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Messiaen, Olivier (Eugène Prosper Charles)

Messiaen, Olivier (Eugène Prosper Charles) (b Avignon, 1908; d Clichy, Hauts-de-Seine, 1992). Fr. composer, organist, and teacher. In his youth he studied Indian and Greek mus. rhythms, plainchant, and folk mus. 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 organist 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 mus., 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 org. mus., 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 modal progressions of chords. In his orch. works he made use of the ondes Martenot in the vast Turangalîla-symphonie and of exotic perc. instrs., giving an oriental effect. Birdsong was also a major feature. His treatment of rhythm was novel, involving irregular metres, some of them originating in ancient Gr. procedures. Messiaen also acknowledged the supremacy of melody. 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 Hai-Kai (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 & CHORAL: 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 unacc. vv. (1948); La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ, ten., bar., ch., pf., orch. (1965–9).PIANO: 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).

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"Messiaen, Olivier (Eugène Prosper Charles)." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Sep. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Olivier Messiaen

Olivier Messiaen

The French composer and teacher Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992), one of the most original composers and musical thinkers of his time, had a strong influence on many of the important composers of the following generation.

Olivier Messiaen was born in Avignon, France on December 10, 1908. His mother, Marie Sauvage, was a poet, and his father was a well-known translator of Shakespeare's plays into French. They encouraged their musically precocious son, who composed little pieces when he was only 7. The boy heard a performance of Claude Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande when he was 10, and it made such a strong impression that he decided to become a composer. He entered the Paris Conservatory the next year and remained there for 11 years, studying theory, organ, piano, improvisation, history, esthetics of music, and composition. He was a brilliant student in all of these fields, and each played a part in his later activities.

In 1931 Messiaen became organist at the Church of the Trinity in Paris, a post he held for many years and where his brilliant organ improvisations attracted much attention. He served in the French army during World War II and spent 2 years as a prisoner of war. In 1942 he started teaching at the Paris Conservatory, and the theories he expounded in his classes in analysis and rhythm were highly stimulating to his students. They are described in his Technique of My Musical Language (1950). He also taught at Tanglewood in the United States and at the highly influential International Summer Course for New Music in Darmstadt, Germany.

Messiaen was an exceptional 20th-century French composer in that he was not influenced by the classicism of Igor Stravinsky, which was the predominant musical style. Messiaen believed that music was a highly expressive, romantic art. Instead of restricting the tonal resources of music, he tremendously expanded them. Drawing on his vast erudition, he found inspiration and new sounds in Japanese, Indian, and ancient Greek music as well as in the sounds of nature, particularly bird calls. This interest is shown in such pieces as Turangalila (1949), Catalogue des oiseaux (1959; Catalog of Birds), and Seven Hai-kai (1962). Another of the bases of Messiaen's music was his mystical Catholicism, evidenced in large-scale compositions such as Les Corps glorieux: Sept visions brèves de la vie des ressuscités (1939; Radiant Bodies: Seven Short Visions of the Life of the Resurrected) and Vingt regards sur l'enfant lesus (1944; Twenty Gazes on the Child Jesus).

It was not Messiaen's concept of programmatic music that influenced his pupils so much as his compositional techniques. For instance, he devised new scales and was one of the first to divorce rhythm from melody, usually thought to be inseparable. Messiaen conceived patterns of durations that could be manipulated and reversed in much the same way that Arnold Schoenberg manipulated tones in his twelve-tone works. Extending the idea, Messiaen saw the possibility of "serializing" dynamics (the degrees of loudness) and attacks (legato, portato, staccato), normally subservient to melody, to pursue patterns of their own. A piece for piano, Mode de valeur et d'intensité (1950; Modes of Duration and Loudness), consists of arrangements of 36 pitches, 24 durations, 7 attacks, and 7 degrees of loudness. This piece was a landmark of "totally controlled" composition, an important musical idea of the postwar period.

Messiaen composed another piece based on bird songs in 1972, titled La Fauvette des jardins (The Garden Warbler). In 1983 he saw his first opera, St. François d'Assise, produced at the Paris Opera. He died on April 27, 1992 in Paris. The New York Philharmonic later that year performed a posthumously published work, Éclairs sur l'Au-Delà (Illuminations of the Beyond).

Further Reading

Studies of Messiaen's life and work are in Arthur Cohn, Twentieth-century Music in Western Europe: The Compositions and the Recordings (1965), and David Ewen, The World of Twentieth-century Music (1968). For a discussion of Messiaen's place in French music see Paul Henry Lang and Nathan Broder, eds., Contemporary Music in Europe: A Comprehensive Survey (1966). □

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Messiaen, Olivier

Olivier Messiaen (ôlēvyā´ mĕsyäN´), 1908–92, French composer and organist, b. Avignon. Messiaen was a pupil of Paul Dukas at the Paris Conservatory. He became organist of La Trinité, Paris, in 1931 and taught at the Schola Cantorum and the École Normale de Musique (1936–39). In 1942 he was appointed professor of harmony at the Paris Conservatory, where he taught such 20th-century figures as Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Messiaen's music is remarkably original and personal, rich in color and texture. It draws from many schools and styles, including electronic and serial music, and is often based on scale formulas of his own invention or on his studies of Asian music and birdsong. His compositions also reflect his profound religious mysticism, which is also expounded in his didactic prose works.

Messiaen's major works include L'Ascension (1933), for orchestra; Apparition de l'Église Éternelle (1932), La Nativité du Seigneur (1935), Le Banquet Céleste (1936), and Les Corps Glorieux (1939), for organ; Quartet for the End of Time (1941), his best-known piece, composed while he was a prisoner of war in Germany (1940–42); Visions de l'Amen (1943), for two pianos; the orchestral Oiseaux Exotiques (1956), Et Exspecto Resurrectionem Mortuorum (1965), and Des Canyons aux Étoiles (1974); and The Transfiguration (1969), an oratorio. He also wrote masses, songs, and much chamber music. His symphony in 10 movements, Turangalila Symphony (1948), is considered the most grandiose expression of his theories. Messiaen's only opera is the five-hour St. Francis of Assisi (1983). His last major composition, Éclairs sur l'Au-Delà (1992), was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, to celebrate its 150th anniversary.

See his Technique of My Mystical Language (tr. 1957); biography by R. S. Johnson (1975, rev. 1989); studies by C. H. Bell (1984), P. Griffiths (1985), and R. Nichols (1986).

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Messiaen, Olivier

Messiaen, Olivier (1908–92) French composer and organist. His organ works, including L'Ascension (1933) and La Nativité du Seigneur (1935), are important contributions to the repertoire of that instrument. Among other compositions is the monumental ten-movement Turangalîla-symphonie (1949) and an opera on the life of Francis of Assisi (1983).

http://www.oliviermessiaen.co.uk

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