Olivier Messiaen

The music of Olivier Messiaen stands out for the depth of spirituality that lies behind it. He was a highly original composer whose style embraced a markedly wide range of influences and reflects his own unique synthesis of these ideas.
Messiaen was born in the southern part of France, but he began his studies at the Paris Conservatory at the age of 10. As a student he received the highest honors, and eventually returned to the conservatory to teach from 1941 to 1978. He also served as organist at the Church of the Trinity in Paris. Along with his compositional work, he wrote theoretical works in which he explained the principles of his complex and original musical style.
Messiaen's music seems at first very abstract, yet underneath the often difficult surface there are many personal and emotional elements. First and foremost is the strength of his highly mystical Catholic faith. Many of his works amount to personal meditations on the mysteries of this faith. This can be seen in such works as his orchestral Hymne au Saint Sacrament (Hymn to the Holy Sacrament), and works such as Vingt regards sur l'enfant Jesus (Twenty Glances at the Infant Jesus) for piano and Le nativite du Seigneur (The Lord's Nativity) for organ. His one opera tells the story of St. Francis of Assisi.
Technically, his music is an individual blend of various influences. From his earliest works he showed an interest in nontraditional modal scales, and in some of his works adopted principles of twelve-tone and serial writing. At the same time, he adopted and adapted techniques from non-Western music (such as the Indian raga system) and medieval music (isorhythm). These were freely combined and exploited in pieces such as his massive Turangalila-Symphony. He was also intensely interested in tone colors, and incorporated new instruments such as the ondes martenot (an early electronic instrument) in his works. As well, he turned to the natural world for inspiration, especially to bird song. His immense Catalogue d'oiseaux for solo piano (written for his wife, who was a virtuoso pianist) uses these bird songs as the basis for the melodic materials.
Messiaen's most famous work, his Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time), illustrates these aspects of his life. The piece was written under the most difficult of circumstances, when Messiaen was a prisoner of war in Germany. The piece begins with the sound of birds and explores one of the most potent images of the Christian faith, the end of the world as prophesied in the Book of Revelations. The work was written for fellow prisoners, and performed before the entire camp. The quartet is a rich blend of moods and styles, and in many ways serves as a fitting summary of Messiaen's personal and musical personality.

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Year / Artwork Title Importance Medium
1928 Le Banquet Celeste 4.0 stars Compilation
cover Comments:
Neuf Meditations pour Orgue

Marie-Claire Alain - Orgel

CD 02

1928-1929 Preludes 3.5 stars Compilation
cover Comments:
Yvonne Loriod - Piano

CD 01

1930 Les Offrandes Oubliees 3.5 stars Compilation
cover Comments:
Meditation Symphonique

Orchestre Philharmonique de l'ORTF cond. Marius Constant

CD 05

1930 Les Offrandes Oubliees 3.5 stars Compilation
cover Comments:
Meditation Symphonique

Orchestre Philharmonique de l'ORTF cond. Marius Constant

CD 05

1932 Apparation de l'Eglise Eternelle 3.5 stars Compilation
cover Comments:
Neuf Meditations pour Orgue

Marie-Claire Alain - Orgel

CD 02

1932 Hymne au Saint Sacrement 3.5 stars Compilation
cover Comments:
For Large Orchestra

Orchestre Philharmonique de l'ORTF cond. Marius Constant

CD 05

1932-1933 L'Ascension 4.0 stars Compilation
cover Comments:
Quatre Meditations pour Orchestre

Orchestre Philharmonique de l'ORTF cond. Marius Constant

CD 13

1935 La Nativite du Seigneur 4.5 stars Compilation
cover Comments:
Neuf Meditations pour Orgue

Marie-Claire Alain - Orgel

CD 02

1936 Poemes pour Mi 4.5 stars Compilation
cover Comments:
Marie Orlan - Soprano
Yvonne Loriot - Piano

CD 03

1937 Fête des belles eaux 4.5 stars CD
Comments:
Pour sextuor d'Ondes Martenot

Ensemble de Ondes de Montreal

pre 1940 Feuillets Inedits 4.5 stars CD
Comments:
Pour Ondes Martenot

Estelle Lemire

1938 Chants de Terre et de Ciel 4.5 stars Compilation
cover Comments:
Marie Orlan - Soprano
Yvonne Loriot - Piano

CD 03

1940-1941 Quatuor pour la fin du temps 4.5 stars CD
Messiaen Comments:
Beautiful done, does full justice to a work of great aestetic value.
De Peyer is a magician!

Erich Gruenenberg -Violin
Gervase de Peyer - Clarinet
William Pleeth - Cello
Michel Beroff - Piano

1940-1941 Quatuor pour la fin du temps 4.5 stars Compilation
cover Comments:
Huguette Fernandez - Violin
Guy Deplus - Clarinet
Jacques Nielz - Cello
Marie-Madelleine Petit - Piano

CD 04

1943 Visions de l'Amen 4.5 stars Compilation
cover Comments:
Katia and Marielle Labeque - Piano duo

CD 05

1943 Visions de l'Amen 4.5 stars 6 CD
Comments:
Martha Argerich - Alexandre Rabinovitch-Barakpvsky - Piano duo

1943-1944 Trois Petites Liturgies de la Presence Divine 4.0 stars Compilation
cover Comments:
Yvonne Loriod - Piano
Jeanne Loriod - Ondes Martinot
Maitrise et Orchestre de Chambre de la RTF
cond. Marcel Couraud

CD 14

1944 Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jesus 4.5 stars Compilation
cover Comments:
Yvonne Loriod - Piano

CD 06 + CD07

1945 Harawi 4.0 stars Compilation
cover Comments:
Rachel Yakar - Soprano
Yvonne Loriod - Piano

CD 08

1946-1948 Turangalîla-Symphonie 4.5 stars CD
Messiaen Comments:
Simon Rattle proves again that he is likely the best conducter of the late 20th - early 21st century.
I have heard the Turangalila symphonie at least twice in concert.
Although it is kind of a roller coaster ride, in concert it was never fully satisfactory.
After hearing this recording, I have to revise my opinion. This is a real blockbuster. Never a dull moment!

Ratlle's role in this should not be underestimated. He makes it sound so easy and accessible.
And musical and allmost lightfooted. Just think what Boulez would have done... Scary!

Peter Donohoe - Piano
Tristan Murail - Ondes Martinot
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra cond. Simon Rattle

1946-1948 Turangalîla-Symphonie 4.5 stars Compilation
cover Comments:
Pierre-Laurent Aimard - Piano
Dominique Kim - Ondes Martinot
Berliner Philharmoniker cond. Kent Nagano

CD 09

1948-1949 Cinq Rechants 4.0 stars Compilation
cover Comments:
Solistes des choeurs de l'ORTF cond. Marcel Couraud

CD 04

1948-1949 Cinq Rechants 4.0 stars CD
Comments:
The Sixteen cond.Harry Christophers
1949-1950 Quatre Etudes de Rythme 4.0 stars Compilation
cover Comments:
Solistes des choeurs de l'ORTF cond. Marcel Couraud

CD 04

1951 Le Merle Noir 4.0 stars CD
Messiaen Comments:
A very nice filler

Karlheinz Zoller - Flute
Aloys Kontarsky - Piano

1953 Reveil des Oisseaux 4.0 stars Compilation
cover Comments:
Yvonne Loriod - Piano
Orchestre National de France cond. Kent Nagano

CD 12

1956-1958 Catalogue d'Oiseaux 4.0 stars LP
cover Comments:
This is the isoteric result of Messiaens life long interest in Bird Song.
The music ranges from introvert to spectacular.
Cassette with 3 records.

Robert Sherlaw Johnson - piano.

1956-1958 Catalogue d'Oiseaux 4.0 stars Compilation
cover Comments:
Yvonne Loriod - Piano

CD 10 - 11 - 12

1960 Chronochromie 4.0 stars LP
cover Comments:
For large orchestra

BBC Symphony Orchestra cond. Antal Dorati

1962 Sept Haikai 4.5 stars Compilation
cover Comments:
Esquisse Japonaise
for piano solo, xylophone, marimba, 2 clarinets, trumpet and small orchestre

Yvonne Loriod - Piano

Ensemble Ars Nova cond. Marius Constant

CD 17

1963 Couleurs de la Cite Celeste 4.0 stars Compilation
cover Comments:
Yvonne Loriod - Piano
Groupe Instrumeental a Percussion de Strasbourg
Orchestre du Domaine Musicale cond. Pierre Boulez

CD 13

1964 Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum 4.5 stars Compilation
cover Comments:
Yvonne Loriod - Piano
Groupe Instrumeental a Percussion de Strasbourg
Orchestre du Domaine Musicale cond. Pierre Boulez

CD 13

1969 Meditations sur le Mystere de la Sainte-Trinite 4.0 stars Compilation
cover Comments:
Olivier Messiaen - Organ

CD 14 + CD 15

1970 la Fauvette des Jardins 4.0 stars Compilation
cover Comments:
Yvonne Loriod - Piano

CD 12

1971-1974 Des Canyons aux Etoiles... 4.0 stars Compilation
cover Comments:
Yvonne Loriod -Piano
Georges Barbateu - Horn
Alain Jacquet - Xylorimba
Francois Dupin - Glockenspiel
Ensemble Ars Nova cond. Marius Constant

CD 16 + CD 17

1975-1983 Saint François d'Assise 4.0 stars 3 DVD-R
Comments:

Henk Neven
Thomas Randle
Armand Arapian
Donald Kaasch
Rodney Gilfry
Hubert Delamboye
Andre Morsch
Camilla Tilling
Jan-Willem Baljet

Dutch Opera Chour
Residentie Orchestra

Recorded from dutch public TV

1985 Petites esquisses d'oiseaux 4.0 stars Compilation
cover Comments:
Yvonne Loriod - Piano

CD 01

? Publ. 2001 4 Feuillets inedits 4.0 stars CD
Comments:
Presque lent et berceur
- Lent
- Bien modere
- Lent

Pour Ondes Martenot et Piano

Louise Bessette - Piano
Estelle Lemire - Ondes Martinot

Compilation Messiaen Edition 4.5 stars 18 CD
cover Comments:
Somebody wrote, not me:

When I was first exposed to the music of Messiaen many years ago now, it was through the French recordings of the Vega and Erato records. It's easy to forget just how difficult these recordings were to get hold of in those days even though France was a mere 24 miles away, record imports were rare and expensive. Of course nowadays we can obtain a recording from the other side of the world within a couple of days (immediately if it's available online) such was not the case then. In the mid 80s Erato had the good sense to put together a 17 CD box set of all these early and sometimes first recordings of their Messiaen catalogue. These were presented in a bright rainbow coloured box with all the CDs in hard jewel cases each with their own booklet so the size was not unlike that of a car battery and almost weighing as much! As with many contemporary releases around this time it was soon deleted and became impossible to find. It is these recordings that Warner Classics have resurrected and have had the even better sense to present them in slip in wallets and fold out box where in this case the accompanying booklet weighs more than the CDs and takes up far less space.

So I grew up with a lot of this material and although some are more than forty years old now they still stand up as marvellous interpretations. Yes there have been many newer performances as we enter the 21st century and all have merits of one kind or another but we must remember that many of these Erato recordings were supervised by Messiaen himself and this I'm sure gives that something special element that is sometimes lacking in present day performances.
The Eglise Notre-Dame du Liban was never that well sound proofed and the Paris traffic still rumbles by as Yvonne Loriod bravely soldiers through the Catalogue d'Oiseaux. Rather more disturbing is that Warner decided to introduce a noise gate during the transfer of Le Loriot in an attempt to eradicate some pre echo that was present on the original recordings. This has resulted in the natural reverberation of the piano being sucked out to an artificial silence after the opening chords. I personally would have lived with the slight pre echo and retained the piano resonance but there you are! And don't try to skip directly to track 4 of CD17 (Des canyons aux etoiles) as you 'll miss the attack of the first chord.
There are a couple of new additions to the set. Turangalila Symphonie and Reveil des Oiseaux are recordings made by Kent Nagano after the composer's death. This reading of Turangalila is surely one of the most exciting but for a mis-placed cymbal crash in the last movement that presumably couldn't be repaired due it being a live recording.
These minor points aside, this set is an invaluable tool to any student or listener coming to Messiaen for the first time as well as seasoned specialists who missed out on the original set. The booklet contains all the original notes (many by Messiaen) and texts to the choral works in English and French.
Although we still await re releases of the early Loriod piano material and the Erato Fetes des Belles Eaux recording, the Messiaen Edition is a truly welcome re issue and superb value for money for which Warner Classics must be applauded.

CD 18 holds an interview with Messiaen by Claude Samuel.