Olivier Messiaen - birds, faith, and music

OLIVIER MESSIAEN considered himself an ornithologist as well as a composer. Not only did he write innovative modern classical music, he also transcribed birdsong and believed birds were the greatest musicians of all.

To celebrate the centenary of Messiaen’s birth, Music for Galway will present Birdsong Becomes Music on Wednesday December 3 at 8pm in the Aula Maxima, NUI Galway.

On the night Matthew Schellhorn (piano ), Barnaby Robson (clarinet ), and ConTempo’s Bogdan Sofei (violin ) and Adrian Mantu (cello ), will perform Messiaen’s ‘Petites Esquisses d’Oiseaux’ and ‘Quatuor Pour La Fin Du Temps’ as well as music by Daquin, Rameau, Emmanuel, Ravel, and Dutilleux.

Olivier Messiaen (1908 - 1992 ) was a French composer, organist, and ornithologist. He entered the Paris Conservatoire at the age of 11 and in 1931 was appointed organist at the church of La Trinité in Paris, a post he held until his death.

On the fall of France in 1940 Messiaen was made a prisoner of war, and while incarcerated he composed ‘Quatuor Pour La Fin Du Temps’ for the four available instruments, piano, violin, cello, and clarinet. The piece was then performed by Messiaen and fellow prisoners to an audience of inmates and prison guards.

Later Messiaen served as professor of harmony and professor of composition at the Paris Conservatoire. His distinguished pupils included Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen.

His music is rhythmically complex and is harmonically and melodically based on modes of limited transposition, which were Messiaen’s own innovation.

Many of his compositions depict what he termed “the marvellous aspects of the faith”, drawing on his unshakeable Roman Catholicism. He travelled widely, and wrote works inspired by Japanese music, the landscape of Utah, and the life of St Francis of Assisi.

The Frenchman was fascinated by birdsong and believed our feathered friends to be the greatest of musicians. He notated birdsong worldwide and incorporated these transcriptions into much of his music.

Tickets are €20/16/6 and are available from Music for Galway on 091 - 705962, [email protected], or Opus II, St Augustine Street.

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