Composer Weekly: Olivier Messiaen

This week’s composer weekly is the french composer Olivier Messian.

In some respects, Oliver Messiaen is one of the most important persons for contemporary music in the late 20th century. He taught composition in Paris for many years and among his students are some of the greatest composers of the 20th century. Both Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Iannis Xenakis studied for him.

The second world war had a huge impact on many of the composers that wrote music after 1945. Olivier Messiaen was no exception. He sat in concentration camp from 1940 to 1941 and it was there he wrote his most famous piece. Quatuor pour la fin du temps.

He was deeply religious and that influence a lot of his music, like Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus and Visions de l’Amen.

He was also an ornitolog and fascinated by bird song. He often composed pieces with interpretation of the birds that came from the same region. The most ambitious work must be the piano piece Catalogue d’oiseaux which consists of seven books where each book have birds from different regions. Also the Le réveil des oiseaux and Oiseaux exotiques, both for orchestra and piano, is based on bird song.

One important piece, by Olivier Messiaen, for the development of the post war 20th century music is a movement from the piano piece Quatre études de rythme called Mode de valeurs et d’intensités. It is said to be the first totally serial piece of music and had a large impact for many composers. Totally serial means that most of the musical parameters undergo the same rules as the composers in the Second Viennese School put on melodies in twelve tone music. E.g that you should not repeat a “note” before you have played the other notes in the serie. Messiean applied that rule not only to pitch but to other parameters such as rhythm and dynamics.


Messiaen in 1930


Enjoy! (Click here to open the playlist in Spotify).



Composer Weekly: Pierre Boulez

This week’s composer weekly is in memory of Pierre Boulez. He was one of the most influential persons in classical music. Founder of Ensemble Intercontemporain and IRCAM. Conductor and Composer.

One fascinating aspect of Boulez as a composer is that he often reworked his works. He had many pieces that he considered to be unfinished.

One such piece is Notations, a piece he first wrote in 1945. Then it was 12 small piano pieces. Later, in 1980, he reworked and expanded the pieces to orchestra pieces. Compare the piano version of Hiératique and the version for orchestra.

Another example is Anthèmes where the first version was a solo violin piece written in 1991. Later in 1997 he expanded and turned it into a piece for solo violin and live electronics, realized at IRCAM.

Below is a interview that shows a very kind, intelligent and warm Pierre Boulez talking about his music.

Click to open in Spotify


Composer Weekly: Monteverdi

Composer weekly is a Spotify playlist that is updated each week with a new composer. This weeks composer is Claudio Monteverdi.

Monteverdi stands between Renaissance and Baroque. You see that especially in his fifth book of madrigals. He was involved in a famous dispute with Giovanni Artusi regarding the new type of music, seconda practica, where Monteverdi defended and described it in the foreword to the fifth book. The prima practica is the old polyphonic style of the Renaissance and seconda practica is the new style with a more clear hierarchy of the voices and the beginning of continuo as found in Baroque music.

He worked for many years at the court of Vincenzo I of Gonzaga as a vocalist, viol player and musical director. Because of that he primarily wrote secular madrigals until he turned 40.

Later in his life Monteverdi developed the seconda practica into larger works and was one of the first to compose what we today call operas. He wrote quite a few but only three have survived, L’Orfeo, Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria and L’incoronazione di Poppea.

Monteverdi didn’t write many sacred works but one of them is very famous, Vespro della Beata Vergine.

BBC have made a really good documentary about Monteverdi and that piece.

The playlist is a made in chronological order, from Madrigals in the first book to scenes from the last opera, L’incoronazione di Poppea.

Enjoy! (click here to open the playlist in spotify).