1908-1992

Olivier Messiaen

A precocious talent, Messiaen entered the Conservatory of Paris at the age of 11 where he studied harmony, counterpoint, fugue, percussion and composition (with Paul Dukas), as well as organ and improvisation on the organ (with Dupré). From this ‘study plan’ we can see the complexity of the artist’s interests.
He remained commited, for the most part, to being the organist of La Sainte Trinité di Parigi all his life. He was among the founders of the Group Jeune France with André Jolivet, Yves Baudrier and Daniel Lesur on the eve of the Great War (the Group propelled avant-garde French music in opposition to the neoclassic style of Stravinsky and the Group of Six).
He was imprisoned in Germany in 1940, and while in prison he wrote one of his masterpieces, Quatuor pour la fin du temps. Once freed, he took over as chairman of Harmony at the Conservatory of Paris and received a number of prizes in recognition.
He died in 1992. Perhaps the underlying characteristic of Messiaen’s music is the marriage of sophisticated composition technique with a great capacity for communicating with the public – rare in contemporary music. It is from this that the paradox of both sentimentalism and cerebral stems exists. His influence in Darmastadt, where he taught, and on the new generation of musicians (Boulez, Xenakis, Stockhausen) cannot be underestimated.
Among the constants of the inspiration for his artistic work were nature (he was an ornithologist and transcribed birds’ songs for instruments), poetry (his daughter was a famous poet who wrote with her own hand the verses for that he set to music), the influence of “other” cultures such as (from Asia, South America, Ancient Greece) as well as the Christian faith.
In the vast corpus of his compositions, organ music played a particularly important role (Livre d’orgue, 1951) as well as orchestral music: La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus for orchestra, 1969, Turangalîla-Symphonie of 1948 for piano solo, onde Martenot solo and orchestraRéveil des oiseaux of 1953 for piano and orchestra.

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