Olivier Messiaen, classical music composer

Olivier Messiaen image

Olivier Messiaen

Biography

Olivier Messiaen was born on December 10, 1908 in Avignon, France, the eldest son of Pierre Messiaen, an English teacher, and Cécile Sauvage, a poet. When war broke out in Europe in 1914, Pierre enlisted and Cécile took Messiaen and his brother to Grenoble. Grenoble became home for him and he later returned there, building a house where he composed much of his music. During this time, Messiaen became interested in music and he began to teach himself to play the piano. He later took lessons and developed an interest in the music of Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. He continued his music lessons, and when his father received a teaching post in Paris after the war, Messiaen at the age of eleven entered the prestigious Paris Conservatory.

Messiaen was an exemplary student. He excelled in all areas of his craft, taking prizes in harmony, counterpoint and fugue, piano accompaniment, organ and eventually composition. His first works to be published were written while he was a student. In 1931, he made his public debut as a composer, and was also appointed organist at the Église de la Sainte-Trinité in Paris, a position which he held until his death.

With the outbreak of the Second World War, Messiaen was conscripted into the French army. Poor eyesight, however, kept him from serving as an active combatant. Nevertheless, he was captured at Verdun and eventually imprisoned at Stalag VIII-A, near Görlitz (now Zgorzelec in modern day Poland). There he befriended a violinist, a cellist and a clarinetists, all fellow prisoners, and composed for them his Quatuor pour la fin du temps ("Quartet for the End of Time"), one of his most famous compositions. Its title served a dual purpose, suggesting both the Apocalypse (Messiaen maintained a strong Catholic faith throughout his life) and his unique treatment of rhythm.

Almost immediately following his release from Görlitz, Messiaen was granted the position of professor of harmony at the Paris Conservatoire. His early students included Pierre Boulez, who would later champion Messiaen's music; later students included Karlheinz Stockhausen, Alexander Goehr and George Benjamin. In his teaching, Messiaen included the works of serial composers, notably Arnold Schoenberg, leading him to eventually experiment with serializing other aspects of music beyond pitch. Though his is erroneously given credit for the first work of total serialism, his interest in this area was nonetheless influential on Boulez and Stockhausen. During this time, he also became interested in musique concrète.

Beginning in the 1950s, Messiaen began to incorporate heavily into this music the use of birdsong. Birdsong fascinated him from an early age and he had already incorporated stylized examples in his works. However, his use of birdsong became increasingly complex eventually becoming the central element of entire compositions. His reputation as a composer grew continually during this time. In 1959, he became an Officier of the Légion d'honneur, eventually attaining the highest rank of Grand-Croix in 1987. In 1966, he officially became the professor of composition at the Paris Conservatoire. Later, he received a commission to compose a piece to celebrate the United States' bicentennial, as well as another from the Paris Opéra for his only opera, Saint-François d'Assise. In 1978, he retired from his post at the Conservatoire.

Despite declining health and serious pain, Messiaen continued to compose until his death on April 27, 1992. Following his death, his wife, the violinist Yvonne Loriod, discovered a concerto that he was composing for her, the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, the oboist Heinz Holliger and the flautist Catherine Cantin. Loriod, with the help of Messiaen's former pupil George Benjamin, completed the work, which was premiered by its dedicatees in 1994.


Composer Title Date Action
Olivier Messiaen Noël, from Vingt Regard sur l'Enfant Jésus 01/13/2009 Play Add to playlist
Olivier Messiaen Regard de la parole toute puissante, from Vingt Regard sur l'Enfant Jésus 01/23/2009 Play Add to playlist
Olivier Messiaen Regard de première communion de la Vierge, from Vingt Regard sur l'Enfant Jésus 01/21/2009 Play Add to playlist
Olivier Messiaen Prelude No. 1 Le Colombe 06/13/2009 Play Add to playlist
Olivier Messiaen Première communion de la vierge, from Vingt Regards sur l’enfant Jésus 01/25/2009 Play Add to playlist
Olivier Messiaen Thème et Variations for Violin and Piano 01/16/2009 Play Add to playlist
Olivier Messiaen Regard de l'Esprit de Joie, from Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus 01/23/2009 Play Add to playlist
Olivier Messiaen Regard de l'Esprit de Joie, from Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus 03/11/2010 Play Add to playlist
Olivier Messiaen Thème et Variations for Violin and Piano 06/11/2011 Play Add to playlist
Olivier Messiaen Regard des Anges ( live rec ) 10/02/2011 Play Add to playlist
Olivier Messiaen Abyss of the Birds, from Quartet for the End of Time (III) 12/10/2012 Play Add to playlist
Olivier Messiaen Dance of fury, for the seven trumpets, from Quartet for the End of Time (VI) 12/10/2012 Play Add to playlist
Olivier Messiaen Les deux guerriers, from Poèmes pour Mi 02/07/2013 Play Add to playlist
Olivier Messiaen Le collier, from Poèmes pour Mi 02/07/2013 Play Add to playlist
Olivier Messiaen Prière exaucée, from Poèmes pour Mi 02/07/2013 Play Add to playlist
Olivier Messiaen Action de grâces, from Poèmes pour Mi 03/01/2013 Play Add to playlist
Olivier Messiaen Paysage, from Poèmes pour Mi 03/01/2013 Play Add to playlist
Olivier Messiaen La maison, from Poèmes pour Mi 03/01/2013 Play Add to playlist
Olivier Messiaen Épouvante, from Poèmes pour Mi 03/01/2013 Play Add to playlist
Olivier Messiaen Regard du Pére, from Vingt regards sur l'enfant-Jésus 12/09/2013 Play Add to playlist
Olivier Messiaen Regard de l'étoile, from Vingt regards sur l'enfant-Jésus 12/07/2014 Play Add to playlist