Olivier Messiaen (1908–1992)

How to say the name:

‘Messiaen’ is said like Mess-ee-on. ‘Olivier’ is said like ‘O-live-ee-er’.

Born:

10th December 1908 in Avignon, France.

Died:

27th April 1992 in Clichy, Paris, France.

Buried:

I don’t know where! Do you?

Type of Music:

Modern classical music.

Some great pieces:
  • Turangalia Symphony. (See the modern page for a video.)
  • Quatuor pour la fin du Temps (Quartet for the End of Time). (See below for a video.)
  • La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ (The Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ).
  • Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum (And I look forward to the resurrection of the dead).
  • Des canyons aux étoiles… (From the Canyons to the stars…).
  • The opera Saint-François d’Assise (St Francis of Assisi).
  • Many piano and organ works, such as Catalogue d’oiseaux (Bird catalogue). (See below for a video of Messiaen himself talking about Catalogue d’oiseaux.)
Some interesting facts:
  • He was a very devout Catholic. Much of Messiaen’s music expresses this faith.
  • Some of his music is extremely joyful. This music expresses the joy he felt in knowing God.
  • He was fascinated by bird song. Much of his music (especially piano music) tries to copy the birds he heard.
  • He wrote some of the best organ music from the last century.
  • Quatuor pour la fin du Temps (Quartet for the End of Time) was composed while Messiaen was in a German prisoner of war camp. The first performance took place in this camp and everyone came to listen, including the guards. Messiaen later said it was the best audience he had ever had for his music! The instruments he chose for this piece were the only ones he could get in the camp, and the only ones anybody could play. Quatuor pour la fin du Temps ends very peacefully and beautifully. This is amazing given where it was written!

Here is a video of part of Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du Temps (Quartet for the End of Time).

Fourth movement of Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du Temps

And here is a video of part of Messiaen’s Oiseaux Exotiques (Exotic Birds).

Part of Messiaen’s Oiseaux Exotiques (Exotic Birds)

What did you think of that? Did you like it? If not, try watching this video of Messiaen himself talking about his Catalogue d’oiseaux (Bird catalogue) for the piano. If you can’t read the words to understand what he’s saying, don’t worry. Just listen to how he describes the bird sounds and how similar they sounds on the piano. By the way, the piano player is his wife, Yvonne Loriod.

Messian talking about his Catalogue d’oiseaux (Bird catalogue)

Did that help you make a bit more sense of the second video?

There is another video of music by Messiaen on the following page:

Picture credits:
  1. Olivier Messiaen. This is a photograph from about 1980. The image is in the public domain. Click here for the source of this image, along with the relevant copyright information.
Video credits:
  1. Messiaen Quartet for the End Of Time Mvmnt IV. www.chatterchamber.org.
  2. Messiaen – Oiseaux Exotiques – Aimard, Boulez Part 1. Here is Messiaen’s Oiseaux Exotiques for piano and small orchestra. Pierre-Laurent Aimard, piano. Pierre Boulez, conductor.
  3. Messiaen on Birds I. Olivier Messiaen & Yvonne Loriod (piano)

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