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).



Avant-garde classics

Avant-garde classics is my first playlist that is published in the browse section in the spotify client. It covers avant-garde classical music, mostly composed after 1945. It features works from Xenakis, Stockhausen, Ligeti and Edgard Varèse among others. Please follow it if you like it. My spotify profile can be found here.