Olivier Messiaen
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1908-12-10
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Olivier Messiaen

Olivier Messiaen Biography (BBC)

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

Olivier Messiaen Biography (Wikipedia)

Olivier Messiaen (December 10, 1908 – April 27, 1992) was a French composer, organist, and ornithologist, one of the major composers of the 20th century. His music is rhythmically complex; harmonically and melodically it often uses modes of limited transposition, which he abstracted from his early compositions and improvisations. Messiaen also drew on his Roman Catholic faith for his pieces.

He travelled widely and wrote works inspired by diverse influences such as Japanese music, the landscape of Bryce Canyon in Utah and the life of St. Francis of Assisi. He said he perceived colours when he heard certain musical chords (a phenomenon known as synaesthesia in its literal manifestation); combinations of these colours, he said, were important in his compositional process. For a short period Messiaen experimented with the parametrisation associated with "total serialism", in which field he is often cited as an innovator. His style absorbed many global musical influences such as Indonesian gamelan (tuned percussion often features prominently in his orchestral works).

This entry is from Wikipedia, the user-contributed encyclopedia. It may not have been reviewed by professional editors and is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike Creative Commons License. If you find the biography content factually incorrect or highly offensive you can edit this article at Wikipedia. Find out more about our use of this data.

Olivier Messiaen Audio & Video


Olivier Messiaen Performances

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Olivier Messiaen
Cataloge d'Oiseaux - Le Courlis cendré
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Cataloge d'Oiseaux - Le Courlis cendré
Olivier Messiaen
St Francis of Assissi - Act 2 Le Preche aux oiseaux
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St Francis of Assissi - Act 2 Le Preche aux oiseaux
Olivier Messiaen
Petites esquisses d'Oiseaux; Le rouge gorge
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Petites esquisses d'Oiseaux; Le rouge gorge
Olivier Messiaen
L'Alouette Calandrelle
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L'Alouette Calandrelle
Olivier Messiaen
Et Exspecto ... (l'heure vient - 3rd mvmt)
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Et Exspecto ... (l'heure vient - 3rd mvmt)
Olivier Messiaen
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
Olivier Messiaen
La Vierge et 'Enfant (La Nativite du Seigneur)
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La Vierge et 'Enfant (La Nativite du Seigneur)
Olivier Messiaen
Les Corps Glorieux - Le combat de la mort and de la vie
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Les Corps Glorieux - Le combat de la mort and de la vie
Olivier Messiaen
5 Lecons de Solfege
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5 Lecons de Solfege
Olivier Messiaen
Institution of the Eucharist; The Darkness (from Livre du Saint Sacrement)
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Institution of the Eucharist; The Darkness (from Livre du Saint Sacrement)
Olivier Messiaen
Eight Preludes for piano: I. La colombe
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Eight Preludes for piano: I. La colombe
Olivier Messiaen
Transports de joie (from L' Ascension)
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Transports de joie (from L' Ascension)
Olivier Messiaen
3 Petites liturgies de la Presence Divine
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3 Petites liturgies de la Presence Divine
Olivier Messiaen
O Sacrum Convivium
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O Sacrum Convivium
Quatuor Olivier Messiaen
Abime des oiseaux (Quatuor pour la fin du Temps)
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Abime des oiseaux (Quatuor pour la fin du Temps)
Playlists featuring Olivier Messiaen
Essential Classics: Guest Choices
Essential Classics: Guest Choices

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