Messiaen, Olivier (Eugène Prosper Charles)

views updated May 11 2018

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).

Messiaen, Olivier (Eugène Prosper Charles)

views updated Jun 11 2018

Messiaen, Olivier (Eugène Prosper Charles)

Messiaen, Olivier (Eugène Prosper Charles), outstanding French composer and pedagogue; b. Avignon, Dec. 10, 1908; d. Clichy, Hauts-de-Seine, April 27, 1992. A scion of an intellectual family (his father was a translator of English literature; his mother, Cécile Sauvage, a poet), he absorbed the atmosphere of culture and art as a child. A mystical quality was imparted by his mother’s book of verses L’Âme en bourgeon, dedicated to her as yet unborn child. He learned to play piano; at the age of 8, he composed a song, La Dame de Shalott, to a poem by Tennyson. At the age of 11, he entered the Paris Cons., where he attended the classes of Jean and Noel Gallon, Dupré, Emmanuel, and Dukas, specializing in organ, improvisation, and composition; he carried 1st prizes in all these depts. After graduation in 1930, he became organist at the Trinity Church in Paris. He taught at the École Normale de Musique and at the Schola Cantorum (1936–39). He also organized, with Jolivet, Baudrier, and Daniel-Lesur, the group La Jeune France, with the aim of promoting modern French music. He was in the French army at the outbreak of World War II in 1939; was taken prisoner; spent 2 years in a German prison camp in Görlitz, Silesia; he composed there his Quatuor pour la fin du temps; was repatriated in 1941 and resumed his post as organist at the Trinity Church in Paris. He was prof, of harmony and analysis at the Paris Cons, (from 1948). He also taught at the Berkshire Music Center in Tanglewood (summer, 1948) and in Darmstadt (1950–53). Young composers seeking instruction in new music became his eager pupils; among them were Boulez, Stockhausen, Xenakis, and others who were to become important composers in their own right. He received numerous honors; was made a Grand Officier de la Légion d’Honneur; was elected a member of the Institut de France, the Bavarian Academy of the Fine Arts, the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and other organizations. He married Yvonne Loriod in 1961.

Messiaen was one of the most original of modern composers; in his music, he made use of a wide range of resources, from Gregorian chant to oriental rhythms. A mystic by nature and Catholic by religion, he strove to find a relationship between progressions of musical sounds and religious concepts; in his theoretical writing, he postulated an interdependence of modes, rhythms, and harmonic structures. Ever in quest of new musical resources, he employed in his scores the Ondes Martenot and exotic percussion instruments; a synthesis of these disparate tonal elements found its culmination in his grandiose orch. work Turangalîla-Symphonie. One of the most fascinating aspects of Messiaen’s innovative musical vocabulary was the phonetic emulation of bird song in several of his works; in order to attain ornithological fidelity, he made a detailed study notating the rhythms and pitches of singing birds in many regions of several countries. Themunicipal council of Parowan, Utah, where Messiaen wrote his work Des canyons aux étoiles, glorifying the natural beauties of the state of Utah, resolved to name a local mountain Mt. Messiaen on Aug. 5, 1978. On Nov. 28, 1983, his opera, St. François d’Assise, was premiered, to international acclaim, at the Paris Opéra.


dramatic:Opera: St. François d’Assise (Paris Opéra, Nov. 28, 1983). ORCH.: Fugue (1928); Le Banquet eucharistique (1928); Simple chant d’une âme (1930); Les Offrandes oubliées (1930; Paris, Feb. 19, 1931); Le Tombeau resplendissant (1931; Paris, Feb. 12, 1933); Hymne au Saint Sacrement (1932; Paris, March 23, 1933); L’Ascension (1933; Paris, Feb. 1935); 3 Talas for Piano and Orch. (Paris, Feb. 14, 1948); Turangalîla-Symphonie (1946-48; Boston, Dec. 2, 1949); Revéil des oiseaux for Piano and Orch. (Donaueschingen, Oct. 11, 1953); Oiseaux exotiques for Piano, 2 Wind Instruments, Xylophone, Glockenspiel, and Percussion (Paris, March 10, 1956); Chronochromie (Donaueschingen, Oct. 16, 1960); 7 Haï-kaï for Piano, 13 Wind Instruments, Xylophone, Marimba, 4 Percussion Instruments, and 8 Violins (1962; Paris, Oct. 30, 1963); Couleurs de la cité céleste for Large Orch., with imitations of 2 New Zealand birds and 1 from Brazil (Donaueschingen, Oct. 17, 1964); Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum for 18 Woodwinds, 16 Brass Instruments, and 3 Percussion Instruments (1964; Paris, May 7, 1965); Des canyons aux étoiles (1970-74; N.Y., Nov. 20, 1974); Éclairs sur I’Au- Delà (1987-91; N.Y., Nov. 5, 1992). chamber: Thème et variations for Violin and Piano (1932); Quatuor pour la fin du temps for Violin, Clarinet, Cello, and Piano (Stalag 8A, Görlitz, Jan. 15, 1941, composer pianist); Le Merle noir for Flute and Piano (1951); Le Tombeau de Jean-Pierre Guézec for Horn (1971). keyboard:Piano : 8 Préludes (1929); Pièce pour le tombeau de Paul Dukas (1935); Visions de I’Amen for 2 Pianos (1942); 20 regards sur I’enfant Jésus (1944); Cantéyodjayâ (1948); 4 études de rythme (1949); Catalogue d’oiseaux (1956-58). Organ :Variations écossaises (1928); Le Banquet céleste (1928); Diptyque (1929); Apparition de l’église éternelle (1932); L’Ascension (1934; based on the orch. piece, 1933); 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). vocal:2 ballades de Villon (1921); 3 mélodies (1930); La Mart du nombre for Soprano, Tenor, Violin, and Piano (1930; Paris, March 25, 1931); Mass for 8 Sopranos and 4 Violins (1933); Poèmes pour Mi for Soprano and Piano (1936; Paris, April 28, 1937; orch. version, 1937; Paris, 1946); O sacrum convivium! for Chorus and Organ (1937); Chants de terre et de del, song cycle for Soprano and Piano, after texts by the composer (1938); Choeurs pour une Jeanne d’Arc for Chorus (1941); 3 petites liturgies de la Présence Divine for 18 Sopranos, Piano, Ondes Martenot, and Orch. (1944; Paris, April 21, 1945); Harawi, “chant d’amour et de mort,” for Soprano and Piano (1945); 5 réchants for Chamber Chorus (1949); La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ for Chorus and Orch. (Lisbon, June 7, 1969).


20 leçons de solfeges modernes (Paris, 1933); 20 lecons d’harmonie (Paris, 1939); Technique de man langage musical (2 vols., Paris, 1944; Eng. tr., 1957, as The Technique of My Musical Language).


B. Gavoty, Musique et mystique: Le “Cas” M. (Paris, 1945); V. Zinke-Bianchini, O. M. Notice biographique; catalogue détaillé des oeuvres éditées (Paris, 1946); C. Rostand, O. M. (Paris, 1958); A. Goléa, Rencontres avec O. M. (Paris, 1961); C. Samuel, Entretiens avec O. M. (Paris, 1967); S. Waumsley, The Organ Music of O. M. (Paris, 1969; rev. 1975); R. Johnson, M. (Berkeley, 1975); R. Nichols, M. (London, 1975; 2nd ed., 1985); C. Bell, O. M. (Boston, 1984); P. Griffiths, O. M. and the Music of Time (London, 1985); J. Gallatin, An Overview of the Compositional Methods in Representative Works of O. M. (diss., Univ. of Cincinnati, 1986); A. Michaely, Die Musik O. M.s: Untersuchungen zum Gesamtschafen (Hamburg, 1987); T. Hirsbrunner, O. M., Leben and Werk (Laaber, 1988); B. Carl, O. M.s Orchesterwerk des Canyons aux Etoiles (Kassel, 2 vols., 1994); P. Hill , ed., The M. Companion (London, 1994); J. Boivin, La classe de M. (Paris, 1995); S. Bruhn, Images and Ideas in Modern French Piano Music: The Extra-Musical Subtext in Piano Works by Ravel, Debussy, and M. (Stuyvesant, N.Y., 1997); idem, ed., M.’s Language of Mystical Love (N.Y., 1998); M. Pople, M.: Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Cambridge, 1998).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

Olivier Messiaen

views updated Jun 11 2018

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). □

Messiaen, Olivier

views updated May 14 2018

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).

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