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Messiaen, Olivier (Eugène Prosper Charles )locked

  • Paul Griffiths

(b Avignon, Dec 10, 1908; d Paris, April 27, 1992). French composer, organist and teacher. He was a musician apart. The sources of his music may be traced on the one hand to the French organ tradition and on the other to the innovations of Debussy, Stravinsky and Bartók, but right at the start of his career he found a modal system that has a completely individual sound, and to this he remained true, even when he vastly extended the possibilities of his style after World War II. He was alone, too, among major 20th-century composers in his joyously held Catholic faith, which again was unswerving, however much he came to value non-European cultures, especially Indian and Japanese. As a teacher he instructed many of the most prominent composers of the next two generations.

1. Life.

In a sense his life as an artist began before he was born, for his mother, Cécile Sauvage, wrote during her pregnancy a cycle of poems, L’âme en bourgeon, in which her future child is of course referred to. He was proud of this, and in his sixties recorded a sequence of organ improvisations on the poems; he also wrote the preface for a republication of them in 1991. His father was Pierre Messiaen, an English teacher and translator of Shakespeare, from whom he inherited less the language skills (he was a monoglot) than an admiration for Shakespeare’s plays, which as a boy of eight to ten he presented in toy theatres of his own devising, with coloured lighting coming through cellophane sweet wrappers, for his younger brother Alain. Between the ages of seven and nine he also began to compose and to play the piano. By this time the family was in Grenoble – except for Pierre, who was on war service in the army – and the young Messiaen gained a lasting love for the mountains of that region. According to his own account, he started in music without a teacher, and he was similarly independent of any prompting in the religious devotion he felt from an early age.

After the war the family was reunited in Nantes. They were there only for six months, but during that time Messiaen met his first teachers: Véron and Gontran Arcouët for piano and Jehan de Gibon for harmony. He was already musically sophisticated: as Christmas presents he had been demanding operatic vocal scores, and was thus familiar with works by Mozart, Gluck, Berlioz and Wagner, as well as with piano pieces by Debussy and Ravel. But de Gibon gave him Pelléas et Mélisande, and that astonished him. In 1919 the family moved to Paris, and he entered the Conservatoire at a remarkably early age: a photograph of Jean Gallon’s harmony class of 1923 shows a child in the company of young men and women.

Besides Jean Gallon, and the latter’s brother Noël, with whom he had private lessons throughout his Conservatoire years, his teachers included Georges Falkenberg for piano, Georges Caussade for counterpoint and fugue (premier prix 1926), César Abel Estyle for piano accompaniment (premier prix 1927), Marcel Dupré for organ and improvisation (premier prix 1928), Maurice Emmanuel for music history (premier prix 1928), Paul Dukas for composition (premier prix 1929) and Joseph Baggers for timpani and percussion, this last an unusual study, suggesting that he was already—perhaps prompted by Stravinsky’s Les noces, which he saw at this time – looking beyond Western norms. Certainly his other teachers might have given him some encouragement in that direction. Emmanuel was an expert on the metres of Greek verse (later a Messiaen speciality) and on the modes of ancient Greece, of folk music and of Christian liturgies; Messiaen recalled how after hearing this teacher’s 30 chansons bourguignonnes he was ‘at once converted to modal music’. Dupré and Dukas also pointed towards modality and they were models for their pupil in other ways: Dupré showed that the organ, to which Messiaen would have been attracted as a Catholic composer, could be a virtuoso instrument; Dukas provided an example of artistic conscience.

New music in Paris at this time was represented principally by Stravinsky and by the more prominent ex-members of Les Six: Honegger, Milhaud and Poulenc. Messiaen admired some works of all these composers, and Le sacre du printemps was vital to him. But he had no time for Cocteau-esque urbanity and knew, at this point, almost nothing but Pierrot lunaire of the alternative represented by the new Viennese school. Not surprisingly, he began by staying close to Debussy, whose influence is strong on the set of eight piano preludes he composed in 1928–9. Even here, though – and more so in his first published organ composition, Le banquet céleste (1928) – he was moving within his own modal universe. The organ piece is also unusual in its extreme slowness.

In 1930 he left the Conservatoire and in September 1931 took the post of organist at La Trinité in Paris, where for more than 60 years he had charge of one of the great Cavaillé-Coll instruments. His major works of the next few years were all for his own instrument or for the orchestra—or for both, since L’Ascension (1932–4) was made available in the two forms. Whatever the genre, the declared purpose of his music was the same, and remained the same until his death: it was to manifest the doctrines of the Christian faith. His biggest work of the period was the organ cycle La Nativité du Seigneur (1935); L’Ascension had been preceded by orchestral pieces concerned with sin and redemption (Les offrandes oubliées, 1930; Le tombeau resplendissant, 1931; Hymne au Saint-Sacrement, 1932).

Another theme, after his marriage in June 1932 to the violinist and composer Claire Delbos, was the Christian family. His wedding present to her was one of his very few non-illustrative compositions, the Theme and Variations for violin and piano (1932); he also expressed much more forthrightly, indeed passionately, the bliss of marital love in the Poèmes pour Mi for soprano with piano or orchestra (1936–7), ‘Mi’ being his pet name for his wife. After the birth of their son Pascal (his only child) in 1937 came another song cycle, Chants de terre et de ciel (1938), in which all three members of the family are portrayed. For both cycles Messiaen wrote his own texts as he did for most of his vocal works, exceptions being Prix de Rome competition pieces, an early song to one of his mother’s poems, a couple of liturgical settings (so few because he felt that plainsong was the only proper music for the liturgy) and La Transfiguration, for which he compiled an anthology of texts on the subject from the Bible, the Missal and St Thomas Aquinas.

The Poèmes pour Mi, frankly self-expressive and exuberant in their orchestral colouring, make a creative demonstration of Messiaen’s opposition to the neo-classicism prevailing in Paris, and in the year of their composition as piano songs he founded a group with André Jolivet, Daniel-Lesur and Yves Baudrier: La Jeune France. Their aim was to re-emphasize passion and sensuality in music, and they presented several concerts of their works in Paris between 1936 and 1939. No doubt they influenced one another. Messiaen could, for example, have picked up from Jolivet the use of irrational values to loosen his rhythm, and he may have been stimulated too by the visits made to Paris in the 1930s by Varèse and Villa-Lobos. In 1936 he began teaching, at the Ecole Normale de Musique and the Schola Cantorum. The next year he wrote Fête des belles eaux for six ondes martenot (his first use of this electronic instrument), to accompany a display of fountains on the Seine at the 1937 Paris Exposition.

Soon after the outbreak of World War II he was called up for military service, and in May 1940 was captured and taken to a prisoner-of-war camp at Görlitz in Silesia. There, during the winter of 1940–41, he completed the Quatuor pour la fin du temps for himself to play with a violinist, a cellist and a clarinettist he had found among his fellow inmates. It was his most ambitious work so far, a sequence of eight movements in which ‘the end of time’ – meaning the end of orderly progressive time – is conveyed sometimes by non-developing textures of ostinatos, sometimes by very slow music, sometimes by sudden interruptions, sometimes by dances in irregular rhythm. The first performance took place at the camp, before a huge audience of prisoners in the depth of winter.

After his release in the spring of 1941 he was appointed to teach harmony at the Conservatoire. Paris was now an occupied city, and perhaps the becalmed condition of musical life there had a part in rendering him musically silent for almost two years. Other factors would have been his work on an outline of his composition methods, Technique de mon langage musical, and the extraordinarily gifted circle of students that was gathering around him, among them Boulez, Serge Nigg and Yvonne Loriod. His wife had by now succumbed to illness and entered a sanatorium, where she remained in steadily diminishing health until her death in April 1959. During this difficult period Loriod, an outstanding pianist, became the focus of a love that could be expressed only in music: in the Visions de l’Amen (1943) he wrote for the two of them to play, in the Trois petites liturgies (1943–4) where she had the solo part, in the recital-length Vingt regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus (1944) and in a third song cycle, Harawi (1945), which itself became the first ‘act’ in a trilogy of works on the Tristan legend, the others being the ten-movement Turangalîla-symphonie (1946–8) and the Cinq rechants for 12 mixed voices (1948).

Turangalîla – his biggest work so far, scored for a large orchestra with abundant percussion and solo piano (again a Loriod part) and ondes martenot—was commissioned for the Boston SO by Koussevitzky, who, being ill, had to yield the first performance to Bernstein. Despite the difficulties in presenting a work on such a scale, Turangalîla was soon being widely played and making Messiaen known to a large international audience. Reactions to it were divided. Its rapturous love music, exultant dances, scintillating colouring and extraordinary images appealed to many; others were appalled by what they considered its vulgarity. Boulez, who had followed rehearsals for the first performance of the Trois petites liturgies with keen enthusiasm, was dismissive of the new piece, and for a while there was a breach in the friendship between master and pupil.

Messiaen had Boulez in his class for part of the time when, between 1943 and 1947, he had given private lessons in composition and analysis outside the Conservatoire, introducing his pupils not only to his own methods but to those of the Second Viennese School (Berg’s Lyric Suite had been among the scores in the portable library he took with him to Görlitz). The atmosphere was that of a revolutionary cadre, consciously opposed to the Conservatoire’s academic rigidity, and the pupils called themselves ‘les flèches’ (the arrows) to indicate their determination. Boulez and Nigg produced the first French serial compositions, and Messiaen began in parts of Turangalîla to apply 12-note methods to rhythmic values. (These sections, ‘Turangalîla’ I, II and III, were perhaps the only movements of which Boulez approved; certainly they were the only ones he ever conducted.) Teacher and pupils stimulated one another, and for a short time it seemed that Messiaen was about to join his younger colleagues on the road to and through total serialism. His piano piece Mode de valeurs et d’intensités, which he wrote while teaching at the Darmstadt summer course in 1949, allots a particular duration and a particular dynamic level to each of the just 36 notes in play; it had a crucial impact on both Boulez and Stockhausen. He also used abstract numerical procedures in a tape-music project, Timbres-durées (1952), and in some movements of the Livre d’orgue (1951), in other movements of which, as in the whole of the Messe de la Pentecôte, he formalized what he had learnt in two decades of improvising at La Trinité. With the exception of a Conservatoire test piece, Verset pour la Fête de la Dédicace (1960) and the only posthumously published Monodie (1963), he wrote nothing more for his own instrument until the end of the 1960s.

The note-by-note procedures of the Mode de valeurs and a few other works of this immediate period did not fit well with his urge to write illustrative music, and after 1952 he combined them with broader kinds of material or else used them, though only rarely, to evoke a bleak or menacing atmosphere (as in the owl portrait ‘La chouette hulotte’ or the stigmata scene in Saint François d’Assise). The other effect of his abstract phase was to leave him suspicious for a while of melodic-harmonic invention, for which he found an alternative in listening to birds. His interest in ornithology dated back to his student years, and he had imitated birdsong in a generalized way in La Nativité, the Quatuor and Visions de l’Amen. Now, starting with the Conservatoire test piece Le merle noir for flute and piano (1951), he devoted himself to copying the songs of particular species he had heard in nature, and from this point on he journeyed throughout France – and later throughout much of the world – collecting birdsongs by ear. In adapting the songs and calls to traditional instruments, to 12-note temperament and to a human timescale, he had to adjust them, and often a greater or lesser hint of his modal practice would creep in, if only in the favouring of the tritone. His birds are recognizably his, but they are also recognizably themselves, and his efforts to reproduce nature, maintained for 40 years, brought from him music of great variety and often dazzling brilliance. It is not just the songs of birds that are projected through this music but also the intense colours of avian plumage, and the awe Messiaen felt for birds as being, like angels or resurrected souls, free in flight and at one with God.

Only the first of his larger birdsong compositions, Réveil des oiseaux (1953), was based on this material exclusively, presenting a speeded-up picture of the period from midnight (with nightingales alone) through the dawn chorus to mid-morning silence. By now he was doing much of his composing during summer holidays spent at his own property in Petichet, near Grenoble, amid the birds and the mountains, though for the immense Catalogue d’oiseaux for solo piano (1956–8) he travelled all over France so that he could portray his chosen birds in their native habitats, in compositions that last up to half an hour and are patterned in typical verse-refrain forms. Oiseaux exotiques (1955–6) is based largely on the loud cries of tropical birds from the Americas and Asia, recreated in the same kind of block-built structure and by what became a characteristic ensemble of solo piano with a small group consisting mostly of wind and percussion. The culmination to this birdsong period arrived in Chronochromie for large orchestra (1959–60), where songs and shrieks appear alongside impressions of the rocks and streams of high mountains, and sometimes also with abstract quasi-serial formulations. Chronochromie was commissioned by the Donaueschingen Festival, the principal showcase for the international avant garde, while Oiseaux exotiques and its two successors for similar formations, Sept haïkaï (1962) and Couleurs de la Cité Céleste (1963), were composed for Boulez’s Domaine Musical concerts. (In 1955 the Domaine had decamped to La Trinité to hear the composer play his Livre d’orgue.)

Sept haïkaï was the souvenir of a first visit to Japan that Messiaen had made in 1962 with Loriod, whom he had recently married. Couleurs marked a return to Catholic subject matter after a dozen years of celebrating God almost exclusively as the creator of the natural world, the only exception having been the little organ Verset. Next came Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum for symphonic wind and percussion (1964), commissioned by the French government for performances in the Ste Chapelle and Chartres Cathedral, lit by the medieval stained-glass which Messiaen adored and took as his highest example of art: an art of pattern and colour, in which figures and narratives are irradiated by light. He often spoke of seeing colours internally when he heard or imagined sounds, and he was consistent in the correspondences he described or tried to create: the A major chord with added 6th, for example, was always bright blue, the blue of Chartres, of the Mediterranean and of heaven.

After Et exspecto he gave himself largely to the composition of huge works, each a concert in itself, drawing on everything he had discovered hitherto: the modal melodies, sumptuous harmonies and driving or static rhythms of his pre-war music, the abstract speculations of the period around 1950, the birdsongs and the colours. The first of these grand summations was La Transfiguration de notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ (1965–9), for seven instrumental soloists, choir and large orchestra. Des canyons aux étoiles… for piano and orchestra (1971–4) was commissioned by Miss Alice Tully of New York, and Messiaen used the occasion of his first American commission to render the canyons and birds of Utah. Saint François d’Assise (1975–83), his unexpected single exercise in music theatre, was written for the Paris Opéra and followed swiftly by the Livre du Saint Sacrement (1984), a last organ work (commissioned by the city of Detroit and the American Guild of Organists). Finally, after several small pieces, came Eclairs sur l’Au-delà … (1988–92), scored for an enormous orchestra, a commission from the New York PO.

In 1978 he was obliged by the Conservatoire’s age rules to retire. He had been teaching analysis since 1947 and composition since 1966, and his pupils had included Barraqué, Stockhausen, Xenakis, Goehr, Murail and George Benjamin. He loved teaching, loved his pupils and kept in contact with many of them. But retirement gave him more opportunity to travel the world in pursuit of performances and of birds, and he became a familiar figure in concert halls: benign, gently smiling, accompanied always by Loriod, attentive and courteous to any who came to ask him questions or request an autograph, habitually tieless except when evening clothes were required. Among the many honours bestowed on him during his last quarter century was the naming of a Utah mountain Mount Messiaen.

2. Theology.

Except during the period between 1945 and 1962 Messiaen devoted himself almost exclusively to religious subject matter, and there would be virtually no exception at all if his themes of love (in the Tristan trilogy of 1945–8), number (1949–52) and birdsong (1951–60) could be subsumed within the religious category. He was not, he said, a mystic. He claimed no special access or wisdom, only that he faithfully illuminated the teachings of the Church. But his choice from those teachings was particular. Of Christ’s Passion and Crucifixion, treated in so much Christian music, he had little to say, and though the arduousness and inevitable sinfulness of earthly life was a topic that recurred from Les offrandes oubliées to Eclairs sur l’Au-delà …, it did so only occasionally and would always be contradicted by hope and the expectation of salvation. His was a theology of glory. He was attracted by those moments in the Gospel stories when Christ’s divinity stood apparent: the Nativity, the Transfiguration, the Resurrection and the Ascension. He dealt many times, as he had to in church most Sundays, with the mystery of the holy sacrament (Le banquet céleste, O sacrum convivium!, Livre du Saint Sacrement), and he was drawn also to the mystery to which his own church was dedicated, that of the Trinity (Les corps glorieux, Méditations sur le mystère de la Sainte Trinité). But most of all he fixed his imagination on the life to come, as described in the last book of the New Testament: on the nature of resurrected existence, on the pronouncements of angels and on the heavenly city.

These were all stories, ideas and images with strong musical possibilities. St John’s description of the New Jerusalem, for instance, seems to demand music of brilliance, strength and colour. More generally, Messiaen’s way of composing block by block, usually without a through line of continuity, creates a spatial effect: it is as if we were viewing different aspects of a rotating object, or shifting our gaze suddenly from one place to another. We, as listeners, gain the elevated, gravitation-free viewpoint of the resurrected. The abyss is evoked not only by deep bass sounds but also by the place its symbolization has within this quasi-three-dimensional perspective: as an interruption, the abyss is so much the more abysmal. (The abyss is the most frequent negative image in Messiaen, but in a sense its appearances are not negative at all. Though it represents, of course, the gulf that separates us from God, Messiaen’s treatment suggests not shame – for his music is never subjective – but rather fear, and from fear it is a short step to awe, and hence to an appreciation of divine glory much more than of the depths from which that glory is being perceived.)

Nevertheless, as a musician-theologian Messiaen found himself concerned much less with space than with time. His favourite themes all hinge on the meeting of the divine and the human (in the life of Christ, in the continuing presence of Christ in the eucharist, in the celestial life intended for humanity), and therefore on the meeting of the eternal and the temporal. He developed many ways of handling this encounter: by decelerating tempo (Le banquet céleste, the string adagios of the Quatuor pour la fin du temps, Turangalîla and Eclairs sur l’Au-delà …), by inserting values to unsettle regular metres, by projecting ostinato machines that are, potentially, virtually endless (Quatuor pour la fin du temps), by turning events backwards (Turangalîla) and, everywhere, by jumping from one kind of motion to another.

By such means and others he created his arrays of extraordinary objects, but there is not, as already mentioned, a subjective personality at work here and Messiaen’s creative intentions, other than to reveal, barely arise. His faith was naive. He said he had no doubts, and though he was fascinated by what astronomers and geologists were learning of the history and nature of the cosmos, he was untroubled by any rational objection to the items of his creed. In a sceptical age, such faith from a man of high culture must either encourage or bewilder.

3. Musical elements.

Messiaen was the first front-rank composer to work after, and to a large degree quite separately from, the great Western tradition. For though he spoke warmly of composers central to that tradition – especially Mozart, to whom he referred in two late orchestral pieces, Un sourire and the Concert à quatre – and though such composers figured prominently in his teaching, his music goes another way. If diatonic chords still constitute a large part of his harmonic vocabulary, their normal functions are weakened or annulled by their use within the framework of his ‘modes of limited transpositions’ – modes in which a pattern of intervals is repeated through the octave (e.g. his ‘second mode’, B-C♯-D-E-E♯-G-G♯-A♯-B, where the repeating unit is a whole tone plus a semitone). So his music is generally deprived of normal harmonic impetus and hence of the necessary force for long-range continuity. (Nothing shows this better than his few early attempts at sonata form, such as the last of the Preludes for piano.) Continuity tends therefore to be asserted rather than supported by the music: large-scale forms usually consist of numerous distinct panels, often arranged in repetitive or mirroring sequences, and abrupt change, or change back, is essential to the effect. Where a longer unity is required, it is achieved either by means of an emphatic rhythmic pulsation enlivened by syncopation (‘Joie du sang des étoiles’ in Turangalîla) or else by stasis (‘Jardin du sommeil d’amour’ from the same work). Often the discontinuity from moment to moment is matched by a heterogeneity within each moment, again in perfect defiance of what had been counted good musical practice in the West for centuries. Indeed, as Messiaen was well aware, one has to go back to Machaut to find an earlier composer who treated pitch and duration so much as separate elements.

Among nearer ancestors, Stravinsky provided his outstanding model of rhythmic propulsion and formal discontinuity – especially the Stravinsky of Le sacre, a work he closely analysed and loved to teach. (His 1939 article reveals how he was much less enamoured of the neo-classical Stravinsky.) As for his harmony, and particularly its unresolved diatonic discords, its origin was in Debussy, and to a lesser extent Ravel and Dukas, along with jazz of the inter-war period for the added 6th chord. But his combination of these strands was entirely original and opened his music to a third influence, that of non-Western music. In 1931 he heard Balinese music at the Exposition Coloniale in Paris, and though there was no immediate effect, the sound of the gamelan prompted the tuned percussion ensembles characteristic of his orchestra from the Trois petites liturgies (1943–4) onwards. Other Asian music he heard on record or (during his later travels) in situ, though the repercussions within his own music were temporary, a clear example being the ‘Gagaku’ movement of the Sept haïkaï. Much more central to him was Indian music, as mediated by the Lavignac encyclopedia. There he discovered the jātis and deçi-tâlas (melodic shapes and rhythmic formulae) catalogued in Sanskrit treatises, and these he used in most of his works, beginning with La Nativité (1935).

Another correspondence with Eastern music is in quality of mind. Abandoning the logic and continuity most characteristic of the Western tradition, Messiaen’s music does not so much elaborate a proposition as create conditions for mental excitation or reflection. Narrative thrust is replaced by liturgical order and ritual. The music is structured in self-contained blocks, and proceeds as statement followed by new statement, restatement or altered statement. Where a conventional Western composition will seem to unfold as a thread through time, Messiaen’s discontinuous music rather provides an environment within which time itself can be observed, ‘coloured’, as he would say, by rhythm: time suspended, in his slow movements, or time racing forwards, in his scherzos and dances, or, most frequently, time changing its rhythmic colour from moment to moment. Instead of affirming the orderly flow of everyday existence, this is music which acknowledges only two essences: the instantaneous and the eternal.

Many of these particularities of Messiaen’s music are shown in his first published composition, written when he was 19: the organ piece Le banquet céleste. This is only 25 bars long, but according to the metronome mark Messiaen added for the second edition (1960), because he found organists were playing the work too quickly, the duration should be six minutes. Lasting for seven seconds, the first chord in ex.1 becomes less an element in a musical discourse than an event all by itself, a harmonic atmosphere. At this speed there can be no sensation of metre, even though the phrasing is so square (a mark of the young Messiaen, soon to be alleviated). Similarly, there can be no sensation of tonal movement. This music is not going anywhere, and to make sure of that Messiaen uses what he was later to codify as his second mode.

Le banquet céleste suggests how he might have arrived at his modal conception by improvising at the keyboard with chords based on symmetrical divisions of the octave: the diminished 7th chord in the case of the second mode, the augmented triad in that of the third, where the repeating unit is semitone-semitone-tone, as in F♯-G-A♭-B♭-B-C-D-E♭-E-F♯. Messiaen described his modes as being ‘of limited transposition’ because, unlike major or minor scales or church modes, they can only be transposed a small number of times before the same notes are generated. Mode 1, the whole-tone scale (little used by Messiaen, perhaps in deference to Debussy) has just one alternative transposed form; mode 2 has two and mode 3 three. However, the basic defining feature is the symmetry, which is responsible both for the repetition of forms on transposition and for the modes’ harmonic peculiarities. The second mode makes available just four triads, on the notes of a diminished 7th. There is no easy possibility, therefore, of dominant harmony, and in the second and third modes, which were his favourites, Messiaen habitually used the falling tritone to make a cadence. However, a sense of key persists. Le banquet céleste is much concerned with diminished 7th areas, but the F♯ major chord at the start of the second bar is a definite point of arrival and the piece maintains F♯ as its goal – or rather as the place where it really always is, since there is no striving for resolution.

If Le banquet céleste is fundamentally and blissfully static, a contrary example of rhythmic dynamism — still in F♯, but now in the third mode — is provided by the ‘Danse de la fureur’ from the Quatuor pour la fin du temps, a vigorous melody played by the four instruments in unison or at the octave below (ex.2). The emphatic tritone cadence may be noted. Also, quite by contrast with ex.1, there is a hectic energy that comes not only from the rudeness of the scoring but also from the rhythm, and in particular from the insertion of what Messiaen called ‘added values’ into the regular crotchet pulse, the first instance being the semiquaver in the opening bar. The example also shows early and simple cases of ‘non-retrogradable rhythms’, Messiaen’s term for patterns which are the same whether read forwards or backwards (e.g. the first seven values of the opening bar).

Messiaen, Olivier Eugène Prosper Charles 3. Musical elements.: Ex.1

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Exx.1 and 2, being purely homophonic and purely melodic respectively, represent extremes in Messiaen’s music, though extremes that kept recurring: even in his last major work, Eclairs sur l’Au-delà …, there are movements or passages that repeat these ideals. Much more common throughout his output, though, is polyphony of an unusual sort: polyphony in which the strands are quite independent, moving perhaps at different speeds and in different modalities. The first of the Trois petites liturgies (ex.3) is typical. The vocal line shows again, within a smoother style than that of the ‘Danse de la fureur’, some common traits of Messiaen’s melody: rhythmic regularity occasionally dislocated, the modes of limited transpositions (the first phrase is in a ‘truncated’ form of the second mode, G-A-B♭-(C)-C♯-D♯-E-(F♯)-G, while the second is in the fifth mode, E-F-F♯-B♭-B-C-E, both modes being replete with tritones), tritone cadencing. In the piano meanwhile there is what Messiaen termed a ‘rhythmic canon’: the left hand, doubled by strings and maracas, plays the rhythmic sequence of the right hand, doubled by vibraphone, in a 3:2 ratio. Also highly characteristic is the chordal colouring of these durational lines. The right hand fits a sequence of 13 chords in the sixth mode (B-C-D-E-F-F♯-G♯-A♯-B) on to a sequence of 18 values, while the left hand clothes its similar rhythmic sequence in repetitions of nine chords in the third mode. There is no logic in this, only a delight in regularities and irregularities, as in an Ars Nova motet. Similarly, in the vertical dimension, there is no logic in the placement together of the choral chant, the orchestral canon and the brilliant solos for violin and ondes martenot: these are different things which happen to be in the same place at the same time. In creating his textures, as in building his forms, Messiaen smiled on incongruity.

4. Works to 1950.

The elements described above can be found all through Messiaen’s music, which did not so much develop as come to include a greater diversity, especially with the arrival around 1950 both of more complex number games and of closely observed birdsongs. Such stylistic jumps and shifts make it possible to identify five broad chronological phases in his creative life, of which the first took him up to the age of 30 – the age at which he wrote Les corps glorieux. Typical of this period, which is dominated more than any other by organ music, is a growing sophistication in essentially homophonic movements that have their origin in Le banquet céleste, coupled with a contrasting rhythmic exuberance that came partly out of Le sacre du printemps, partly out of Dupré’s toccatas and, from 1935 onwards, partly out of the Indian rhythms discovered in Lavignac. (The orchestral tâla of ex.3 is constructed from these rhythms.) The second phase, covering the great works of the 1940s from the Quatuor to Turangalîla, did not add much but brought everything in Messiaen’s early style to a climax of achievement. He was no longer an organist-composer within a recognizable French tradition. Indeed, there were no organ works at all, but instead works of sacred – or, later, erotic (just as shocking) – intent designed for the orchestral auditorium or the recital room. Then, between 1949 and 1952, came the brief period when he worked with new techniques: electronic music, systematic process and the use of sets of pitches, durations, dynamic levels and (on the piano) varieties of touch. Out of this came the years of birdsong re-creation, blending from 1963 onwards into a late period when he produced almost exclusively works of monumental character and all-embracing scope.

The early organ works – Le banquet céleste, the Diptyque, L’Ascension, La Nativité du Seigneur and Les corps glorieux – established basic features of Messiaen’s style and subject matter, the two being of course related. Very slow speed and immobile harmony (Le banquet, the finale of L’Ascension, much of Les corps glorieux) were responses to the awesomeness of the divine presence, whether in the person of Jesus or in the eucharist, and to the wonder of resurrected existence. Bounding exuberance (‘Transports de joie’ from L’Ascension, ‘Dieu parmi nous’ from La Nativité, ‘Joie et clarté des corps glorieux’ from Les corps) was an alternative possibility. Moreover, as Messiaen took possession of his distinctive language, so he moved away from chromatically inflected regular tonality and from an associated fixation on sinfulness and penitence, as reflected in the Diptyque or in Les offrandes oubliées, which was the culmination to a sequence of bold and colourful orchestral meditations. The similarity of organ and orchestral pieces, in language, form and subject, was characteristic of him at both ends of his life, and the two versions of L’Ascension differ only in their third movements, where virtuosity demands a form of expression specific to the means.

His more private music, whether concerned with marriage (Poèmes pour Mi), family life (Chants de terre et de ciel) or death (the Pièce in memory of Dukas), has a spiritual dimension that comes partly from the texts, in the case of the songs, and partly from the fact that these works too use the same musical language. For both the song cycles he wrote his own words, which gloss marital and parental relationships with a mixture of biblical imagery and language derived from the surrealist poets he admired at the time, especially Pierre Reverdy. But formally there is hardly any change from the organ works, both cycles containing diverse, strongly individualized movements set side by side. This is particularly true of the later cycle, with its range from the pentatonic to the virtually atonal, and with its imaginative variety of keyboard textures, contrasting with the pianistically simpler and more uniform Poèmes pour Mi, a work which only attains its full splendour and strangeness in the later orchestral transcription.

In Chants de terre et de ciel, more than in any earlier composition, number games begin to contribute to the substance of the music, but Messiaen had shown himself a numerologist before in packaging movements in multiples of three, for the Trinity (La Nativité, Poèmes, Chants), or in sevens, for perfection (Les corps glorieux). Many later works show this too, beginning with the Quatuor pour la fin du temps, in which, according to the composer, an eighth movement is added to extend the perfect seven ‘into infinity’.

Messiaen, Olivier Eugène Prosper Charles 3. Musical elements. 4. Works to 1950.: Ex.3

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The Quatuor is a special case in Messiaen’s music. That it was his only important chamber composition was due to the circumstances of its composition; in its emphatic rhetoric it is an orchestral work on a small scale, while in form and subject it carries on from the great organ cycles of the previous decade. The subject, the end of time, is not so much evoked as symbolized and even embodied in the music. The first movement, ‘Liturgie de cristal’, is a polyphony of unmatching rhythms more complex than that illustrated in ex.3; here the process that is set up would take vast eons to complete itself. Other movements have recourse once more to almost immobile tempos (the solos for cello and for violin with piano) or, contrastingly, to violent irregularity (ex.2). All these techniques had appeared before, but they are handled with a new decisiveness. For the first time, in the preface to the score, Messiaen wrote of ‘dazzlement’ as his musical objective, the effect to be achieved by the brilliant colours of his harmony and instrumentation and also by the astonishment of surprise.

The works that then took Messiaen up to Turangalîla are all (an unimportant piano Rondeau excepted) on an ample scale. The Visions de l’Amen and the Trois petites liturgies share a grounding in pentatonic A major, which was for Messiaen a key of serene, naive joy, as well as of blueness. Pentatony also suggests exotic models, and the suggestion is reinforced by other aspects of these works – by the percussion effects and quasi-Balinese simultaneous different speeds of the Visions, and by the ostinatos and metal percussion of the Liturgies. The virtuosity of their piano writing, stimulated by Loriod, is also central to the Vingt regards, which circle around Messiaen’s much-favoured F♯ major. There is room here for a complete survey of the composer’s manners, including massive, pounding fugato (‘Par lui tout a été fait’), warm, sweet stillness (‘Le baiser de l’Enfant-Jésus’), severe automatic system (‘L’échange’) and surrealist vision (‘Regard de l’onction terrible’).

Just as the spiritual in these three works of 1943–4 welcomes the sensual, so the sensual subject matter of the next three – the Tristan trilogy of 1945–8 – is a mirror of divine love. The three compositions are quite separate in most respects but that of subject, and there is no narrative continuity in any of them: Messiaen’s style effectively precludes such continuity, lending itself instead to sectional forms and thereby to fragmented stories. Harawi, for example, presents moments from a story of erotic passion and death – a Tristan in an exotic setting, both music and text alluding to Peruvian love songs. Turangalîla uses a large orchestra, with solo ondes martenot often used as a ‘vox humana’ stop above the strings and solo piano leading a tuned percussion ensemble, in a sequence of movements where flamboyant love music is interleaved with alarming images and abstract rhythmic speculations. Cinq rechants, more compact than the other two, is a succession of verse-refrain forms in which meaningful phrases are delivered in a forest of onomatopoeic noises and freshly imagined choral textures. Neither here nor in Harawi (both works have words by the composer) is there any explicit mention of God, but the love that both celebrate is seen on a cosmic scale. It can be represented in the symphony by gentle caressing gestures and by virtual stasis (‘Jardin du sommeil d’amour’), but it can be represented too by the energy of strongly pulsed fast rhythm, the energy that the work’s great central dance, ‘Joie du sang des étoiles’, projects as streaming through the universe. Turangalîla itself is a Sanskrit word, the name of one of the rhythmic formulae in Lavignac, with connotations approximating to those of Bergson’s ‘élan vital’. Whether in the bodies of lovers, in the rotations of stars and galaxies or in the movement of musical time and tone, it was for Messiaen the same, and his symphony celebrating it centres on, again, F♯ major, his key of ecstatic adoration and exultation.

Some of the melodic themes that link the Tristan works are carried over into their immediate successor, the piano piece with another Sanskrit title, Cantéyodjayâ (1949), whose mosaic form also includes elements that look forward to Messiaen’s next phase – especially the section marked ‘mode de durées, de hauteurs et d’intensités’, which is a three-part counterpoint of lines using 12-note sets not only of pitches but also of durational values. Messiaen had been thinking about serializing rhythm since the early 1940s, and had begun to explore the possibilities in parts of Turangalîla, where unpitched percussion patter out sequences of arithmetical values (demisemiquaver, semiquaver, dotted semiquaver, quaver etc., representing one, two, three, four units and so on). In Cantéyodjayâ his 12-note rhythmic sets are permutations of values from demisemiquaver (one unit of time) to crotchet (12 units), and in another piano piece – the Mode de valeurs et d’intensités (also 1949), composed entirely in the austere three-line style of the earlier work’s episode – he applied a similar categorization to loudness and attack.

This piece was a powerful stimulus to younger composers: Boulez based his first book of Structures on a 12-note series from it, and Stockhausen was immediately set on the road to the abstract note manipulation of his Kreuzspiel. However, the Mode is, as its title declares, a modal and not a serial composition. It works not with defined sequences but with repertories of notes, and the sets of values for duration, loudness and attack are used not to increase variability, as in Boulez or Stockhausen, but rather to identify the relatively small number of sounds in play, since each pitch has the same duration, loudness and attack throughout. When Messiaen wanted to vary his material in ordered fashion – as he did, for example, in another piano piece of this period, Ile de feu II, or later in Chronochromie he used, instead of serial procedures, his own technique of ‘interversion’, which conserves the repertory of elements but not the intervals between adjacent pairs. From an original set 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12 one may make a first interversion at random and so obtain, say, 9-3-8-4-1-11-7-5-2-6-10-12. The second interversion is obtained by applying the same exchanges a second time over. For instance, 9 in the original set gives way to 2 in the first interversion, 3 gives way to 8, and so on. Thus the second interversion is 2-8-5-4-9-10-7-1-3-11-6-12. (In this case three positions will always maintain the same value, because they did so in the first interversion, but of course this need not be so. Similarly, there can be different numbers of interversions in the cycle before the original set recurs.)

5. Works after 1950.

The high degree of systematization in the Quatre études de rythme – to which both the Mode de valeurs and Ile de feu II belong – was maintained in parts of the Livre d’orgue, though Messiaen’s association here of highly constructed with seemingly improvised movements is suggestive of his acceptance and even enjoyment of contrast. Unity of style had not been a consideration with him since at least the time of Chants de terre et de ciel. In the last piece of the Livre d’orgue, ‘Soixante-quatre durées’, the strict and the free blithely coexist in flights of birdsongs through a monumental musical architecture. Here, as in many of his works, it may be difficult to say quite what binds a work together, or even what unifies a movement. The formal principle seems to be rather that of a catalogue, as Messiaen perhaps acknowledged in the title of his biggest piano collection, the Catalogue d’oiseaux. And indeed, since this is not music that moulds a line through time, discontinuity of form is only the most outward manifestation of its essential nature. Its disorder is, moreover, not the kind of broken order by which a composer’s will might be asserted; it is, rather, a disorder conveying absence of will.

To Messiaen no natural phenomenon was alien, whether a sound (though he had a definite preference for clear harmonies, closely relatable to triads or to natural resonance) or something that could be represented by sound: not only birdsongs but the colours and shapes of landscapes. As he moved into the second half of his life, so the range of phenomena he encountered – through his travels, through reading and listening, and through the music of his pupils – grew, and so did the diversity of his catalogue forms. Meanwhile, on the smallest scale, his modes of pitches, durations and other musical qualities were also catalogues; there need be no logic in how the composer chooses from them – and the computed choices resulting from his interversions produce, not entirely paradoxically, the most irrational effect.

In the birdsong pieces that continued to the end of his life, he would sometimes again place his avian transcriptions on an organized rhythmic armature, as he had in ‘Soixante-quatre durées’: such armatures are openly disclosed in, for example, Oiseaux exotiques (durational interpretations of Greek metres) and Chronochromie (interversions of duration sets), as well as in several of the pieces in the Catalogue d’oiseaux. The pursuit of birdsong seems to have been partly responsible for his penchant during this period for formations consisting of solo piano with a wind group and a percussion ensemble in which keyed instruments (often a trio of vibraphone, xylorimba and marimba) are prominent. The piano, Loriod’s instrument, had to be there: Chronochromie and Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum are his only important works between the Livre d’orgue (1951) and the Méditations sur le mystère de la Sainte Trinité (1969) in which there is no solo part for Loriod, and his whole way of imitating birdsong might have been different if he had not had her incisive playing in mind. As for his characteristic birdsong orchestra, the tuned percussion instruments functioned as coloured pianos, while the wind instruments, especially the woodwinds, could most closely approach birdsong timbres (though this was not an essential: the ‘Epôde’ of Chronochromie is a bird chorus for solo strings).

At the same time, wind and percussion provided Messiaen with the means to project impressions of colour with clarity and power. These impressions depended principally on harmony, on particular combinations of mode and key, but they could certainly be intensified by brilliance and variety of scoring. In two consecutive works of this period – Sept haïkaï (1962) and Couleurs de la Cité Céleste (1963), both for the favoured combination of piano, winds and percussion (with the addition of eight violins in the former) – Messiaen marked in the score the colours at which he was aiming: real colours that he had experienced in the case of the seven musical images from Japan, jewel colours as described by St John in the case of the later work. In Sept haïkaï he worked with complex irrational rhythms nearer to Boulez or Stockhausen than to anything else in his own music, whereas Couleurs generally restores his norms of insistent pulse or stasis.

Couleurs is unusual in another respect, though: its formal elaborateness. Hitherto, since Turangalîla, Messiaen had preferred small forms or catalogue-like sequences of small forms, except in those works – Réveil des oiseaux and the Catalogue d’oiseaux – where form is given by a speeded-up progress through the hours of the day. In Couleurs the principle is instead that of a mosaic, or, better, of a stained-glass window, in which coloured chords, birdsongs and pictorial elements (an image of the abyss, plainsong alleluias) are tumbled together in repetitions, interchanges, decorations and new departures. This was, however, a unique moment. The movements of later works are often on a grand scale – up to three quarters of an hour in the case of the Bird Sermon scene in Saint François – but they generally return to the concatenation or verse-refrain forms of earlier Messiaen.

The first of these massive later works was La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ (1965–9), a concert-length ceremonial based on the story of Christ’s Transfiguration. In each of the work’s two ‘septenaries’ the Gospel narrative is intoned by a large chorus in two relatively short sections, each followed by a pair of meditations for chorus and orchestra, with seven instrumental soloists often splashing over the surface in birdsong figuration. Each part then ends with a huge chorale. With invitations both in the story and in St Thomas Aquinas’s commentary on it to revisit some of his central themes – the irruption of the eternal into the everyday, cascading light, a mountain scene – Messiaen created a review of his entire musical world, from modal melody (as his first vocal piece since the Cinq rechants, the work was perhaps inevitably a throwback) to the more recent abstract constructions, colossal sonorities and, of course, birdsongs.

At the time it appeared, La Transfiguration was greeted as Messiaen’s summa, but he was still in his early 60s and had much further to go. Each of his big subsequent works is similarly resumatory, but in each he was careful to add at least one new item to his repertory of techniques. First, in the Méditations sur la Sainte Trinité for organ, he introduced a ‘communicable language’ of letters and words coded by notes. This he used again in Des canyons aux étoiles …, where the novelties include representations of desert sounds by means of a wind machine, an ‘earth machine’ and a horn mouthpiece played by itself. In other respects this work caps the sequence of birdsong-colour pieces for piano, wind and percussion, though in this case a small string complement also plays.

From here Messiaen went directly into his largest work, Saint François d’Assise (1975–83), an opera on a Wagnerian time scale, though of course quite un-Wagnerian in how it shapes its time in blocks. He created his libretto out of the saint’s own writings (notably the Cantico delle creature, of which he quoted a stanza in each of the eight scenes) together with memoirs and lives dating from soon after Francis’s time, as well as a modern study, Louis Antoine’s Lire François d’Assise, and passages in the Bible. Crucial decisions concerned what to leave out. There was to be no conversion (because, he said, ‘sin is not interesting’), no dispute between Francis and his father (for this was not to be a psychological opera), no meetings with pope or bishops and no St Clare. With two vital exceptions – the Angel and the Leper – the people onstage are all monks, which means not only that the opera has a strong dramatic homogeneity but that, dealing with people who have left the world behind, it can leave behind the worldliness of conventional drama and show, as Messiaen put it, ‘the progress of grace in St Francis’s soul’.

To this portrayal the colossal choral-orchestral forces (150 singers and 120 instrumentalists) contribute as much as the long central role, which combines, according to the composer, the ‘vigour’ of Golaud with the ‘declamatory solemnity’ of Boris Godunov. (The reference is to two of the operas he most admired, along with those of Mozart and Wagner.) Typically the work proceeds by alternating a solo voice with the orchestra. This makes it possible for the soloists to sing without strain, for them to be heralded and answered by distinctive orchestral themes, and for the opera to resemble a medieval manuscript in sound, the orchestra providing great initials, pages of pattern and images of the supernatural while the plain black characters of the modal chant continue.

Even more than in La Transfiguration, the orchestral writing in Saint François reviews Messiaen’s whole career: the cured Leper has an exuberant dance of the kind he had not written since Turangalîla, which is recalled too in the use of three ondes martenot for the heavenly music the Angel plays to Francis. But much of the score is composed of birdsongs. These include some which Messiaen, faithful to reality, notated around Assisi, but there are others which he, with fidelity to a different sort of reality, took from far-flung locations. Most notably, in the Bird Sermon scene, Francis reveals his spiritual advance by hearing and naming birds from a place unknown in the saint’s time: New Caledonia, which Messiaen visited specificially to collect material for this moment. This scene also contains a new technical device: the use of independent tempos for certain instruments within the orchestra, so that their birdsongs can fly freely. Characteristically, Messiaen enjoyed a simple pride in this innovation, which he used again in Un vitrail et des oiseaux and the Concert à quatre, a work completed after his death by Loriod in consultation with Heinz Holliger, one of its intended soloists, and Benjamin.

In discussing his birdsongs, whether in Saint François or elsewhere in his output, Messiaen habitually elided the difference between the birds that sing in the natural world and those that sing in his works. For example, in the context of the opera he wrote of ‘a long skylark solo entrusted to the three xylophones’, or of ‘a mistle thrush [which] strikes off on the solo clarinet’, or of ‘the second ondes which does the Japanese Uguisu’, or of ‘a chaffinch on three solo violins, reco-reco and three trumpets playing in the third mode with Harmon mutes’. Indeed, one of the attractions of birdsong for Messiaen may have been that it allowed him to diminish or ignore the distinction between reality and representation. He spoke of ‘trying to trace as exact as possible a musical portrait’ of a bird, but his portraits are perhaps better understood as icons, in which the reality is metaphysically present. And in Saint François the monks too, who have their own songs, are iconically present.

The great paradox of Messiaen’s music – and most spectacularly of his largest work – is that there is no conflict between the icon-maker’s selfless transcription of what is given (and thereby insertion of it into the icon) and the artist’s assertion of an unmistakably individual world, an assertion that depends in Messiaen’s case on, most particularly, the modes of limited transposition. In Saint François these underlie the birdsongs as usual and, much more directly, the solo and choral chant. There is no conflict because the music is emphatically not about its composer’s individuality: the modes are its means, and are of themselves inexpressive. The intention is always to display something else (images from nature and sacred history) to the fullest. Among the consequences of this were that Messiaen left very little non-illustrative music and that, because his vocabulary was idiosyncratic at a fundamental level (that of the modes and of his rhythmic practices), he could range far and wide in his choice of techniques or models. No other composer could imitate both a mistle thrush and Mozart without stylistic incongruity – or, rather, with the same stylistic incongruity, since Messiaen was impervious to Western music’s demand for consistency, as he demonstrated in his block forms, heterogeneous textures and deliberately uncoordinated application of different rules to the handling of pitch and rhythm. ‘Messiaen does not compose: he juxtaposes’, was Boulez’s complaint. Only a ‘juxtaposer’, though, could have composed as Messiaen did.

Saint François was followed a year later by a last organ collection, the Livre du Saint Sacrement, which presumably gathers together ideas developed at La Trinité over many years and so does not represent a new large adventure. Messiaen’s next projects were all small, having the aspect of postscripts to earlier achievements: Petites esquisses d’oiseaux (1985) is a pendant to the Catalogue, Un vitrail et des oiseaux (1986) a reminiscence of the 1950s and 60s pieces for piano and small orchestra, and La Ville d’En-haut (1987) another such memory, though with a wind and percussion ensemble more on the scale of Et exspecto. His contribution to the Mozart bicentenary, Un sourire (1989), came as another brief monument, and the Piece for piano and string quartet (1991) was a greetings telegram for the 90th birthday of Alfred Schlee, who, as director of Universal Edition, had published Oiseaux exotiques and Cantéyodjayâ.

By this time, though, he had embarked on another immense work, Eclairs sur l’Au-delà … (1988–92). Life after death had been his greatest subject since the 1930s, and this last completed work revisits much of the musical imagery he had found for it: the dazzling woodwind and percussion jewels of Couleurs de la Cité Céleste, the string adagio song of Les offrandes oubliées and L’Ascension, the wind-orchestra chanting of L’Ascension and Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum, the birdsongs as harbingers of the brilliance and agility of the angels, the potentially endless rhythmic mechanisms as fragments of eternity. Above all, the contrasts from movement to movement – and the depictions of scenes from Revelation, and the presence of two slow movements for strings – point back towards the Quatuor pour la fin du temps.

And yet the sense is less one of culmination than of continuing, as if everything Messiaen had ever created were still permanently attainable. The ending of time is conveyed not only inside each piece, but across the output as a whole, in that Messiaen was able, in his 80s, to achieve again what he had achieved as a young man, without any dimming, and certainly without any nostalgia. The only signs of age in this last piece are in its orchestral virtuosity, its breadth of reference, and perhaps also its audacity, not least its audacity in bringing together an ensemble of a 128 players only to leave many of them silent for long periods: the ten double basses, for instance, play nothing until the eighth of the 11 movements, the coda of which provides the single tutti in a composition otherwise for smaller, if majestic, groupings.

New to Messiaen’s handling of these groupings is a sophistication of instrumental blends. Whereas before he had generally used the orchestra in families, blockwise, Eclairs sur l’Au-delà … has gentle swerves of colour within phrases – though these are still rare. Another change is in the increased richness and delicacy of timbre and harmony in the big string adagios. Long melodies became increasingly important again in Messiaen’s last works. In the second movement of the Concert à quatre he orchestrated the early Vocalise-étude; both La Ville d’En-haut and Un sourire extend a melody in phases marked off by contrasting episodes; and Eclairs sur l’Au-delà … ends with a vision of ‘Le Christ, Lumière du Paradis’, an immensely slow movement with a muted violin melody couched on chords from other strings and lit by three high-trilling triangles. There are places where that melody comes to rest, but these are not partitionings of a form so much as pauses for breath along an endless path, around an endless circuit. Nor is there any striving into the uppermost register, as there was in the work’s earlier slow movement for strings. The echo of the ultimate treble – the light of Christ, perhaps – is always there in the metal shimmer of the triangles, projecting a reverberation which does not die away but stays, because time has stopped.


Catalogue: S.N. Simeone: Olivier Messiaen: a Bibliographical Catalogue of Messiaen’s Works. First Editions and First Performances (Tutzing 1998)



Saint François d’Assise: scènes franciscaines (op, 3, 8 tableaux, Messiaen), 1975–9, orchd 1979–83; Paris, Opéra, 28 Nov 1983

Vocal orchestral


Poèmes pour Mi (Messiaen), S, orch, orchd 1937


Trois petites liturgies de la Présence Divine (Messiaen), female vv, pf, ondes martenot, perc, str, 1943–4: 1 Antienne de la conversation intérieure, 2 Séquence du Verbe, cantique divin, 3 Psalmodie de l’ubiquité par Amour


Chant des déportés (Messiaen), large ST chorus, orch, 1945


La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ (Bible, Missal, Aquinas), 100 vv, pf, vc, fl, cl, xylorimba, vib, mar, orch, 1965–9



Fugue, d, 1928, unpubd


Le banquet eucharistique, 1928, unpubd, related to org piece Le banquet céleste


Simple chant d’une âme, 1930, unpubd


Les offrandes oubliées, méditation symphonique, 1930, pf red. (I/5b) 1930


Le tombeau resplendissant, 1931


Hymne au Saint-Sacrement, 1932; reconstructed as ‘Hymne’, 1947


L’Ascension, 4 méditations symphoniques, 1932–3: 1 Majesté du Christ demandant sa gloire à son Père, 2 Alléluias sereins d’une âme qui désire le ciel, 3 Alléluia sur la trompette, alléluia sur la cymbale, 4 Prière du Christ montant vers son Père; movts 1, 2 and 4 arr. org


Turangalîla-symphonie, pf, ondes martenot, orch, 1946–8, rev. 1990: 1 Introduction, 2 Chant d’amour I, 3 Turangalîla I, 4 Chant d’amour II, 5 Joie du sang des étoiles, 6 Jardin du sommeil d’amour, 7 Turangalîla II, 8 Développement de l’amour, 9 Turangalîla III, 10 Final


Réveil des oiseaux, pf, orch, 1953


Oiseaux exotiques, pf, 11 wind, 7 perc, 1955–6


Chronochromie, 1959–60: 1 Introduction, 2 Strophe I, 3 Antistrophe I, 4 Strophe II, 5 Antistrophe II, 6 Epôde, 7 Coda


Sept haïkaï, pf, 13 wind, 6 perc, 8 vn, 1962: 1 Introduction, 2 Le parc de Nara et les lanternes de pierre, 3 Yamanaka: cadenza, 4 Gagaku, 5 Miyajima et le torii dans la mer, 6 Les oiseaux de Karuizawa, 7 Coda


Couleurs de la Cité Céleste, pf, 3 cl, 10 brass, 6 perc, 1963


Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum, 34 wind, 3 perc, 1964: 1 ‘Des profondeurs de l’abîme, je crie vers toi, Seigneur: Seigneur, écoute ma voix!’, 2 ‘Le Christ, ressuscité des morts, ne meurt plus; la mort n’a plus sur lui d’empire’, 3 ‘L’heure vient où les morts entendront la voix du Fils de Dieu …’, 4 ‘Ils ressusciteront, glorieux, avec un nom nouveau, dans le concert joyeux des étoiles et les acclamations des fils du Ciel’, 5 ‘Et j’entendis la voix d’une foule immense …’


Des canyons aux étoiles …, pf, 23 wind, 7 perc, 13 str, 1971–4: 1 Le désert, 2 Les orioles, 3 Ce qui est écrit sur les étoiles, 4 Le cossyphe d’Heuglin, 5 Cedar Breaks et le don de crainte, 6 Appel interstellaire, 7 Bryce Canyon et les rochers rouge-orange, 8 Les ressuscités et le chant de l’étoile Aldébaran, 9 Le moqueur polyglotte, 10 La grive des bois, 11 Omao, Leiothrix, Elepaio, Shama, 12 Zion Park et la Cité Céleste


Un vitrail et des oiseaux, pf, 17 ww, tpt, 8 perc, 1986


La Ville d’En-haut, pf, 31 wind, 8 perc, 1987


Un sourire, 1989


Eclairs sur l’Au-delà …, 1988–92: 1 Apparition du Christ glorieux, 2 La constellation du Sagittaire, 3 L’Oiseau-Lyre et la Ville-Fiancée, 4 Les élus marqués du sceau, 5 Demeurer dans l’Amour, 6 Les sept anges aux sept trompettes, 7 Et Dieu essuiera toute larme de leurs yeux …, 8 Les étoiles et la Gloire, 9 Plusieurs oiseaux des arbres de Vie, 10 Le chemin de l’Invisible, 11 Le Christ, Lumière du Paradis


Concert à quatre, fl, ob, vc, pf, orch, 1990–92, completed Y. Loriod, H. Holliger, G. Benjamin: 1 Entrée, 2 Vocalise, 3 Cadenza, 4 Rondeau

Smaller vocal



Deux ballades de Villon (F. Villon), 1v, pf, 1921: 1 Epître à ses amis, 2 Ballade des pendus, unpubd


Trois mélodies, S, pf, 1930: 1 Pourquoi? (Messiaen), 2 Le sourire (C. Sauvage), 3 La fiancée perdue (Messiaen)


Poèmes pour Mi (Messiaen), S, pf, 1936, orchd 1937: 1 Action de grâces, 2 Paysage, 3 La maison, 4 Epouvante, 5 L’épouse, 6 Ta voix, 7 Les deux guerriers, 8 Le collier, 9 Prière exaucée


Chants de terre et de ciel (Messiaen), S, pf, 1938: 1 Bail avec Mi, 2 Antienne du silence, 3 Danse du bébé-pilule, 4 Arc-en-ciel d’innocence, 5 Minuit pile et face, 6 Résurrection


Harawi (Messiaen), S, pf, 1945: 1 La ville qui dormait, toi, 2 Bonjour toi, colombe verte, 3 Montagnes, 4 Doundou Tchil, 5 L’amour de Piroutcha, 6 Répétition planétaire, 7 Adieu, 8 Syllabes, 9 L’escalier redit, gestes du soleil, 10 Amour, oiseau d’étoile, 11 Katchikatchi les étoiles, 12 Dans le noir

Other works


La mort du nombre (Messiaen), S, T, vn, pf, 1930


L’ensorceleuse, cant. (P. Arosa), S, T, B, pf/orch, 1931, Paris, Institut, 4 July 1931


Mass, 8 S, 4 vn, 1933, unpubd


Vocalise-étude, S, pf, 1935, orchd to form movt 2 of Concert à quatre


O sacrum convivium!, vv, 1937


Choeurs pour une Jeanne d’Arc, 1941, unpubd


Cinq rechants (Messiaen), 3S, 3A, 3T, 3B, 1948



Fugue sur un sujet de Georges Hüe, 4 pts, 1930 or 1931


Theme and Variations, vn, pf, 1932


Fantaisie, vn, pf, 1933, unpubd


Quatuor pour la fin du temps, cl, vn, vc, pf, 1940–41: 1 Liturgie de cristal, 2 Vocalise pour l’ange qui annonce la fin du temps, 3 Abîme des oiseaux, 4 Intermède, 5 Louange à l’éternité de Jésus, 6 Danse de la fureur, pour les sept trompettes, 7 Fouillis d’arcs-en-ciel, pour l’ange qui annonce la fin du temps, 8 Louange à l’immortalité de Jésus


Le merle noir, fl, pf, 1951


Chant donné, 4 pts, before 1953, pubd in 64 Leçons d’harmonie offertes en hommage à Jean Gallon […] par ses élèves (Paris, 1953)

Chant (dans le style Mozart), cl, pf, 1986, unpubd


Piece, pf, str qt, 1991



Esquisse modale, 1927, unpubd


Le banquet céleste, 1928, rev. 1960


L’hôte aimable des âmes, 1928, unpubd


Variations écossaises, 1928, unpubd

Offrande au Saint-Sacrement, c1930–35, unpubd


Diptyque, essai sur la vie terrestre et l’éternité bienheureuse, 1930


Apparition de l’église éternelle, 1932


L’Ascension, after orch work, 1933–4, new movt 3 Transports de joie d’une âme devant la gloire du Christ qui est la sienne


La Nativité du Seigneur, 9 méditations, 1935: 1 La Vierge et l’Enfant, 2 Les bergers, 3 Desseins éternels, 4 Le Verbe, 5 Les enfants de Dieu, 6 Les anges, 7 Jésus accepte la souffrance, 8 Les mages, 9 Dieu parmi nous


Les corps glorieux, 7 visions brèves de la vie des ressuscités, 1939: 1 Subtilité des corps glorieux, 2 Les eaux de la grâce, 3 L’ange aux parfums, 4 Combat de la mort et de la vie, 5 Force et agilité des corps glorieux, 6 Joie et clarté des corps glorieux, 7 Le mystère de la Sainte Trinité


Messe de la Pentecôte, 1949–50: 1 Entrée (Les langues de feu), 2 Offertoire (Les choses visibles et invisibles), 3 Consécration (Le don de sagesse), 4 Communion (Les oiseaux et les sources), 5 Sortie (Le vent de l’Esprit)


Livre d’orgue, 1951: 1 Reprises par interversion, 2 Pièce en trio, 3 Les mains de l’abîme, 4 Chants d’oiseaux, 5 Pièce en trio, 6 Les yeux dans les roues, 7 Soixante-quatre durées


Verset pour la Fête de la Dédicace, 1960


Monodie, 1963


Méditations sur le mystère de la Sainte Trinité, 1969: 1 Le Père inengendré, 2 La sainteté de Jésus-Christ, 3 ‘La relation réelle en Dieu est réellement identique à l’essence’, 4 ‘Je suis, je suis!’ 5 Dieu est immense, éternel, immuable – Le souffle de l’Esprit – Dieu est Amour, 6 Le Fils, Verbe et Lumière, 7 ‘Le Père et le Fils aiment, par le Saint Esprit, eux-mêmes et nous’, 8 Dieu est simple, 9 ‘Je suis Celui qui suis’


Livre du Saint Sacrement, 1984: 1 Adoro te, 2 La source de Vie, 3 Le Dieu caché, 4 Acte de foi, 5 Puer natus est nobis, 6 La manne et le Pain de Vie, 7 Les ressuscités et la Lumière de Vie, 8 Institution de l’Eucharistie, 9 Les ténèbres, 10 La Résurrection du Christ, 11 L’apparition du Christ ressuscité à Marie-Madeleine, 12 La Transubstantiation, 13 Les deux murailles d’eau, 14 Prière avant la Communion, 15 La joie de la grâce, 16 Prière après la Communion, 17 La Présence multipliée, 18 Offrande et alleluia final

Prélude, unpubd



La Dame de Shalott, 1917, unpubd


La tristesse d’un grand ciel blanc, 1925, unpubd


Preludes, 1928–9: 1 La colombe, 2 Chant d’extase dans un paysage triste, 3 Le nombre léger, 4 Instants défunts, 5 Les sons impalpables du rêve, 6 Cloches d’angoisses et larmes d’adieu, 7 Plainte calme, 8 Un reflet dans le vent


Fantaisie burlesque, 1932


Pièce pour le tombeau de Paul Dukas, 1935


Rondeau, 1943


Visions de l’Amen, 2 pf, 1943: 1 Amen de la Création, 2 Amen des étoiles, de la planète à l’anneau, 3 Amen de l’agonie de Jésus, 4 Amen du désir, 5 Amen des anges, des saints, du chant des oiseaux, 6 Amen du jugement, 7 Amen de la consommation


Vingt regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus, 1944: 1 Regard du Père, 2 Regard de l’étoile, 3 L’échange, 4 Regard de la Vierge, 5 Regard du Fils sur le Fils, 6 Par lui tout a été fait, 7 Regard de la Croix, 8 Regard des hauteurs, 9 Regard du temps, 10 Regard de l’esprit de joie, 11 Première Communion de la Vierge, 12 La Parole Toute-Puissante, 13 Noël, 14 Regard des anges, 15 Le baiser de l’Enfant-Jésus, 16 Regard des prophètes, des bergers et des mages, 17 Regard du silence, 18 Regard de l’onction terrible, 19 Je dors, mais mon coeur veille, 20 Regard de l’église d’Amour


Cantéyodjayâ, 1949


Quatre études de rythme, 1949–50: 1 Ile de feu I, 1949; 2 Mode de valeurs et d’intensités, 1949; 3 Neumes rythmiques, 1950; 4 Ile de feu II, 1950


Catalogue d’oiseaux, 1956–8: 1 Le chocard des alpes, 2 Le loriot, 3 Le merle bleu, 4 Le traquet stapazin, 5 La chouette hulotte, 6 L’alouette lulu, 7 La rousserolle effarvatte, 8 L’alouette calandrelle, 9 La bouscarle, 10 Le merle de roche, 11 La buse variable, 12 Le traquet rieur, 13 Le courlis cendré

Prélude, 1964, unpubd


La fauvette des jardins, 1970


Petites esquisses d’oiseaux, 1985: 1 Le rouge-gorge, 2 Le merle noir, 3 Le rouge-gorge, 4 La grive musicienne, 5 Le rouge-gorge, 6 L’alouette des champs



Fête des belles eaux, 6 ondes martenot, 1937, unpubd


Deux monodies en quarts de ton, ondes martenot, 1938, unpubd


Musique de scène pour un Oedipe, ondes martenot, 1942, unpubd


Timbres-durées, tape project, 1952, unpubd, withdrawn

Principal publishers: Leduc, Durand, Universal

Recordings by the composer: Messiaen recorded all his pubd org works to date at La Trinité for Ducretet-Thomson in 1956; these recordings have been released on CD by EMI. For Erato in the 1970s, again at La Trinité, he recorded the Méditations sur le mystère de la Sainte Trinité and improvisations on his mother’s L’âme en bourgeon; only the former has been re-released by the company on CD.


  • I/13 Vingt leçons de solfège modernes (Paris, 1933) [5 by Messiaen]
  • III/2 ‘Ariane et Barbe-Bleue de Paul Dukas’, ReM, no.166 (1936), 79–86
  • III/4 ‘Les sept chorals-poèmes pour les sept paroles du Christ en croix’, Le monde musical, no.3 (31 March 1938), 34 [review of works by Tournemire, Migot and Langlais]
  • III/5 ‘L’orgue mystique de Tournemire’, Syrinx (May 1938), 26–7
  • III/6 ‘Le rythme chez Igor Strawinsky’, ReM, no.191 (1939), 91–2
  • I/21 Vingt leçons d’harmonie (Paris, 1939)
  • I/23 Technique de mon langage musical (Paris, 1944; Eng. trans., Paris, 1956)
  • III/7 Preface to A. Jolivet: Mana (Paris, 1946) [in Fr. and Eng.]
  • III/10 ‘Maurice Emmanuel: ses “Trente chansons bourguignonnes”’, ReM, no.206 (1947), 107–8
  • III/13 Conférence de Bruxelles (Paris, 1960, with Ger. and Eng. trans.); orig. pubd as ‘Musikalisches Glaubens-bekenntnis’, Melos, 25/12 (1958), 381–5
  • III/20 Preface to A. Roustit: La prophétie musicale dans l’histoire de l’humanité précédée d’une étude sur les nombres et les planètes dans leur rapports avec la musique (Roanne, 1970)
  • III/26 Conférence de Notre Dame (Paris, 1978)
  • Messiaen on Messiaen: the Composer Writes about his Works (Bloomington, IN, 1986) [Eng. trans. of notes on org works for Ducretet-Thomson recordings]
  • III/37 Les 22 concertos pour piano de Mozart (Paris, 1987)
  • III/38 Conférence de Kyoto (Paris, 1988) [incl. Jap. trans.]
  • — Preface to C. Sauvage: Tandis que la terre tourne (Paris, 1991)
  • I/59 Traité de rythme, de couleur, et d’ornithologie, 7 vols. (Paris, 1994–2002)
  • with Y. Loriod: Analyses des oeuvres pour piano de Maurice Ravel (Paris, 2004; Eng. trans., 2005)


  • V. Zinke-Bianchini: Olivier Messiaen: compositeur de musique et rythmicien: notice biographique: catalogue détaillé des oeuvres éditées (Paris, 1949)
  • N. Simeone: Olivier Messiaen: a Bibliographical Catalogue of Messiaen’s Works, First Editions and First Performances (Tutzing, 1998)
  • V.P. Benitez: Olivier Messiaen: A Research and Information Guide (London, 2009)
  • J. Bruyr: ‘Olivier Messiaen’, L’écran des musiciens, 2 (Paris, 1933), 124 –31
  • ‘Gespräch mit Olivier Messiaen’, Melos, 16/4 (1949), 101–4
  • A. Goléa: Rencontres avec Olivier Messiaen (Paris, 1961)
  • B. Gavoty and O. Messiaen: ‘Who are you, Olivier Messiaen?’, Tempo, no.58 (1961), 33–6
  • C. Samuel: Entretiens avec Olivier Messiaen (Paris, 1967; Eng. trans., London, 1976), expanded as O. Messiaen: Musique et couleur: nouveaux entretiens avec Claude Samuel (Paris, 1986; Eng. trans., Portland, OR, 1994), rev. as Permanences d’Olivier Messiaen: dialogues et commentaires (Arles, 1999)
  • A. Birkby: ‘Interview with France’s Noted Organist and Composer, Olivier Messiaen’, Clavier, no.4 (1972), 18–24
  • M. Murray: ‘An Interview with Olivier Messiaen’, The Diapason, 70/1 (1978), 3–5
  • H. Watts: ‘Canyons, Colours and Birds: an Interview with Olivier Messiaen’, Tempo, no.128 (1979), 2–8
  • C. Rostand: Olivier Messiaen (Paris, 1957)
  • P. Mari: Olivier Messiaen (Paris, 1965)
  • S. Waumsley: The Organ Music of Olivier Messiaen (Paris, 1968, 2/1975)
  • R.S. Johnson: Messiaen (London, 1974, 3/2008)
  • R. Nichols: Messiaen (London, 1975, 2/1986)
  • S. Ahrens, H.-D. Möller and A. Rössler: Das Orgelwerk Messiaens (Duisburg, 1976)
  • I. Hohlfeld-Ufer: Die musikalische Sprache Olivier Messiaens dargestellt an dem Orgelzyklus ‘Die Pfingstmesse’, with A. Rössler: Zur Interpretation der Orgelwerke Messiaens (Duisburg, 1978)
  • M. Reverdy: L’oeuvre pour piano d’Olivier Messiaen (Paris, 1978)
  • Hommage à Olivier Messiaen (Paris, 1978)
  • A. Périer: Messiaen (Paris, 1979)
  • H. Halbreich: Olivier Messiaen (Paris, 1980, 2/2008 as L’oeuvre d’Olivier Messiaen)
  • K. Schweizer: Olivier Messiaen: Turangalîla-Symphonie (Munich, 1982)
  • S. Gut: Le groupe Jeune France (Paris, 1984)
  • A. Le Forestier: Olivier Messiaen: L’Ascension (Paris, 1984)
  • P. Griffiths: Olivier Messiaen and the Music of Time (London, 1985)
  • A. Rössler: Beiträge zur geistigen Welt Olivier Messiaens (Duisburg, 1986; Eng. trans., Duisburg, 1986)
  • T. Hirsbrunner: Messiaen: Leben und Werk (Laaber, 1988)
  • M. Reverdy: L’oeuvre pour orchestre d’Olivier Messiaen (Paris, 1988)
  • B. Massin: Olivier Messiaen: une poétique du merveilleux (Aix-en-Provence, 1989)
  • Messiaen: Saint François d’Assise, Opéra d’aujourd’hui, no.4 (Paris, 1992) [Salzburg Festival programme book]
  • J. Boivin: La classe de Messiaen (Paris, 1995)
  • P. Hill, ed.: The Messiaen Companion (London, 1995)
  • Olivier Messiaen, homme de foi: regard sur son oeuvre d’orgue (Paris, 1995)
  • C. Massip, ed.: Portrait(s) d’Olivier Messiaen (Paris, 1996)
  • P. Arnault: Olivier Messiaen: Les sons impalpables du rêve (Lillebonne, 1997, 2/1999)
  • S. Bruhn: Musikalische Symbolik in Olivier Messiaens Weihnachtsvignetten: Hermeneutisch-analytische Untersuchungen zu den ‘Vingt regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus’ (Frankfurt, 1997)
  • S. Bruhn, ed.: Messiaen’s Language of Mystical Love (New York, 1998)
  • A. Pople: Messiaen: Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Cambridge, 1998)
  • T.D. Schlee and D. Kämper, eds.: Olivier Messiaen: La Cité Céleste – Das himmlische Jerusalem: Über Leben und Werk des französischen Komponisten (Cologne, 1998)
  • N. Simeone, ed. and trans.: ‘Bien cher Félix’: Letters from Olivier Messiaen and Yvonne Loriod to Felix Aprahamian (Cambridge, 1998)
  • A.E. Davidson: Olivier Messiaen and the Tristan Myth (Westport, CT, 2001)
  • S. Keym: Farbe und Zeit: Untersuchungen zur musiktheatralen Struktur und Semantik von Olivier Messiaens Saint François d’Assise (Hildesheim, 2002)
  • R. Rischin: For the End of Time: The Story of the Messiaen Quartet (Ithaca, NY, and London, 2003, 2/2006)
  • P. Hill and N. Simeone: Olivier Messiaen (New Haven, CT, and London, 2005)
  • C. Wassermann Beiräo, T.D. Schlee and E. Budde, ed.: La cité céleste: Olivier Messiaen zum Gedächtnis (Berlin, 2006)
  • S. Bruhn: Messiaen’s Contemplations of Covenant and Incarnation: Messiaen’s Symbols of Faith in the Two Great Piano Cycles of the 1940s (New York, 2007)
  • C. Dingle: The Life of Messiaen (Cambridge, 2007)
  • C. Dingle and N. Simeone, ed.: Olivier Messiaen: Music, Art and Literature (Aldershot, 2007)
  • P. Hill and N. Simeone: Olivier Messiaen: Oiseaux exotiques (Aldershot, 2007)
  • R. Sholl, ed.: Messiaen Studies (Cambridge, 2007)
  • S. Bruhn: Les visions d’Olivier Messiaen (Paris, 2008)
  • S. Bruhn: Messiaen’s Explorations of Love and Death: Musical Signification in the ‘Tristan Trilogy’ and Three Related Song Cycles (New York, 2008)
  • S. Bruhn: Messiaen’s Interpretations of Holiness and Trinity: Echoes of Medieval Theology in his Oratorio, Organ Meditations, and Opera (New York, 2008)
  • M.C. Hastetter, ed.: Musik des Unsichtbaren: der Komponist Olivier Messiaen (1908–1992) am Schnittpunkt von Theologie und Musik (St Ottilien, 2008)
  • P. Olivier: Olivier Messiaen, ou, La lumire (Paris, 2008)
  • A. Shenton: Olivier Messiaen’s System of Signs: Notes Towards Understanding his Music (Aldershot, 2008)
  • S. van Maas: The Reinvention of Religious Music: Messiaen’s Breakthrough Toward the Beyond (New York, 2009)
  • J. Crispin, ed.: Olivier Messiaen: the Centenary Papers (Newcastle, 2010)
  • J. Gillock: Performing Messiaen’s Organ Music: 66 Masterclasses (Bloomington, IN, 2010)
  • A. Shenton, ed.: Messiaen the Theologian (Farnham, 2010)
  • J. Barraqué: ‘Rythme et développement’, Polyphonie, nos.9–10 (1954), 47–73
  • D. Drew: ‘Messiaen: a Provisional Study’, The Score, no.10 (1954), 33–49; no.13 (1955), 59–73; no.14 (1955), 41–61
  • N. Demuth: ‘Messiaen and his Organ Music’, MT, 96 (1955), 203–6
  • Melos, 25/12 (1958) [special issue]
  • N. Armfelt: ‘Emotion in the Music of Messiaen’, MT, 106 (1965), 856–8
  • R. Smalley: ‘Debussy and Messiaen’, MT, 109 (1968), 128–31
  • H. Heiss: ‘Struktur und Symbolik in “Reprises par interversion” und ‘“Les mains dans l’abîme” aus Olivier Messiaens “Livre d’orgue”’, Zeitschrift für Musiktheorie, 1/2 (1970), 32–8
  • T. Hold: ‘Messiaen’s Birds’, ML, 52 (1971), 113–22
  • H. Heiss: ‘Struktur und Symbolik in “Les yeux dans les roues” aus Olivier Messiaens “Livre d’orgue”’, Zeitschrift für Musiktheorie, 3/2 (1972), 22–7
  • K. Schweizer: ‘Olivier Messiaens Klavieretüde Mode de valeurs et d’intensités’, AMw, 30 (1973), 128–46
  • A. Evans: ‘Olivier Messiaen in the Surrealist Context: a Bibliography’, Brio, 11/1 (1974), 2–11; 25–35
  • K. Hochreither: ‘Olivier Messiaen: La Nativité du Seigneur: eine Einfürung unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der in diesen Werk angewandten kompositorischen, Methoden’, Festschrift für Michael Schneider zum 65. Geburtstag (Berlin, 1974), 64–78
  • O. Knussen: ‘Messiaen’s Des canyons aux étoiles …’, Tempo, no.116 (1976), 39–41
  • D. Street: ‘The Modes of Limited Transposition’, MT, 117 (1976), 819–23
  • Music: the AGO and RCCO Magazine, 12/12 (1978) [special issue]
  • Olivier Messiaen, Musik-Konzepte, no.28 (1982) [special issue]
  • J.W. Bernard: ‘Messiaen’s Synaesthesia: the Correspondence between Color and Sound Structure in his Music’, Music Perception, 4/1 (1986), 41–68
  • K. Schweizer: ‘Materialdenken und Stilbildung bei Olivier Messiaen: Anmerkungen zu Satz VI des Oratoriums La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ’, Schweizer Jb für Musikwissenschaft, 8 (1988–9), 95–114
  • D. Morris: ‘A Semiotic Investigation of Messiaen’s “Abîme des oiseaux”’, MAn, 8 (1989), 125–58
  • R. Walker: ‘Modes and Pitch-Class Sets in Messiaen: a Brief Discussion of “Première communion de la Vierge”’, MAn, 8 (1989), 159–68
  • E.F. Trawick: ‘Serialism and Permutation Techniques in Olivier Messiaen’s Livre d’orgue’, Music Research Forum, 6 (1991), 15–35
  • J. Anderson: ‘Olivier Messiaen (1908–1992)’, MT, 133 (1992), 449–51
  • T. Pfaff: ‘Keys to the Kingdom’, Piano Quarterly, no.158 (1992), 50–54
  • W. Hafner: ‘Zur Uraufführung von Olivier Messiaens “La Nativité du Seigneur”’, Dux et Comes: Festschrift Franz Lehrndorfer zum 70. Geburtstag, ed. H.D. Hoffert and K. Schnorr (Regensburg, 1998), 58–64
  • V.P. Benitez: ‘Aspects of Harmony in Messiaen’s Later Music: An Examination of the Chords of Transposed Inversions on the Same Bass Note’, JMR, 23/2 (2004), 187–226
  • J. Anderson: ‘Messiaen and the Notion of Influence’, Tempo, no.247 (2009), 2–18
  1. See also from The New Grove Dictionary of Opera: Saint François d’Assise.

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