75 Facts About Olivier Messiaen


Olivier Eugene Prosper Charles Messiaen was a French composer, organist, and ornithologist who was one of the major composers of the 20th century.


Olivier Messiaen's music is rhythmically complex; harmonically and melodically he employs a system he called modes of limited transposition, which he abstracted from the systems of material generated by his early compositions and improvisations.


Olivier Messiaen wrote music for chamber ensembles and orchestra, vocal music, as well as for solo organ and piano, and experimented with the use of novel electronic instruments developed in Europe during his lifetime.


Olivier Messiaen was appointed organist at the Eglise de la Sainte-Trinite, Paris, in 1931, a post held for 61 years until his death.


Olivier Messiaen taught at the Schola Cantorum de Paris during the 1930s.


Olivier Messiaen was appointed professor of harmony soon after his release in 1941 and professor of composition in 1966 at the Paris Conservatoire, positions that he held until his retirement in 1978.


Olivier Messiaen perceived colours when he heard certain musical chords ; according to him, combinations of these colours were important in his compositional process.


Olivier Messiaen travelled widely and wrote works inspired by diverse influences, including Japanese music, the landscape of Bryce Canyon in Utah, and the life of St Francis of Assisi.


Olivier Messiaen's style absorbed many global musical influences such as Indonesian gamelan.


Olivier Messiaen found birdsong fascinating, notating bird songs worldwide and incorporating birdsong transcriptions into his music.


Olivier Eugene Prosper Charles Messiaen was born on 10 December 1908 at 20 Boulevard Sixte-Isnard in Avignon, France, into a literary family.


Olivier Messiaen was the elder of two sons of Cecile Anne Marie Antoinette Sauvage, a poet, and Pierre Leon Joseph Messiaen, a scholar and teacher of English from a farm near Wervicq-Sud who translated the plays of William Shakespeare into French.


Olivier Messiaen later said this sequence of poems influenced him deeply and he cited it as prophetic of his future artistic career.


Olivier Messiaen's brother Alain Andre Prosper Messiaen, four years his junior, was a poet.


Later, Olivier Messiaen felt most at home in the Alps of the Dauphine, where he had a house built south of Grenoble where he composed most of his music.


Olivier Messiaen took piano lessons, having already taught himself to play.


Olivier Messiaen's interests included the recent music of French composers Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel, and he asked for opera vocal scores for Christmas presents.


Olivier Messiaen gained first prize in organ playing and improvisation in 1929.


Olivier Messiaen's mother died of tuberculosis shortly before the class began.


Dupre later wrote that Olivier Messiaen, having never seen an organ console, sat quietly for an hour while Dupre explained and demonstrated the instrument, and then came back a week later to play Johann Sebastian Bach's Fantasia in C minor to an impressive standard.


From 1929, Olivier Messiaen regularly deputised at the Eglise de la Sainte-Trinite, Paris, for the ailing Charles Quef.


Olivier Messiaen assumed a post at the Schola Cantorum de Paris in the early 1930s.


Olivier Messiaen married the violinist and composer Claire Delbos that year.


Olivier Messiaen spent the rest of her life in mental institutions.


In 1934, Olivier Messiaen released his first major work for organ, La Nativite du Seigneur.


Olivier Messiaen wrote a followup four years later titled Les Corps glorieux, however it was premiered in 1945.


In 1936, along with Andre Jolivet, Daniel-Lesur and Yves Baudrier, Olivier Messiaen formed the group La jeune France.


Olivier Messiaen included a part for the instrument in several of his subsequent compositions.


Olivier Messiaen arranged his orchestral suite L'ascension for organ, replacing the orchestral version's third movement with an entirely new movement, Transports de joie d'une ame devant la gloire du Christ qui est la sienne.


Olivier Messiaen wrote the extensive cycles La Nativite du Seigneur and Les corps glorieux.


At the outbreak of World War II, Olivier Messiaen was drafted into the French army.


Olivier Messiaen was captured at Verdun, where he befriended clarinettist Henri Akoka; they were taken to Gorlitz in May 1940, and imprisoned at Stalag VIII-A.


Olivier Messiaen met a cellist and a violinist among his fellow prisoners.


Olivier Messiaen wrote a trio for them, which he gradually incorporated into a more expansive new work, Quatuor pour la fin du temps.


Shortly after his release from Gorlitz in May 1941 in large part due to the persuasions of his friend and teacher Marcel Dupre, Olivier Messiaen, who was now a household name, was appointed a professor of harmony at the Paris Conservatoire, where he taught until his retirement in 1978.


Olivier Messiaen compiled his Technique de mon langage musical published in 1944, in which he quotes many examples from his music, particularly the Quartet.


The Greek composer Iannis Xenakis was referred to him in 1951; Olivier Messiaen urged Xenakis to take advantage of his background in mathematics and architecture in his music.


In 1943, Olivier Messiaen wrote Visions de l'Amen for two pianos for Yvonne Loriod and himself to perform.


Two years after Visions de l'Amen, Olivier Messiaen composed the song cycle Harawi, the first of three works inspired by the legend of Tristan and Isolde.


Olivier Messiaen stated that the commission did not specify the length of the work or the size of the orchestra.


The third piece inspired by the Tristan myth was Cinq rechants for twelve unaccompanied singers, described by Olivier Messiaen as influenced by the alba of the troubadours.


Olivier Messiaen visited the United States in 1949, where his music was conducted by Koussevitsky and Leopold Stokowski.


Olivier Messiaen's Turangalila-Symphonie was first performed in the US the same year, conducted by Leonard Bernstein.


When in 1952 Olivier Messiaen was asked to provide a test piece for flautists at the Paris Conservatoire, he composed the piece for flute and piano.


From this period onwards, Olivier Messiaen incorporated birdsong into his compositions and composed several works for which birds provide both the title and subject matter.


Paul Griffiths observed that Olivier Messiaen was a more conscientious ornithologist than any previous composer, and a more musical observer of birdsong than any previous ornithologist.


Olivier Messiaen began to travel widely, to attend musical events and to seek out and transcribe the songs of more exotic birds in the wild.


Olivier Messiaen's music was by this time championed by, among others, Pierre Boulez, who programmed first performances at his Domaine musical concerts and the Donaueschingen festival.


The latter piece was the result of a commission for a composition for three trombones and three xylophones; Olivier Messiaen added to this more brass, wind, percussion and piano, and specified a xylophone, xylorimba and marimba rather than three xylophones.


Shortly after its completion, Olivier Messiaen received a commission from Alice Tully for a work to celebrate the US bicentennial.


Olivier Messiaen arranged a visit to the US in spring 1972, and was inspired by Bryce Canyon in Utah, where he observed the canyon's distinctive colours and birdsong.


Olivier Messiaen preferred to describe the final work as a "spectacle" rather than an opera.


Olivier Messiaen was promoted to the highest rank of the Legion d'honneur, the Grand-Croix, in 1987, and was awarded the decoration in London by his old friend, Jean Langlais.


An operation prevented his participation in the celebration of his 70th birthday in 1978, but in 1988 tributes for Olivier Messiaen's 80th included a complete performance in London's Royal Festival Hall of St Francois, which the composer attended, and Erato's publication of a seventeen-CD collection of Olivier Messiaen's music including a disc of the composer in conversation with Claude Samuel.


Olivier Messiaen died in the Beaujon Hospital in Clichy on 27 April 1992, aged 83.


Olivier Messiaen's music has been described as outside the western musical tradition, although growing out of that tradition and being influenced by it.


Olivier Messiaen was not interested in depicting aspects of theology such as sin; rather he concentrated on the theology of joy, divine love and redemption.


Olivier Messiaen continually evolved new composition techniques, always integrating them into his existing musical style; his final works still retain the use of modes of limited transposition.


For many commentators this continual development made every major work from the Quatuor onwards a conscious summation of all that Olivier Messiaen had composed up to that time.


Olivier Messiaen wrote a large body of music for the piano.


Olivier Messiaen rarely used the whole-tone scale in his compositions because, he said, after Debussy and Dukas there was "nothing to add", but the modes he did use are similarly symmetrical.


Olivier Messiaen had a great admiration for the music of Igor Stravinsky, particularly the use of rhythm in earlier works such as The Rite of Spring, and his use of orchestral colour.


Olivier Messiaen was further influenced by the orchestral brilliance of Heitor Villa-Lobos, who lived in Paris in the 1920s and gave acclaimed concerts there.


Olivier Messiaen loved the music of Modest Mussorgsky and incorporated varied modifications of what he called the "M-shaped" melodic motif from Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov, although he modified the final interval in this motif from a perfect fourth to a tritone.


Olivier Messiaen said that Claudio Monteverdi, Mozart, Chopin, Richard Wagner, Mussorgsky and Stravinsky all wrote strongly coloured music.


From his earliest works, Olivier Messiaen used non-retrogradable rhythms.


Olivier Messiaen sometimes combined rhythms with harmonic sequences in such a way that, if the process were repeated indefinitely, the music would eventually run through all possible permutations and return to its starting point.


For Olivier Messiaen, this represented the "charm of impossibilities" of these processes.


Olivier Messiaen abstracted these modes from the harmony of his improvisations and early works.


Olivier Messiaen included stylised birdsong in some of his early compositions, integrating it into his sound-world by techniques like the modes of limited transposition and chord colouration.


Olivier Messiaen's evocations of birdsong became increasingly sophisticated, and with Le reveil des oiseaux this process reached maturity, the whole piece being built from birdsong: in effect it is a dawn chorus for orchestra.


Olivier Messiaen notated the bird species with the music in the score.


Olivier Messiaen expressed annoyance at the historical importance given to one of these works, Mode de valeurs et d'intensites, by musicologists intent on crediting him with the invention of "total serialism".


Olivier Messiaen later introduced what he called a "communicable language", a "musical alphabet" to encode sentences.


Olivier Messiaen first used this technique in his Meditations sur le Mystere de la Sainte Trinite for organ; where the "alphabet" includes motifs for the concepts to have, to be and God, while the sentences encoded feature sections from the writings of St Thomas Aquinas.