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- Olivier Messiaen
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He took piano lessons having already taught himself to play. His interest included the recent music of French composers Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel , and he asked for opera vocal scores for Christmas presents. In his father returned from the war and the family moved to Nantes. Messiaen entered the Paris Conservatoire in , aged At the Conservatoire, Messiaen made excellent academic progress. In , aged 15, he was awarded second prize in harmony , having been taught in that subject by professor Jean Gallon. In he won first prize in piano accompaniment , and in he gained first prize in fugue.
After studying with Maurice Emmanuel, he was awarded second prize for the history of music in Messiaen's mother died of tuberculosis shortly before the class began. These exhibit Messiaen's use of his modes of limited transposition and palindromic rhythms Messiaen called these non-retrogradable rhythms. That year he first heard a gamelan group, sparking his interest in the use of tuned percussion.
His formal application included a letter of recommendation from Widor. The appointment was confirmed in ,  and he remained the organist at the church for more than sixty years. He married the violinist and composer Claire Delbos also in Mi was Messiaen's affectionate nickname for his wife. She spent the rest of her life in mental institutions. Their manifesto implicitly attacked the frivolity predominant in contemporary Parisian music and rejected Jean Cocteau 's Le coq et l'arlequin in favour of a "living music, having the impetus of sincerity, generosity and artistic conscientiousness".
Due to poor eyesight, he was enlisted as a medical auxiliary rather than an active combatant. He met a violinist, a cellist and a clarinettist among his fellow prisoners.
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He wrote a trio for them, which he gradually incorporated into his Quatuor pour la fin du temps "Quartet for the End of Time". The Quartet was first performed in January to an audience of prisoners and prison guards, with the composer playing a poorly maintained upright piano in freezing conditions. The title's "end of time" alludes to the Apocalypse , and also to the way that Messiaen, through rhythm and harmony, used time in a manner completely different from his predecessors and contemporaries. The idea of a European Centre of Education and Culture "Meeting Point Music Messiaen" on the site of Stalag VIII-A, for children and youth, artists, musicians and everyone in the region emerged in December , was developed with the involvement of Messiaen's widow as a joint project between the council districts in Germany and Poland, and was finally completed in Two years after Visions de l'Amen , Messiaen composed the song cycle Harawi , the first of three works inspired by the legend of Tristan and Isolde.
The second of these works about human as opposed to divine love was the result of a commission from Serge Koussevitzky. Messiaen stated that the commission did not specify the length of the work or the size of the orchestra. It is not a conventional symphony , but rather an extended meditation on the joy of human union and love. It does not contain the sexual guilt inherent in Richard Wagner 's Tristan und Isolde because Messiaen believed that sexual love is a divine gift.
Messiaen taught an analysis class at the Paris Conservatoire. In he taught and performed with Loriod for two weeks in Budapest. It had a large influence on the earliest European serial composers, including Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen. When in Messiaen was asked to provide a test piece for flautists at the Paris Conservatoire, he composed the piece Le merle noir for flute and piano.
Messiaen's first wife died in after a long illness, and in he married Loriod.
Loriod frequently assisted her husband's detailed studies of birdsong while walking with him, by making tape recordings for later reference. 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 ; Messiaen added to this more brass, wind, percussion and piano, and specified a xylophone, xylorimba and marimba rather than three xylophones.
The composition occupied him from to and the musicians employed include a voice ten-part choir, seven solo instruments and large orchestra. Its fourteen movements are a meditation on the story of Christ's Transfiguration. He arranged a visit to the US in spring , and was inspired by Bryce Canyon in Utah , where he observed the canyon's distinctive colours and birdsong.
The composition was intensive he also wrote his own libretto and occupied him from to ; the orchestration was carried out from until It was first performed in Some commentators at the time thought that the opera would be his valediction at times Messiaen himself believed so ,  but he continued to compose.
In he published a major collection of organ pieces, Livre du Saint Sacrement ; other works include birdsong pieces for solo piano, and works for piano with orchestra. In the summer of , Messiaen retired from teaching at the Conservatoire. He died in Paris on April 27, Four of the five intended movements were substantially complete; Yvonne Loriod undertook the orchestration of the second half of the first movement and of the whole of the fourth with advice from George Benjamin.
It was premiered by the dedicatees in September Messiaen's music has been described as outside the western musical tradition, although growing out of that tradition and being influenced by it. This is partly due to the symmetries of his technique—for instance the modes of limited transposition do not admit the conventional cadences found in western classical music. His youthful love for the fairy-tale element in Shakespeare prefigured his later expressions of Catholic liturgy.
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. However, very few of these major works lack new technical ideas—simple examples being the introduction of communicable language in Meditations , the invention of a new percussion instrument the geophone for Des canyons aux etoiles While he was instrumental in the academic exploration of his techniques he compiled two treatises : the later one in five volumes was substantially complete when he died and was published posthumously , and was himself a master of music analysis, he considered the development and study of techniques a means to intellectual, aesthetic , and emotional ends.
Thus Messiaen maintained that a musical composition must be measured against three separate criteria: it must be interesting, beautiful to listen to, and it must touch the listener. Messiaen wrote a large body of music for the piano. Although a considerable pianist himself, he was undoubtedly assisted by Yvonne Loriod's formidable piano technique and ability to convey complex rhythms and rhythmic combinations; in his piano writing from Visions de l'Amen onwards he had her in mind.
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Messiaen said, "I am able to allow myself the greatest eccentricities because to her anything is possible. Developments in modern French music were a major influence on Messiaen, particularly the music of Claude Debussy and his use of the whole-tone scale which Messiaen called Mode 1 in his modes of limited transposition. 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 all similarly symmetrical. 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.
He was further influenced by the orchestral brilliance of Heitor Villa-Lobos , who lived in Paris in the s and gave acclaimed concerts there. Colour lies at the heart of Messiaen's music. He believed that terms such as " tonal ", " modal " and "serial" are misleading analytical conveniences. The importance of colour is linked to Messiaen's synaesthesia , which he said caused him to experience colours when he heard or imagined music he said that he did not perceive the colours visually. His descriptions range from the simple "gold and brown" to the highly detailed "blue-violet rocks, speckled with little grey cubes, cobalt blue, deep Prussian blue, highlighted by a bit of violet-purple, gold, red, ruby, and stars of mauve, black and white.
Blue-violet is dominant". When asked what Messiaen's main influence had been on composers, George Benjamin said, "I think the sheer Many of Messiaen's composition techniques made use of symmetries of time and pitch.
Olivier Messiaen and the Music of Time
From his earliest works, Messiaen used non-retrogradable palindromic rhythms Example 2. He 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.
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The strength of his appeal, to listeners as well as to composers, is a measure of the individuality of his music, which draws on a vast range of sources: rhythms of twentieth-century Europe and thirteenth-century India, ripe romantic harmony and brittle birdsong, the sounds of Indonesian percussion and modern electronic instruments.
What binds all these together is, on one level, his unswerving devotion to praising God in his art, and on another, his independent view of how music is made. Messiaen's music offers a range of ways of experiencing time: time suspended in music of unparalleled changelessness, time racing in music of wild exuberance, time repeating itself in vast cycles of reiteration. In Olivier Messiaen and the Music of Time , leading writer and musicologist, Paul Griffiths, explores the problems of religious art, and includes searching analyses and discussions of all the major works, suggesting how they function as works of art and not only as theological symbols.
This comprehensive and stimulating book covers the whole of Messiaen's output up to and including his opera, Saint Franoise d'Assise. What to Listen For in Music. Aaron Copland. A Pianist's A—Z. Alfred Brendel. Music and Sentiment. Charles Rosen. Modern Music and After. Paul Griffiths. Creative Music Composition. Margaret Lucy Wilkins. Stephen Walsh. Illegal Harmonies. Andrew Ford. Jazz Hanon. Leo Alfassy. Claude Debussy. David J. What Makes It Great? Rob Kapilow. Leopold Auer. Chopin: Pianist and Teacher. Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger. Erik Satie. Mary E. Modern Ideas in Chess. Richard Reti.
Freedom and the Arts. The Messiaen Companion.
Russell Hoban. Treatise on Harmony. Jean-Philippe Rameau. The meaning of music. Dominy Clemetns. Jan Marisse Huizing. Eric Frederick Jensen. Nicolas Slonimsky. Notes on Chopin. Bernard Frechtman. Before the Chinrest. Stanley Ritchie. Musical Composition. Ellis B.
The Piano Works of Claude Debussy. Robert Schmitz. James Burnett. The Cambridge Companion to Chopin. Jim Samson. Nadia and Lili Boulanger. Caroline Potter. Cuthbert Girdlestone. Cecil Gray. Mozart's Piano Concertos. The Principles and Practice of Modal Counterpoint. Douglass Green.
Stravinsky and the Russian Period. Pieter C. Jean Cocteau. James S. Robert Johnson. The Cambridge Companion to Debussy. Simon Trezise. Unmasking Ravel.
Peter Kaminsky. Voice Lessons. Katherine Bergeron. Schoenberg and His School. Five Centuries of Keyboard Music. John Gillespie.
Olivier Messiaen and the Music of Time - AbeBooks - Paul Griffiths:
The Pianist's Craft. Richard Paul Anderson. A History of Musical Style. Richard L. Meredith Oakes. Discover Chamber Music. Jeremy Siepmann.