olivierHappy Birthday, Olivier Messiaen!

Olivier Messiaen (December 10, 1908 – April 27, 1992) was a major French composer as well as an avid ornithologist and organist. His music drew on ancient Greek and Hindu sources and is noted for being incredibly rhythmically complex and diversely influenced. Messiaen experienced synesthesia, a condition in which different sensory experiences influenced one another. In his case, the composer perceived colors while listening to certain musical chords, and considered these experiences crucial to his compositional process.


Messiaen was born into a literary family; his father was a poet and his mother was a teacher who translated Shakespeare from English to French. His mother later published a series of poems which addressed the unborn Olivier, which he claimed were prophetic of his artistic career.

At the age of 11, Messiaen entered the Paris Conservatoire, having already taught himself how to play. One of his teachers, Jehan de Gibon, gave him a score of Debussy's opera Pelléas et Mélisande, which Messiaen described as "a thunderbolt" and "probably the most decisive influence on me".


His public début came in 1931 with his orchestral suite Les Offrandes Oubliées. In the autumn of 1927, Messiaen joined Marcel Dupré's organ course. Dupré later wrote that Messiaen, having never seen an organ console, sat quietly for an hour while Dupré 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.


Messiaen had a truly unusual compositional style, and loved to develop experimental pieces, including musique concrète, music for recorded sounds. In 1953, he released Réveil des Oiseaux—its material consists almost entirely of the birdsong one might hear between midnight and noon in the Jura Mountains. Afterward, he incorporated birdsong ito all his compositions. In 1962 he visited Japan, where Gagaku music and Noh theatre inspired the orchestral "Japanese sketches", Sept haïkaï, which contain stylised imitations of traditional Japanese instruments.



Messiaen also drew heavily from religious texts for inspiration and was inspired by his Roman Catholic faith. One of his most notable works is La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ, which incorporates a 100-voice, ten-part choir.

Upon his death, it was discovered that he had been composing a concerto for four musicians he felt particularly grateful to, including his wife, Yvonne Loriod, the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, the oboist Heinz Holliger and the flautist Catherine Cantin.



Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Wednesday, 10 December 2014
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