2007-12-10

Olivier Messiaen

Ninety-nine years ago today Olivier Messiaen drew his first breath in Avignon, France. We remember his birth today because of his signal achievements as a composer and organist. Expect to hear more of this composer's works in the concert hall in the coming months as we approach the centenary of his birth.

Messiaen (1908-1992) is perhaps best known for his Quartet for the End of Time, composed during his imprisonment in a Nazi camp during the Second World War. The instrumentation was dictated to him by the availability of instrument at the camp. The piece displays the hallmarks of the composer's style: a mystical outlook, octatonic scales, and evocations of birdsong. Other landmark works in his oeuvre include Visions of the Amen, Turangalîla Symphony, and the opera Francis of Assisi. His style profoundly influenced subsequent generations of composers, including Boulez, Xenakis, Stockhausen and Gubaidulina.

Those seeking an introduction to the composer and a guide to recordings will be well served by a visit to the BBC Olivier Messiaen Music Profile. It never hurts to drop in on Answers.com, of course. This omnibus reference site draws upon a number of resources, including Britannica and Wikipedia. The blog by Alex Ross of The New Yorker offers fascinating discussions of the Quartet and Saint Francis in particular. An international Messiaen conference will be hosted this summer (June 20-24) by the Birmingham Conservatoire. The Boston University Messiaen Project recently updated its web site. Among the many resources offered by the Project is a performance calendar listing significant events worldwide leading up to the big anniversary.

Appréciez votre voyage.

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