berlin Philharmonic, Olivier Messiaen, Pierre-Laurent Aimard & Kent Nagano
Olivier Messiaen & Gillian Weir
Transports de joie....no.3 from L' Ascension-4 meditations symphoniques, transc. for organ (feat. Gillian Weir)
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Transports de joie....no.3 from L' Ascension-4 meditations symphoniques, transc. for organ (feat. Gillian Weir)

Transports de joie....no.3 from L' Ascension-4 meditations symphoniques, transc. for organ (feat. Gillian Weir)

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Olivier Messiaen & BBC Symphony Orchestra
Eclairs sur l'Au-Dela (feat. BBC Symphony Orchestra)
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Eclairs sur l'Au-Dela (feat. BBC Symphony Orchestra)
Paul Jacobs, Women's Chorus of the Choral Art Society, John Canarina, Olivier Messiaen, New York Philharmonic & Leonard Bernstein
Trois Petites Liturgies II. Sequence du Verbe, Cantique Divin
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Trois Petites Liturgies II. Sequence du Verbe, Cantique Divin

Trois Petites Liturgies II. Sequence du Verbe, Cantique Divin

Performer
Paul Jacobs, Women's Chorus of the Choral Art Society, John Canarina, Olivier Messiaen, New York Philharmonic & Leonard Bernstein
Last played on
Olivier Messiaen & Jean-Rodolphe Kars
Regard du Silence (Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant Jesus) (feat. Jean-Rodolphe Kars)
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Regard du Silence (Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant Jesus) (feat. Jean-Rodolphe Kars)
Olivier Messiaen & Olivier Latry
L'Ascension I. Majesté du Christ demandant sa gloire à son père (feat. Olivier Latry)
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L'Ascension I. Majesté du Christ demandant sa gloire à son père (feat. Olivier Latry)
Amsterdam Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Olivier Messiaen, Riccardo Chailly & Jean-Yves Thibaudet
Turangalila-symphonie
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Turangalila-symphonie

Turangalila-symphonie

Performer
Amsterdam Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Olivier Messiaen, Riccardo Chailly & Jean-Yves Thibaudet
Last played on
Francois Epinasse & Olivier Messiaen
La Nativite du Seigneur for organ: Dieu parmi, nous
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La Nativite du Seigneur for organ: Dieu parmi, nous
Francois Epinasse & Olivier Messiaen
La Nativite du Seigneur for organ: Les Bergers
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La Nativite du Seigneur for organ: Les Bergers
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