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Classical Composers A-Z: Olivier Messiaen

Peter Wintersgill presents a portrait of Olivier Messiaen, who was imprisoned by the Germans for two years in World War II, then later became a professor at the Paris Conservatoire.

10th December, 1908 in Avignon.

Pierre, professor of literature.

Cecile, poetess.

He taught himself to play the piano in 1916, aged eight, and began to compose.

Studied at Paris Conservatoire 1919-1930, studying composition with Caussade, Dupre and Dukas. Also studied Indian and Greek musical rhythms, plain chant and folk music.

Adult Life
Appointed organist at L'Eglise de la Trinite in Paris in 1930 at 22. Early works Le Banquet Celeste (1928) for organ, and Preludes (1929) for piano. Further organ works include L'Ascension (1932), La Nativite du Seigneur (1935) and L'Apparition de L'Eglise Eternelle (1931).

Became a teacher at the Ecole Nostrale and the Schola Cantorum in 1936. He studied bird song very thoroughly and included it in many of his works, e.g. Catalogue d'oiseaux (1958) for piano. Chamber works include Sept Hai Kai (1936), Choral works, the Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur (1969).

He was imprisoned by the Germans for two years in World War II, released in 1942 and was made professor at the Conservatoire.

He had enormous influence on his pupils, who included Pierre Boulez. His orchestration was very original and his harmony luscious.

He died in 1992.


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