Biography ~ Bibliography ~ List of Works ~ Gallery ~ Resources ~ News & Concerts ~ Reviews ~ Writings ~ Links ~ MIDI ~ Yvonne Loriod ~ Birdsong ~ OndesMartenot ~ MultiMedia ~ Home

Writings and Articles

Any contributions to this page would be welcome. If you would like to submit an article or paper please email:


A Letter of Thanks

Nicholas Armfelt kindly contributed this letter that he received from Olivier Messiaen thanking him for sending recordings of
birdsongs indigenous to New Zealand. Nicholas met sound recordist Kenneth Bigwood while teaching in New Zealand in 1963 where they
recorded the songs of the Bellbird, Grey Warbler and others, but most importantly the Tui that made a great impession on Messiaen who
subsequently included its song in Couleurs de la Cité Céleste. More recentlty the Tui is featured in Un oiseau des arbres de Vie famously
orchestrated by Christopher Dingle and premiered at the BBC Proms in 2015.

Reviving Messiaen's improvisations: An encounter with Thomas Lacôte around the Cavaillé-Coll organ of the Church of the Trinity,Paris.

Rarely recorded, the improvisations of Messiaen constitute the least known part of the creative activity of the French composer and pedagogue, also titular organist at the Church of the Trinity from 1931 to his death.
Based on improvisation notes recently deposited at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Thomas Lacôte pays tribute to his illustrious predecessor on the Cavaillé-Coll organ on April 23, in an approach that combines research, experimentation and musical virtuosity. Meeting around the mythical instrument and figure of the French musical heritage.

What is the place of improvisation in Messiaen's creative approach?

The organist training that Messiaen received was essentially focused on improvisation, and his duties in the Trinity led him to improvise regularly throughout the course of his life, but also, rarely, in concert.
Messiaen claimed that several of his organ works were directly related to his improvisations: the Messe de la Pentecote, the Meditations sur le Mystere de la Saint Trinite, for example. However, it seems to me quite likely that his most famous works, such as the Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant Jesus or the Turangalila-Symphonie, could also have been marked by this practice.
The main challenge seems to be to understand how Messiaen was able to have a very organized theory of composition interact with his intimate, intuitive, keyboard and creative relationship "in the moment". His earliest improvisations recorded today and accessible, date from the late 1960s; For the preceding decades, we were reduced to conjectures. That is why I wanted to advance research on these issues.

Can you describe the preparatory notes for the improvisation of Messiaen kept at the BnF? What were you able to achieve with a view to a "replenishment"?

The personal archives of Olivier Messiaen and his wife, deposited recently at the BnF, constitute an immense mine, one of the most extraordinary testimonies on artistic creation in the last century.
During the very first stages of identification and ranking in which I participated, I stopped on a few very old handwritten manuscripts, dating from the years 1940-1950: these were lists of "registrations" for verses (That is to say, brief improvisations between the sung parts) during the Sunday afternoon vespers, about thirty in total.

Messiaen notes very precisely the registration (organ sounds) to be used, associated with a very brief reminder corresponding to musical ideas: « chant suraigu », « bouger un doigt puis l’autre à chaque main », « trois cors dans le medium en louré », etc. To truly "speak" this document, the only solution is to "put it into action" on its place of origin, the organ of the Trinity: to pull the stops requested by Messiaen, to be guided by its brief indications, and thus make it possible to hear a buried musical idea that this single instrument allows to "decode", with obviously a very good knowledge of its techniques of composition at that time.
It is as much research as creation, reconstruction or invention, because the blanks left are enormous, but it is the only way to make this document anything but a piece of paper ...

What are the peculiarities of the Cavaillé-Coll church of the Trinity? How did they influence the technique of writing the Messe de la Pentecote, a work specifically composed from the sounds of this instrument?

Before Messiaen, the way of associating organ tones (what is called registration) is more a matter of convention than of invention. He reverses this fact: for him, to compose a play, it is, most often, to invent a registration or several registrations unpublished. Of course, this can only be done during experiments on the instrument itself, again by a special relation to improvisation which my research has enabled me to clarify and which has changed my way of interpreting this work.
The incredible quality of each set of this organ of the Trinity leads him to work not in large masses but essentially in "pure colours". A stop, two stops only to create mixtures and crossings unpublished, sometimes even a single note! It is thus that he represents in his Mass the horrible "beast of the Apocalypse": a peculiar pipe, with a terrifying sonority, happily preserved as such up to us. Not one visitor to the organ of the Trinity who does not want to hear this sound become almost mythical!

Besides the important musical corpus, what is the legacy of Messiaen in aesthetic terms, of roads of research? Is it still a model for the young generation of composers?

It seems to me that for the young composers of today, Messiaen is an ancestor already very distant. But, paradoxically, his very voluminous Treatise in 7 volumes appeared gradually after his death is still a recent work and relatively unread. It is this paradox that, together with my colleagues Yves Balmer and Christopher Brent Murray, we have sought to address, and have been working since 2010 on an in-depth re-examination of his compositional techniques. The results of this research, which will appear in the form of a book at Editions Symétrie in October 2017, seem to me to go beyond a work of history or musical analysis. By showing how Messiaen really collects musical materials in all the music he loves to transform and build his own, I believe that we can bring (thanks to him) some elements of reflection at a time tormented by the conflict between inheritance, system and creation.

Like Messiaen, you are organist, composer, improviser but also professor of analysis at the Conservatoire de Paris and musicologist. Do you claim this complementarity in your musical approach as a form of engagement?

I must especially say that I do not imagine doing otherwise! From then on, I had to think about what seemed to me to be an obvious fact, and to realize that it was not for everyone. Today, it is important for me to defend these necessary conjunctions, to understand why the gaps have widened between these practices, and to build musical projects impossible to classify! It is not a matter of returning to the former "master of music" but rather of the conviction that to think and create through categories is a permanent necessity for musical invention to remain alive.

Nicolas Schotter, 11 April 2017

Thomas Lacôte at the organ of La Trinité.


Recent Papers

Messiaen's Musical Language: Technique and Theological Symbolism in Les Corps Glorieux,
"Combat de la mort et de la vie"

Lerie Dellosa would like to contribute a copy of her DMA dissertation (158 pp.) entitled, Messiaen's Musical Language: Technique and Theological Symbolism in Les Corps Glorieux, "Combat de la mort et de la vie." It was her research for her DMA in organ performance degree from the University of North Texas in 2015; it focuses on Messiaen's melodic and harmonic techniques, which are less studied than his rhythms.
Download full pdf document here.


A Letter of Encouragement

Click image to see enlarged version

This a short letter written by Olivier Messiaen in 1947 to Ruth Ellen Cole, (pictured at the time) kindly contributed by her daughter Sue Ellen (Matthews) Fealko.
Ruth Cole Matthews (maiden name, Ruth Ellen Cole) was the first of her family to go to college, graduating from the University of Connecticut with a Bachelor of Arts in 1946. She was then accepted into the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, where she majored in music theory. She completed her Master of Arts in 1949, and her thesis was titled "An Analysis of Three Piano Preludes of Olivier Messiaen." Sibley Music Library at Eastman has a copy of it (under Ruth C. Matthews).
Ruth went on to live a life filled with music. For years, she taught piano, organ, and music theory at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Michigan. She performed as a pianist in countless concerts and recitals, and she also was a church organist for over fifty years. Her true love really was organ music and she even went on several tours to see famous organs of Europe.

Ruth died last October at age 89. Among her things, Sue Ellen's sister was surprised to find this letter from Olivier Messiaen written to her while she was at Eastman. Evidently she wrote to him first with questions concerning her thesis. His reply is just a simple, short letter, but it certainly shows what a kind and considerate man he was that he would take the time to write to a young American music student.

My sincere thanks go to Sue Ellen (Matthews) Fealko for sharing this.


Miriam Carpinetti
Universidade Estadual de Campinas, INSTITUTO DE ARTES, Department Member
Advisors:Denise Hortência Lopes Garcia
Considerações sobre materiais compositivos utilizados em
Méditations sur le mystère de la Sainte Trinité de Olivier Messiaen
see details and pdf

An article for our Norwegian readers! (English translation to follow soon)
"Olivier Messiaen. – music, time, and eternity."
Thanks to Jon Mostad


 From Bloomsbury to Paris.

British Musician and composer Jeffery Wilson reminisces with Malcolm Ball on his time spent with Olivier Messiaen at the Paris Conservatoire.

My first encounter with Jeffery Wilson was on a hot summer’s day in central London at a rather ‘tired’ meeting of fellow music examiners having to moderate several graded music exams on video for standardisation purposes. It was near the end of the day after discussing a particularly poor performance by a grade 4 violin that the chief examiner asked if we should watch this video again at which point Jeffery commented that he would rather have his eyes pierced with hot needles than to be subjected to a further hearing! I soon discovered that Jeffery’s spontaneous wit and dry humour was well known and a source of often needed light relief at such occasions. Our path’s had crossed briefly at other meetings and events but it wasn’t until the examiner’s conference in 2009 where Jeffery was awarded the much coveted service award when I discovered that he had studied with Olivier Messiaen.

Having got to know Jeffery more over time I was particularly keen to meet up and discuss not only his time with Messiaen but also the fact that he was a like minded musician having an apprenticeship in Jazz and going on to more classical study. Not quite as most Messiaen scholars the more traditional musically established Conservatoire and University route.

He revealed that, like myself during college days of the 70’s and 80’s, it didn’t seem right to be attracted to the music of Messiaen (and other contemporary ‘serious’ composers) while at the same time enjoy listening (and in our case) performing charts by Charlie Parker, Ellington, Basie etc. As far as I was concerned I never mentioned my ‘altered state’ as a jazz musician (and particularly a drummer) when speaking with Messiaen scholars and aficionados at college. A large broom came in handy to sweep such things under the proverbial carpet!

Times have of course changed and views nowadays are not nearly as pedantic or ostentatiously learned as they were back then.

It is well known that Messiaen abhorred jazz for a variety of reasons but it is encouraging that this did not deter Jeffery and that other jazz luminary Quincy Jones from making the trip to Paris.

Jeffery Wilson studied composition with John Lambert and Herbert Howells, and later with Aladar Majorossy, Gordon Jacob and Olivier Messiaen, and while at the Royal College of Music he also studied clarinet, saxophone, piano and percussion.

It was while studying with John Lambert at the Royal College of Music that Jeffery was encouraged to attend a concert at the Bloomsbury theatre, London in 1979 where Messiaen was to be present. John Lambert himself could be thought of as a ‘British Messiaen’. He had studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris and held a composition class at the RCM for over 20 years beginning in 1970 where a plethora of British composers as diverse as Javier Alvarez, Simon Bainbridge, Gary Carpenter, David Fanshawe, Oliver Knussen, Jonathan Lloyd, Carlos Miranda, Barrington Pheloung, Mark-Anthony Turnage and of course Jeffery Wilson passed through his class. The diversity of these composers was reflected in those that attended Messiaen’s classes in Paris.

Under the auspices of John Lambert Jeffery was introduced to Messiaen at the Bloomsbury and after asking Messiaen twice if he could study with him, twice Messiaen said ‘non’. However, after some persistence on Jeffery’s part, Messiaen finally said yes – he may visit him.

Indeed Jeffery was to make two visits to Paris first in 1979/80 and again in1983. The ‘back door’ element for Jeffery was as Saxophonist and after some frantic swatting up of the solfege system, to pass the entrance exam, Jeffery was enrolled as a  saxophonist and upon invitation attended the so called harmony and analysis classes of Messiaen.

Commenting on the impression that Messiaen made, Jeffery says, “one of the most underestimated elements of Messiaen’s personality is breadth of understanding in a broad sense. For example his knowledge of German music. He often commented on the music of Hindemith and quartal harmony (which – by the way is very much a modern jazz harmonic language) citing and playing examples. But by far the deepest impression that Messiaen made was a religious one”. He says meeting Messiaen was “truly a personal and deep religious experience because he knew so much; understanding Aramaic and Hebrew for example and sharing the narrative of the entry into the Temple – the generous translation of that from the original text: ‘my stomach bile turns over at the very thought of you’ was what Jesus said not ‘woe unto you’ (King James) – that sort of thing matters to me  enormously”.

Jeffery was often moved by Messiaen’s “incredible textual skill”- “because he is able to look at Greek mythology and say what he says about that and yet paraphrase it in terms of Roman Catholicism – a sort of intellectual inclusivity” 

Messiaen had a great regard for the music of Roussel and indeed in the 1930’s said that Roussel’s was the finest example of French music at that time. Jeffery goes on to say that “Messiaen analyzed Roussel’s Pan for flute and he spoke of the myth in the same breadth as it were, as the assimilation of colour, light and God…. It was part of his speech”.

Perhaps the highlight on his first visit its conclusion -  Messiaen’s comments on Jeffery’s composition Three English Songs. The middle song is set to words by Shakespeare and after dismissing some attendants in the church at La Trinité  Messiaen proceeded to improvise on the opening theme of the song and as he was doing so, Jeffery “could hear his improvisational devices working and you could hear him ‘smile’ as the improvisation progressed”.

Curiously enough or perhaps typically, Messiaen finished the improvisation, locked the organ loft and left by the rear door and Jeffery never saw him again until his second visit in 1983.

From 1983 Messiaen was in a state of considerable exhaustion after the composition of Saint-François d’Assise but after Jeffery Wilson’s second visit to Messiaen he came away with that valuable ‘knowledge base’ that students today are able to tap into and access which allows them to engage, research, question and deal with the art-form that is so rich in the oeuvre of Messiaen.

Unlike many composers for example, “Scriabin, where once you can play, say, one of the Sonatas you’ve got a hook, so to speak, on to the language -base of the composer and you use this as a tool for understanding much of his music. Although this may be true of Messiaen to some extent where one can perceive a language base, he reveals more. Not in his mathematics so much as his words. So his rhythms that are derived less from symbiotic relationships with mathematics as the deep relationship with Holy texts, and that for me, is the heart and soul of the rhythmical ambient nature of his music.

I hear performances (for example in Vingt Regards) that calculate the compositional devices rather than more subtle rhythmic interest. I believe that performers would benefit from this more intimate approach and perhaps gain more of the vision”.

Jeffery got to know the church officials at La Trinité much better than he did any musician at the classes - a testimony to the religious impact made from meeting Messiaen.

We spoke as two Englishmen often bewildered at the mentality of the French conservatoire hierarchy. For example the way Messiaen was treated on his last day at the establishment where nothing was said or celebrated after such long service at the conservatoire seems unthinkable to us. To all intents and purposes it was just another day.

Jeffery Wilson sums it up superbly by saying that; “The light he shone was far greater than the shadows cast by other people”.

No amount of thanks is ever enough to Jeffery for sharing his very personal thoughts about his time with Olivier Messiaen.

©Malcolm Ball. May 2009


Benitez, Vincent P. "Messiaen as Improviser."
Dutch Journal of Music Theory, 13, no. 2 (May 2008): 129-44.

'Emotion in the Music of Messiaen' by Nicholas Armfelt

Three Little Parcels (Nicholas Armfelt)

Jennifer Bate and Olivier Messiaen

Gillian Weir and Olivier Messiaen

The remarkable talk of late Cardinal Lustiger, (former Archbishop of Paris), given in Notre Dame de Paris, for the Paul VI Prize received by Messiaen in 1989 and other texts of Lustiger.


(Trois Documents Précieux)


Allocution du Cardinal Jean-Marie LUSTIGER



En vous décernant son grand prix, l'Institut Paul VI rend hommage à votre œuvre. Elle a ce mérite de toucher une âme religieuse d'aujourd'hui avec peut-être plus de force encore que les œuvres du passé : précisément parce qu'elle est à la fois religieuse et d'aujourd'hui. Plus que religieuse, chrétienne.

Ce faisant, elle touche tout homme, chrétien ou non. Comment comprendre ce paradoxe ? Paul VI avait clairement formulé le fondement dans la foi de cette intime corrélation de l'humanisme et du christianisme : « Est-ce la tâche de l'Eglise de travailler à l'extension de la culture ? A cette question continue le Pape, on ne peut répondre qu'affirmative­ment. II y a là une sorte d'œcuménisme de la culture et l'Eglise en a ouvert les portes toutes grandes... Tout ce qui est humain, tout ce que l'homme divulgue, imprime et diffuse, l'Eglise l'accueille. Cela témoigne combien elle est mère, combien son âme est universelle. Rien ne lui semble étranger, rien ne peut lui être indifférent, ses yeux sont ouverts sur tous les phénomènes humains... Que tout se transforme en hymne, en louange de Dieu - même si cette louange est d'abord confuse et inconsciente -, en reconnaissance au Verbe qui fait pleuvoir sur les choses humaines son intelligence et sa cognoscibilité ».

Et, en 1967, dans Populorum Progressio (§ 42), reprenant l'expression de Maritain d'un « humanisme plénier qu'il faut promouvoir », Paul VI écrivait : « Qu'est-ce à dire sinon le développement intégral de tout l'homme et de tous les hommes ? Un humanisme clos, fermé aux valeurs de l'esprit et à Dieu qui en est la source, pourrait apparemment triompher. Certes, l'homme peut organiser la terre sans Dieu, mais - et le pape Paul VI cite ici le Père de Lubac  - ‘sans Dieu il ne peut en  fin de compte que l'organiser contre l'homme. L'humanisme exclusif est un humanisme inhumain’ ». II n'est donc d'huma­nisme vrai qu'ouvert à l'Absolu, dans la reconnaissance d'une vocation, qui donne l'idée vraie de la vie humaine. Loin d'être la norme dernière des valeurs, l'homme ne se réalise lui-même qu'en se dépassant. Selon le mot si juste de Pascal : « L'homme passe infiniment l'homme ».

A mon tour, je dois remercier l'Institut Paul VI de vous avoir conféré ce prix international. Jamais, en effet, je n'avais  imaginé qu'il me serait accordé de vous dire, en cette cathé­drale Notre-Dame de Paris, ma fervente admiration et ma reconnaissante amitié. Que ces derniers mots ne vous surprennent pas.

Dans cette assistance, ce soir, sont présents quelques-uns des musiciens - vos cadets - avec qui j'ai souvent discuté et « célébré »; c'est le mot qu'il faut employer puisque c'est la liturgie qui nous réunissait, eux à leur tribune d'orgues et moi à l'autel. Ils savent quelle joie et quelle communion spirituelle nous étaient données lorsque l'une de vos œuvres retentissait dans la célébration liturgique.

Pourquoi une œuvre musicale comme la vôtre, Maître, aussi originale et novatrice, savante et, pour certains, provocante, est-elle accueillie et aimée d'un si grand nombre de nos contemporains ?

On se figure assez naïvement, du moins dans la jeunesse, que l'expérience esthétique est essentiellement la projection de la subjectivité poussée à son plus haut point, et, finalement, le refus de toute autre contrainte que celle d'obéir au jaillissement obscur du cœur de l'homme.

Depuis au moins un siècle, ce subjectivisme que le romantisme pensait inspiré, a fait porter tout son effort contre l'académisme. Je nomme ainsi les contraintes d'un apprentissage répétitif des formes et des règles dont les fruits, souvent élégants et raffinés, offrent au public la sécurité et la joliesse du déjà connu, au lieu de la grandeur toujours déconcertante du Beau et de son inépuisable nouveauté.

Or, ne faisiez-vous pas remarquer que cette œuvre des années 30 que nous venons d'entendre paraissait peut-être aujourd'hui classique ? Et, nous le savons bien, tout au long  de ces années de création où vous avez accumulé des œuvres si singulières et novatrices, votre musique, bien que sonnant moderne et déconcertante pour l'académisme de certains est apparue, dès le départ, comme entrant dans le classicisme. Qu'est-ce à dire ?

D'abord, contrairement à ce qu'imagine l'illusion subjective, l'art véritable sait se donner des règles et y obéir. Car l'art est une langue; même lorsque - comme souvent aujourd'hui - chacun doit se créer son vocabulaire et sa grammaire. La vraie question esthétique de notre temps, après les ruptures opérées depuis plus d'un siècle, est d'éprouver si la langue que se crée chaque artiste, n'est qu'un cri solitaire, si elle ne fait qu'expri­mer la déconcertante énigme de chacun, enfermé en lui-même, ou bien si elle permet le langage entre les humains, si adaptée, elle est entendue par le peuple qu'elle entraîne au-delà de lui-même. Cette épreuve fait comprendre comment le créateur dans le domaine esthétique rejoint l'expérience du prophète - le vrai et le faux - et la reconnaissance sociale de l'art a pour paradigme le miracle des langues de la Pentecôte.

L'écriture musicale exige un travail d'élaboration que certains imaginent vainement inutile et contraire à l'inspiration spontanée et irrépressible. En réalité, le compositeur, comme tout créateur, doit se consacrer à un travail savant, pénible, réfléchi - ô combien ! - qui articule l'indicible pour en faire un discours dont la cohérence est à rechercher non dans sa seule rigueur, mais aussi dans sa beauté et son intuition.

Ensuite, qui dit classicisme dit rapport au réel. Non plus seulement lorsque l'artiste dans son jeu narcissique ne fait que se dire et se contempler soi-même au miroir de son apparence. Mais surtout lorsque l'homme en quête du vrai reçoit le réel et sa diversité comme un autre langage. Le croyant, lui, y reconnaît Celui qui parle dans la création Dieu qui est son auteur. Alors, les balbutiements de l'artiste ne sont qu'une obéissance au langage de Dieu qui se dit dans sa création, même s'il lui faut l'accueillir en recueillant précieusement les chants d'oiseaux ! Ce rapport au réel rend l'artiste le plus novateur et apparemment le plus iconoclaste infiniment respectueux des cultures surgies des cœurs et des mains des hommes. Dès lors, il n'y a plus d'exotisme dans la symphonie des cultures humaines. Les débris des cultures passées, les apports des cultures lointaines sont comme revivifiés par celui qui sait y entendre le Créateur de l'homme chanter par la bouche de l'homme, sa créature.

Enfin, dans la culture contemporaine, dans l'expérience esthétique de notre pays, le vrai danger qui menace les créateurs est d'être coupés du peuple. De s'adonner à un art de « chapelle », un art d'esthète, un art sans public, sinon de mode et d'humeur.

Or, vous êtes un musicien d'église. Et vous êtes parmi les seuls musiciens contemporains dont l'œuvre, au gré des organistes et des assemblées, est, de dimanche en dimanche, jouée, donnée, livrée à l'oreille et au cœur de foules non triées de croyants. Et cette œuvre contemporaine - ô combien !- fût-elle parfois surprenante pour certains - est accueillie, acceptée, aimée, reconnue. L'art d'église a cette chance inouïe, qui n'existe en aucun autre domaine de l'art contemporain, de ne pas dépendre des publics choisis par les cooptations fugitives des modes ou des snobismes, des commandes ou de l'argent, mais d'être au service d'un peuple que réunit l'acte du culte, la forme la plus fonda­mentale et la plus désintéressée de la culture. L'œuvre musicale y est un langage; et l'artiste est appelé à accomplir une fonction médiatrice face à l'invisible réalité de Dieu. II se fait entendre à un peuple à l'écoute de cette Parole divine qui lui est adressée dans chaque célébration.

Dès lors, ne nous étonnons pas si l'artiste doit dans son œuvre de création pratiquer toutes les disciplines spirituelles qui sont celles de l'expérience chrétienne à propre­ment parler. Platon notait déjà à propos de la musique qu'il y a des bons et des mauvais génies; et que, quoi qu'il en soit de la soumission. aux règles et du talent déployé, l'inspiration intérieure compte et qualifie d'une certaine façon l'œuvre. Et l'œuvre juge l'auteur. J'aurais vivement désiré pouvoir ici recueillir votre sentiment au sujet du jugement de Socrate que Platon nous rapporte dans La République. Y a-t-il ainsi des « harmonies » bénéfiques ou maléfiques ? Plus précisément en accord avec la dignité morale et spirituelle de l'homme, ou bien qui lui seraient contraires ? Laissons de côté cette identification objective entre la manifestation du Beau et l'expression du Bien.

Nous pouvons dire, en tout cas, qu'il existe une intime connexion, nécessaire mais non suffisante, entre la recherche de Dieu et l'expression du beau. Je dis bien : non suffisante, sans doute. Car hélas ! dans notre monde cassé entre la recherche de la vérité et l'expression de la beauté, écartelé entre la sainteté et l'esthétique, les discordances ne sont pas rares. Mais, il faut travailler à la réconciliation de ces deux expériences. Et, vous le savez mieux que quiconque, la quête obstinée et patiente de l'artiste véritable, son humble obéissance à la recherche de l'insaisissable et de l'indivisible, l'usure indéfinie des forces et l'incertitude du résultat trouvent comme analogie la montée du mystique qui veut obéir à l'obscure lumière que lui donne le Seigneur et Rédempteur de tous. L'obstination de cet artiste-là n'a de comparable que la patience de celui qui prie, contemple et médite.

C'est pourquoi je me permets de remercier ici, en cette occasion, tous ceux et celles qui ont voulu contribuer à créer un comité dont j'attends beaucoup. Son nom est un programme : Art, Culture et Foi.

II voudrait faire se rejoindre les chemins de la recherche de Dieu et ceux du service du beau. De la sorte, puisse la vraie liberté de l'artiste qui grandit à l'école de la purifi­cation, puisse le vrai désintéressement d'un peuple qui reconnaît un don de Dieu dans les grâces données aux serviteurs de l'art et du beau, se rencontrer et contribuer à ce que notre terre exprime cette Beauté invisible et secrète que nos yeux, un jour, contempleront et que nos oreilles, un jour, entendront. Déjà, les chants célestes plus beaux que tout autre chant en ce monde, associent à leur union dans l'Eucharistie tous les chants du monde par nos voix :  « una voce dicentes... »    

Que le Seigneur de gloire vous bénisse, Maître, lui qui vous a fait la grâce de le servir et de servir son Peuple par votre art.

Paris le 28 mars 1989

Cardinal Jean-Marie LUSTIGER


Extrait de l’Homélie du Cardinal Jean-Marie LUSTIGER


Olivier Messiaen voyait le passage énigmatique de la mort comme un accès à la gloire divine tant désirée et peut-être anticipée par les mystères de son art.

Toute vie d'homme est un signe de Dieu. Les unes ne sont déchiffrables que dans le secret ultime évoqué par saint Jean dans l'Apocalypse (chapitre 2, verset 17) : au jour de « révélation », chacun recevra le nom nouveau, connu de lui seul, gravé sur une pierre blanche que le Maître de toutes choses lui donnera. D'autres, au contraire, ont cette grâce d'être en ce monde des révélateurs, des êtres par qui apparaît ce qui est caché. Parfois, cela coïncide avec le génie ou le talent extrê­me, avec des destins hors du commun.

La vie d'Olivier est certainement de celles-là. En lui – par ce qu'il a été, et par ce qu'il a fait – apparaît avec une pleine clarté une réalité que nous avons du mal à saisir.

L'expérience proprement spirituelle, c'est-à-dire dans l'Esprit Saint, l'expérience de la foi (le Christ Messie, doux et humble de cœur, Seigneur de gloire, Fils éternel et Verbe de Dieu, nous fait entrer par le don de l'Esprit dans le mystère ineffable du Père des cieux), cette expérience de la foi, dis-je, dans son insondable beauté et son déploiement dont l'être humain explore peu à peu les richesses insoupçonnées, coïncide avec un autre type d'expérience, celle de l'esthétique, de la musique, pour prendre les termes les plus familiers.

Lorsque nous disons qu'Olivier Messiaen a été un musicien liturgique, un musicien d'Église, un croyant musicien, nous trébuchons sur les mots. Car il ne s'agit pas seulement d'une convergence accidentelle, mais d'une concentration, d'une focalisation sur l'essentiel de la vie et de l'intelligence humaine et divine. En réalité, ces deux chemins s'entremêlent et se recouvrent.

Et Olivier Messiaen ne confiait-il pas : « Le drame de ma vie, c'est que j'ai écrit de la musique religieuse pour un public qui n'a pas la foi ».

Olivier Messiaen a été l'un de ces hommes en qui la coïncidence entre l'œuvre musicale et le chemin spirituel s'est expri­mée avec une telle sérénité, une telle assurance, que sont dépassées les séparations, les divisions, les hostilités, les incom­préhensions parfois mortelles qui ont pu exister entre cette Église que Messiaen aime tant et qu'il nous aide à aimer, et l'art avec ses obscurités et ses lumières, ses allées et venues, ses échecs et ses foudroyantes découvertes.

Avec Olivier Messiaen, nous comprenons mieux l'amour mutuel que nous devons nous porter. Nous mesurons la recon­naissance que le peuple des croyants doit à l'artiste capable non pas d'illustrer la foi, mais de faire chanter à des oreilles humaines le plus insondable et le plus inconnaissable langage.

L'art est ici comme un vêtement, comme une chair de surcroît à cette chair qu'est la Parole divine, le Verbe incarné. L'art est ici surabondance de la Parole qui nous fait pénétrer dans l'au-delà de la Parole.

Olivier Messiaen nous montre aux uns et aux autres comment avancer dans le chemin qui est le nôtre. Il nous invite et nous encourage à obéir à la Vérité qui est aussi Beauté.

Paris le 14 mai 1992, Eglise de la Sainte Trinité


Intervention du Cardinal Jean-Marie LUSTIGER


Extrait de l’intervention du Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, lors de la soirée inaugurale du Festival Messiaen, à l'église de la Sainte-Trinité, Paris. Ces paroles traitent essentiellement de l'œuvre d'orgue du maître, qui avait été intégralement donnée au cours de ce festival. Nous conservons le style oral de cette intervention.

« Olivier Messiaen n'a pas été un « fabricant de liturgie ». Il n'a rien fait qui soit utilisable dans ce registre. Mais il acréé un nouveau genre, puisque l'œuvre d'orgue est comme une place, qui brusquement est prise dans le culte catholique [par] la musique seule, qui ne se substitue pas à l'acte du culte, mais qui y ajoute comme une nouvelle dimension„ź analogue et comparable à ce que fut la cantate, sans doute, dans le culte luthérien, mais qui se déploie à l'intérieur de l'espace sacramentaire et eucharistique du culte catholique. C’est, me semble-t-il, non seulement un nouveau genre musical mais un nouveau genre liturgique, où l'œuvre d'orgue n'est pas là seulement pour accompagner une action et couvrir les bruits d'une assemblée... n'est pas là comme soutien plus ou moins renforcé d'un chant plus ou moins déficient... n'est pas là comme pour donner voix à un chœur ou à une foule qui cherche sa voix ou ses voix... Il se fait entendre comme la voix, oserais-je dire, d'un concélébrant, « cocélébrant », qui par lui-même ajoute le déploiement de la méditation contemplative, devenue communicable à une foule par la grâce du langage esthétique et de la musique.

Et [le] caractère savant [de cette musique] est une garantie de sa rectitude spirituelle, de sa rigueur spirituelle. Nous ne sommes pas là devant le déploiement abusif du sentiment religieux; nous sommes là devant une œuvre qui, s'appuyant sur la sensibilité et l'esthétique, veut nous mener jusqu'aux rigueurs pures et saintes de la contemplation du mystère ineffable ».

Paris le 8 mars 1995, Eglise de la Sainte Trinité

Petit supplément :

« Il se trouve que j’ai été très touché par la musique de Messiaen. J’y entends ce que la Parole peut inspirer à un musicien et ce qu’un musicien peut exprimer d’une Parole reçue ; j’y ai trouvé, dans la méditation exprimée du musicien, des aspects qui m’ont aidé à comprendre la Parole neuve qu’il commentait… »

Cardinal Lustiger, extrait d’interview, Janvier 2005

Le Cardinal Aron Jean-Marie Lustiger a été rappelé à Dieu le dimanche 5 août 2007, dans la soirée, en la vigile de la Transfiguration



Interview with Messiaen and Edith Walter.
First published in French magazine 'HARMONIE' 1970.
The interview focuses on La Transfiguration then only recently composed.

Cheong, Wai-Ling. "Symmetrical Permutation, the Twelve Tones, and
Messiaen's Catalogue d'oiseaux." Perspectives of New Music 45/1 (Winter
2007): 110-37.

Christoph Neidhöfer. "A Theory of Harmony and Voice Leading for the
Music of Olivier Messiaen." Music Theory Spectrum, Vol. 27 Issue 1, pp. 1-34. 2005.

Gareth Healey: "Messiaen and the concept of 'Personages'. Tempo (October 2004)

Nigel Simeone: 'Messiaen and the Concerts de la Pléiade: "A Kind of Clandestine Revenge on the Occupation" ' Music & Letters (November 2000)

Nigel Simeone: 'Offrandes oubliées: Messiaen in the 1930s', (Musical Times, Winter 2000)

Nigel Simeone: 'Offrandes oubliées 2: Messiaen, Boulanger and José Bruyr', (Musical Times, Spring 2001)

Nigel Simeone: ‘Daniel-Lesur’, Musical Times (Winter 2002), pp.6–8 [obituary, including the first publication of a speech by Messiaen about Daniel-Lesur]

Nigel Simeone: ‘An Exotic Tristan in Boston: The First Performance of Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie’, King Arthur in Music, ed. R. Barber [Arthurian Studies, vol.52] (Boydell and Brewer, 2002), 106–125 [book chapter].

Nigel Simeone: 'Towards "un succès absolument formidable": the birth of Messiaen's La Transfiguration'. Musical Times (Summer 2004) pp.5-24.

N. Simeone: ‘”Chez Messiaen, tout est prière”: Messiaen’s appointment to
the Trinité in 1931,’ Musical Times (Winter 2004)pp.36-53

Vincent Benitez: Simultaneous Contrast and Additive Designs in Olivier Messiaen's opera St. François d'Assisie.
Music Theory Online 8.2 (August 2002)

Vincent Benitez: A Creative Legacy: Messiaen as Teacher of Analysis. College Music Symposium 40. 2000 117-39

Vincent Benitez: Aspects of Harmony in Messiaen's Later Music: An Examination of the Chords of Transposed Inversions
on the Same Bass Note. Journal of Musicological Research 23 no.2 (April-June 2004): 187-226.

Vincent Benitez: Narrating Saint Francis's Spiritual Journey: Referential Pitch Structures and Symbolic Images in Messiaen's
Saint François d'Assise. (In Poznan Studies on Opera Vol 4, Theories of Opera, ed. Maciej Jablonski, 363-411. Poland; Publishing House of the Poznan Soc. for the Advancement of the Arts and Sciences. Section of Music and Fine Arts, Publication of the Committee for Musicology, Vol 16 2004.)

Jean Barraqué: 'Rythme et dévéloppement', Polyphonie (1954)

Jonathan Bernard: 'Messiaen's Synaesthesia: the Correspondence Between Color and Sound Structure in His Music'.
Music Perception, IV (1986)

Pierre Boulez: 'Olivier Messiaen' Anhaltspunkte (Stuttgart and Zurich, Belser 1975)

Leonard Burkat: Turangalila Symphonie, Musical Quarterly, xxxvi (1950)

Norman Demuth: 'Messiaen's Early Birds', Musical Times (1960)

David Drew: 'Messiaen, a Provisional Study', The Score (1954)

Adrian Evans: Olivier Messiaen In The Surrealist Context: A Bibliography Part One Brio Vol 11 No 1 Spring 1974 IAML UK
Olivier Messiaen In The Surrealist Context: A Bibliography Part Two Brio Vol 11 No 2 Autumn 1974 IAML UK
‘Messiaen and Surrealism’ see article

Bennett Gardiner: 'Dialogues with Messiaen'. Musical Events xxii (1967)

Hellmut Heiss: 'Struktur und Symbolik in 'Reprises par interversion" und "Les mains de l'abîme" aus Olivier Messiaen's Livre d'Orgue'. Zeitschrift für Musiktheorie (1970)

Trevor Hold: 'Messiaen's Birds'. Music and Letters. (1971)

Messiaen issue of Melos xxv/12 (1958)

Messiaen issue of Musik-Konzept, 28 (1982)

Roger Nichols: 'Boulez on Messiaen'. Organist's Review (August 1986)

Roger Nichols: 'Messiaen's "Le Merle noir": the Case of a Blackbird in a Historical Pie'.

Claude Samuel: 'Discographie compléte', Diapason-Harmonie (December 1988)

Roger Smalley: 'Debussy and Messiaen', Musical Times cix (1968)

Harriet Watts: 'Canyons, Colours and Birds: an Interview with Olivier Messiaen', Tempo 128 (1979)

Les Editions de Minuit, CONTREPOINTS. No 1, Janvier 1946. Revue de Musique dir. par Fred. Goldbeck. Paris, 1946,128 pages. Contient: OEUVRES DE DARIUS MILHAUD, par Francis Poulenc. FRANCIS POULENC, MUSICIEN FRANCAIS, par A, Schaeffner - LA PROPAGANDE ALLEMANDE ET LA MUSIQUE, par Marc Pincherle - MUSIQUE ET RESISTANCE , par H. Barraud, Olivier Messiaen musicien mystique ?, Eric Satie évoqué a Londres ....

Siglind Bruhn:"Des encadrements musicaux qui élargissent la vue. Implications herméneutiques dans deux des Vingt regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus d'Olivier Messiaen," in Jacques Viret, ed., Herméneutique musicale: vois de recherche et de reflexion (Strasbourg: Presses Universitaires de Strasbourg).

Siglind Bruhn:"Religious Symbolism in the Music of Olivier Messiaen," Signs in Musical Hermeneutics [The American Journal of Semiotics 13/1-4: 269-301.

Allen Forte: “Messiaen’s Chords” in a collection published by Ashgate.

Allen Forte: “Messiaen’s Birds” in a forthcoming collection published by Cambridge University Press.

CHEONG Wai-Ling: 'Rediscovering Messiaen's Invented Chords', Acta Musicologica, Vol. 75, No. 1 (2003), forthcoming.

CHEONG Wai-Ling: 'Messiaen's Triadic Colouration: Modes as Interversion', Music Analysis, Vol. 21, No. 1 (2002), pp. 53-84.

Robert T. Kelley: Tradition, the Avant Garde, and Individuality in the Music of Olivier Messiaen:
Musical Influences in Méditations sur la mystère de la Sainte-Trinité

War Music
A play by Bryan Davidson
Directed by Jessica Kubzansky
Based upon dramatic events in the lives of composers Frank Bridge, Anton Webern, and Olivier Messiaen

Felix Aprahamian passed away on January 15 2005 aged 90.

When I first discovered the music of Olivier Messiaen and began collecting all the recorded material I could get hold of on vinyl LP, it must be said that I also discovered the name of Felix Aprahamian as it was his name that appeared on almost all of the LP liner notes accompanying Messiaen's music. These notes were often translations from the French by Messiaen himself but also contributions from Aprahamian who was a tireless promoter of French music in England and in particular the music of Messiaen. Indeed Aprahamian almost single handedly arranged the first performances of Messiaen's organ music in the UK as early as 1936 when La Banquet Celeste and Apparition de l'Eglise éternelle were first performed as part of the Organ Music Society concerts that Aprahamian organised. He was also instrumental in arranging Messiaen's first visit in person to the UK in 1938 when the composer performed La Nativité du Seigneur. Aprahamian and Messiaen continued to communicate throughout their lives and detailed accounts of letters and notes can be found in the book "Bien Cher Félix..."a collection of letters from Messiaen and Yvonne Loriod to Aprahamian edited by Nigel Simeone. see bibliography.
Felix Aprahamian was born in London in 1914 and educated at Tollington School in Muswell Hill where his interest in music flourished and he began writing articles to the musical press of the time. He was concert director of the London Philharmonic Orchestra in 1940 where he began devising challenging and uncompromising programmes of 20th century music including the premiere of Tippett's A Child of Our Time. In 1946 he became consultant to United Music Publishers who were the main distributors of French music in England and his interest in French culture and music blossomed.
He became adviser to the Delius Trust in 1961 and visited the composers home in France many times.
Aprahamian was always a keen organist and was honorary secretary of the Organ Music Society from 1935 to 1970 and throughout this time could always be seen at Messiaen UK premieres bubbling over with enthusiasm and support. This colourful, ebullient and most knowledgeable character will be greatly missed throughout the concert halls and churches of the world.

'Emotion in the Music of Messiaen'

Messiaen scholar and enthusiast Nicholas Armfelt wrote this article in 1964 which was subsequently published in The Musical Times in November 1965.

Messiaen’s music demands an extraordinary intensity of response; and each piece demands entire acceptance. It has the quality of a statement rather than an argument or question. It is a statement expressed emphatically and intensely. The critical listener is disturbed by this. He wants to question the validity of the statement; he regards music as an argument. But Messiaen’s music seems not to allow this: it demands all or nothing. Indeed it seems to demand all. That is why it has often provoked such violent reactions. Many listeners, while admitting the expression to be forceful, have found it hard to cope with a music so extreme in its emotive demands.
One way of coping with the emotive demands is simply to ignore them.
At one extreme there are some intellectual up-to-date people for whom Messiaen is significant only as the man behind Boulez and some other younger composers. Above all they admire the piano study, Mode de valeurs et d’intensités (1949), and judge his other works by the extent to which they anticipate or fall away from that ideal. In it four series are used simultaneously: 36 pitches, 24 durations, 12 attacks, and 7 degrees of loudness and softness. These make a complex mode, the coherence of which is aurally obvious (e.g. The lower notes have the longer duration).
This is rightly acknowledged as the first European work of total serialism (in which all elements are used serially). It lasts four minutes, and like all the works of the composer, was completely imagined aurally. But it led on to complex serial works by other composers in which the conjunction of the various elements was too complex to be imagined in detail beforehand. So Messiaen’s piece has historical importance in two related recent developments of music: total serialism and music of chance. But for me its significance is its beauty: the low notes like night, the notes above sparkling like fireworks.
At the other extreme are some organists who, perceiving the technical brilliance, effectiveness, and workmanship of Messiaen as an organ composer, cull pieces from L’Ascension (1933) or La Nativité (1935) to show off their virtuosity in a recital. Fair enough I suppose. After all, it does draw attention to the fact that Messiaen is so effective. And it also draws attention to the traditional element in Messiaen’s pieces, their relationship to the great tradition of French organ music, the tradition of Franck, Widor, Dupré. Better to come to his music from the traditional past that from the fashionable future.
But the trouble is that these recitals tend to obscure the originality and intense sincerity of the works by referring back to old familiar forms and to old, familiar, comfortable, worn-out emotions. So often one hears the fourth and final piece of L'ascension tripped off at twice its proper speed as if it were some pleasant little pastorale. In fact it is an intense, ecstatic piece, representing with characteristic literalness the prayer of Christ as he ascends to His Father. At a good performance the sympathetic listener will find himself almost entranced. The movement is very slow, the chords ascending with parallel harmonies. Indeed it is so slow that one can forget the ‘melody’ as such and become absorbed in each chord as a separate experience, tensing oneself in readiness for the next chord, the next step upward.
The harmonies have a certain hardness to them, which should be brought out in the registration. Some listeners find the harmonies ‘soupy’ or ‘honeyed’. I think this is due to a failure to listen to the actual sounds. It is the tough element in the harmonies that causes the slow upward motion to be almost unbearable, till, at about two-thirds of the way through, the piece achieves its climax. Heaven, one feels is in sight. Thereafter the ascension continues, but with less strain – though even the long final chord is inconclusive, yearning to go higher. It is only when the piece is over that one realises one has experienced the beautifully phrased melody and form of the piece.
Both these types of approach, as I have described them, the trendspotting-historical and the extrovert-workaday, fail to take proper account of the emotive demands of the music. The trouble is not so much that these people fail to respond fully to the particular pieces they admire; but more that they fail to admire Messiaen’s boldest pieces. Even the most ardent admirers of Messiaen find their powers of acceptance severely strained by some works. There are the more obvious failures, such as parts of the early Diptyque for organ and the Fête des belles eaux (1937) for six ondes Martenots. (It is fortunate that the beautiful sections of each are preserved as the ‘louange’ movements of Quatour pour la fin du temps 1941). But then there are parts of other works which seem terrible bathos when the listener is all critical and emotionally below par, but which at other times seem to come off.

David Drew, in his absorbing ‘Messiaen – a provisional study’ in The Score (Dec 1954. Sept and Dec 1955), has cited L’Êchange from Vingt regards sur l’enfant Jésus (1944) as an example of an obvious failure. On paper it does indeed look mechanical, and the long pause towards the end can seem ridiculous. But personally, when I am in a sympathetic mood, I find the sustained crescendo and the amount of variation sufficient to hold my interest – especially in the context of the whole cycle. More frequent, though, than such dubious cases as L’Êchange are the passages that do come off, but are wrongly accounted failures by unsympathetic listeners – such daring effects as the notes of the chiffchaff at the climax of the Le loriot and the 18-part birdsong polyphony for solo strings in the Epode section of Chronochromie (1960).
Contrary to some critics’ opinion, Messiaen’s peculiar excellence manifests itself in the form of his works. He uses a closed form, conceived rhythmically as the relationship of the parts to the whole. The material is often disparate and asymmetrical, involving unexpected phrase-lengths and lengthened or shortened note-values. More and more he uses the ‘catalogue principle’, where unrelated material is juxtaposed or superimposed. The success depends on taste and dramatic sense, above all on proportion, with effective contrasts and unexpected correlations.
His music is proportioned by a literalness and truth to nature. The piece from L’Ascension was precisely symbolic in form. So are many other of his religious pieces. Take, for example the final movement of Les Corps Glorieux (1939), where the thrice-three form symbolises the Holy Trinity, the three Persons registered so far apart yet integrated into the whole. Sometimes he uses the palindromic form of the non-retrograde rhythm, with its constant central value, to suggest the Star or the Cross. At other times he paraphrases plainsong for its traditional associations.
The love-music is also unusually literal. One cannot naively distinguish it from his religious music, since he views life as a whole. In Amen du désir (Visions de l’Amen 1943) he chooses a mode of limited transposition for the charm of its impossibilities – it works up to a frenzy, but the desire remains as desire since the mode cannot rest on any modulation. True, the frenzy subsides into the harmonies of the more ‘celestial’ theme. But for the real resolution and sense of fulfilment one has to wait for the final piece of the cycle, Amen de la consommation.
In the third of the Cinq Rechants (1949) the sexual act is presented with a literalness that equals Lady Chatterley’s Lover. It is all there: the male and female elements, the varying moods, the working up to a climax, the primitive universal shout at the moment of climax. Time seeming to halt at the moment of Love. One is reminded of certain Polynesian action-songs where the women sing in languorous harmony while the men shout and dance with urgent primitive gestures. This Rechant is extraordinarily compressed, its length corresponding to the act it represents. The earlier Turangalila Symphonie (1946-48) presents some of the same emotions in grander, more extended form. The fifth movement, for example, Joie du sang des étoiles, presents what takes only a few instants in the Rechant – frenzied joy, joy of the blood, joy of the blood universalised and linked with Death, joy of the blood of the stars.
Messiaen uses big general words such as ‘joy’ to describe emotion. But in the music the emotions are more precise and complex. Each theme, as placed in context, has a precise emotional force. This can be realised in the music based on birdsong, notably Catalogue d’oiseaux (1958). Each song is associated for Messiaen with a particular place and time, and consequently with a dramatic emotion. He recollects them in tranquillity, moulds them into musical form, always tending to organize and compress, and allows the sequence of events and birdsongs to guide the form of the compositions. The material may or may not be musically related, but dramatically it represents a true sequence of the composer’s emotions. Messiaen says he ‘takes his lessons from nature’. He trusts nature and the coherence of its larger rhythms.
As for the more detailed rhythms, the birdsongs have inspired Messiaen to compose for piano a work unsurpassed in meaningful variety of rhythms, melodic contours, and sonorities. The most obvious of the larger rhythms determining the form of his pieces is the combination of symmetrical and asymmetrical elements in the passage of each day. An illustration of this is La Rousserolle effarvatte where various events of the first half are repeated irregularly in reverse order in the second half. Yet how irregular it is, and how complex and satisfying the form! This basic rhythm is also a clue to the overall form of some of the larger cycles of Messiaen’s middle period – for example, Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant Jesus.

If in this article I emphasize the serene and joyful emotions in the music, it is because I feel that optimism predominates. I must mention, though, that this optimism would be comparatively meaningless were it not for the strong contrasting presence of disturbing emotions. Messiaen’s life has often been hard. The wonder is that his faith in life and human nature has so triumphantly survived. These disturbing emotions are as deep as anything in his music and are never cancelled out by the optimism: they remain as an integral part of the complex total vision. One thinks of the Abyss music in the third movement of Quatour pour la fin du temps and Livre d’Orgue, and of the frightening presence of death in certain of the Cinq Rechants. One of the most frightening effects is obtained in the mysterious death-cries and night-music of La Chouette Hulotte (The Tawny Owl) in Catalogue d’Oiseaux.
One of the most striking features of some of Messiaen’s music is that it makes one conscious that everything in it is within the context of something bigger. There is the sound behind the sound, the longer duration behind the shorter one, the slower rhythm behind the quicker one. And behind all movement there is an awareness of stillness, behind all sound an awareness of silence, and behind all measured time an awareness of eternity.
The silence is not mere silence. It is composed of various colours. The composer of Chronochromie (1960) and Couleurs de la Cité Céleste (1963) sees music in terms of colour and visa versa. At the end of the piano piece Je dors mais mon Coeur veille the sounds are progressively converted into silence. One knows exactly what the ‘missing’ sounds are. In Regard du silence special sonorities, some of them quite violent, are used to suggest the potential sounds that are within all silence.
Some people dislike the static quality of a music that hearkens to the End of Time. They wish that it could be lighter, more critical, less absolute. It is true that many techniques are used to break down one’s sense of the temporal, among them extremely slow tempos, pedal-rhythms or ostinati, the disruptive effect of irregular note-values, and the combination of modes of limited transposition and non-retrograde rhythms. But to call the music plainly static seems to me altogether too simplified an interpretation. The characteristic effect of Messiaen’s music is to induce in the listener a trance-like state of heightened response to every instant, a state where he experiences simultaneously several different rates of time-flow. This is sometimes achieved, of course, by superimposing several rhythms. More amazingly, it is also often achieved by juxtaposition of contrasting rhythms, where one’s sense of the first rhythm continues to be effective long after it has been succeeded by another. Paradoxically, the result of all this is to make the listener feel outside time, so that all the movement seems but a complex decoration of an eternal stillness behind all things.

Messiaen, humble before the vast diversity of Nature, has embraced this diversity in all its rhythms and colours to express his Faith in its Creator. Whether or not we share his Faith, we can welcome the richness and sincerity of its expression.
© Nicholas Armfelt

'Three Little Parcels'.

Since his introduction to the music of Olivier Messiaen in the 1940s, Nicholas Armfelt has remained an ardent enthusiast of his music and through this has become a keen ornathologist in his own right. Over a period of time Nicholas made several recordings of birds native to New Zealand and sent three little parcels of such recordings to Messiaen to which the composer responded in the following three letters kindly submitted by Nicholas.

Nicholas sent the first parcel to Messiaen in early 1963 and Messiaen's reply was as follows:

17 juin 1963
Cher Monsieur,
J'ai bien reçu votre disque d'oiseaux de Nouvelle-Zélande. C'est merveilleux! J'ai apprécié particulièrement les chants extraordinaires de l'oiseau-Tui, de l'oiseau-cloche (bellbird), du Riroriro (grey warbler), du Kiwi, du Kéa, de l'ocydrome Weka, du Takahé (notornis) -etc, etc.. Ce cadeau me fait un immense plaisir. Merci de tout mon coeur! Avec une très grande reconnaissance. Olivier Messiaen.

17th June 1963

Dear sir,
I have safely received the recording of the "Birds of New Zealand". It is marvellous! I particularly appreciated the exraordinary songs of the Tui, the Bellbird, the Riroriro (grey warbler), the Kiwi, the Kea, the wood-rail Weka, the Takahe (notornis) etc. etc. This present gives me immense pleasure. Thank you with all my heart! With very great gratitude. Olivier Messiaen

Nicholas sent the second parcel in late 1976 and was delighted to receive the following reply:

le 6 février 1977
Cher Monsieur,
Je suis couvert de confusion à la pensée que vous avez attendu si longtemps ma réponse. J'etais absent pour tournées de concerts, et à mon retour, j'ai trouvé plusieurs centaines de lettres, et je n'ai pas encore pu répondre à tout.
Un immense merci pour cette bande magnétique extraordinaire! Quelle variété, quelle beauté! J'ai déjà commencé une première notation de ce que vous m'avez envoyé. Effectivement c'est l'enregistrement (C) qui est le plus extaordinaire. L'Oiseau-Tui surtout est prodigieux, comme rythme, comme ligne mélodique, et comme variété de timbres. J'ai été absolument renversé par le KOKAKO (Blue-wattled Crow, Callaeas cinerea). Je ne connais pas cet oiseau. Est-il de la meme famille que les corbeaux fluteurs (Gymnorhina)? En tout cas, cet oiseau prodigieux fait ce que les flutistes et les clarinettistes ont découvert depuis peu, c'est-à-dire des double-sons! Si vous pouviez m'en donner une description, cela me rendrait grand service.
Je connaissais déjà l'Oiseau-Tui, l'Oiseau-Cloche, et le Mohoua à tete jaune. Mais beacoup d'autres oiseaux que vous m'avez envoyés sont pour moi une révélation. Spécualement l'Oiseau-Tui que je connaissais mal, et le Kokako que je ne connaissais pas du tout.
Avec encore tous mes remerciements, je vous prie de croire, cher Monsieur, à ma profonde reconnaissance. Olivier Messiaen.

6th February 1977
Dear sir,
I am embarrassed by the thought that you have had to wait so long for my reply. I was away on concert tours, and on my return I found several hundred letters, and I haven't been able yet to reply to them all.
A huge thank-you for this amazing tape! What variety! What beauty! I have already begun my first notations of what you have sent me. indeed it is section C of the tape which is the most extaordinary. The Tui especially is prodigious - for rhythm, melodic line, and variety of timbres. I was absolutely bowled over by the KOKAKO (Blue-wattled Crow). I don't this bird. Is it in the same family as the Australian bell-magpies? At any rate, this prodigious bird does what flautists and clarinetists have discovered only recently, namely double-sounds! If you could give me a description of it that would be of great service to me.
I was already acquainted with the Tui, the Bellbird, and the Yellowhead; but many of the other birds you have sent are for me a revelation. Specially the Tui, which I didn't know well, and the Kokako, which I didn't know at all.
With all my thanks. I beg you to believe, dear Sir, in my profound gratitude. Olivier Messiaen.

Nicholas says of the third letter that 'it moved me the most, for the composer was very old and frail - and his hand writing is a delight!'

18 mars 1991
Cher Nicholas Armfelt,
Merci de tout coeur pour votre cassette de chants d'oiseaux de Nouvelle-Zélande. Je l'ai déjà écoutée plusieurs fois, avec joie.
Le Kokako est très original, avec ses sons lourés descendants, et la note grave enflée crescendo vers un suraigu grinçant. J'aime le glissando tremblé en cascade descendante, le bruit d'eau du Kea. L'Oiseau-Tui a des sons tantot flutés, tantot grinçants, absolument extraordinaires. J'ame encore l'Oiseau-cloche, le Notornis, le Riroriro, les sons étranges et primitifs du Kiwi du Nord a tete jaune, la trompe grave du Kakapo. Les cris des oiseaux de mer sont aussi tres interessants.
Merci encore pour ce troisiéme envoi, qui m'a fait un immense plaisir. Croyez, je vous prie, a tous mes sentiments bien amicaux et tres reconnaissants. Olivier Messiaen.

18th March 1991
Dear Nicholas Armfelt
Thank you with all my heart for your cassette of New Zealand birdsongs. I have listened to it several times, with joy. The Kokako is very original, with its sliding descending notes, and its deep note that swells in a cescendo up to a high shrill sound. I like the glissando trembling in a cascade, like cascading water, of the Kea. The Tui utters sounds that are sometimes flutelike, at other times grating, absolutely extraordinary. I also like the Bellbird, the Nototnis, the Riroriro, the strange and primitive calls of the North Island Kiwi, the cretic rhythms and cooings of the Yellowhead, the deep boom of the Kakapo. The cries of the seabirds are also very interesting.
Thank you again for this third present, which has given me great peasure. I assure you of my warm and grateful best wishes. Olivier Messiaen.

It is thanks to Nicholas that Messiaen went on to transcribe and use these birdsongs in three of his works: Couleurs de la cité céleste (indeed the first few bars are the song of the Tui), Éclairs sur l'au-dela and Concert à quatre.

Jennifer Bate and Olivier Messiaen

Jennifer is famous for her interpretation of both modern and romantic music. In particular, she enjoys a unique reputation as the world authority on the French composer Olivier Messiaen, and was his organist of choice. Indeed, she “may claim honors as THE Messiaen player of this generation” .

In 1975, when Jennifer was due to broadcast a programme of Messiaen’s music, the BBC invited the composer to hear her preparing it. She played to him and Mme Messiaen at St James’s Church, Muswell Hill. Messiaen immediately made a dedication on the scores she played and also gave her the following written recommendation: “Jennifer Bate is an excellent organist, not only for her virtuosity, but also for her musicianship and sensitivity in choosing her timbres. She is a really accomplished musician who loves what she plays and knows how to make others love it too”. This visit marked the beginning of a close artistic association and friendship with both Olivier Messiaen and his wife, Yvonne Loriod.

The press reviews of her début recording (the three great works of Liszt) were so outstanding that the Gramophone magazine arranged an interview when her second record (Elgar and Schumann) was released. The Gramophone quoted Messiaen’s opinion of her artistry and John Goldsmith, of Unicorn records, immediately offered to record with her the complete organ works of Olivier Messiaen on the instrument of her choice. Having by now played many times in France, she chose the recently-built organ at Beauvais Cathedral. The recording took place between 1980 and 1982, appearing first on LP and cassette in six volumes, and subsequently on CD. Each volume was heard by Messiaen prior to release; he endorsed them all with enormous enthusiasm. All won international acclaim. The success of these recordings led to a number of Messiaen recitals, many attended by the composer.
In 1983, Messiaen took her to his Paris agent and asked him to re-allocate to Jennifer all organ recitals scheduled for him. At this stage, he also started annotating all her scores with his personal nuances of interpretation. The high point came when he sent her the manuscript of his last masterpiece for organ, Livre du Saint Sacrement. She gave the British première at Westminster Cathedral in 1986, to a capacity audience with the composer present, receiving a 20-minute standing ovation and unanimous critical acclaim. The concert was filmed and shown on Channel 4 later that year.
One week after this performance, she opened the Radio France complete Messiaen cycle, broadcast live in his presence and, while working together, he invited her to make the world première recording of Livre du Saint Sacrement on his own instrument in Paris, arranging his schedule to attend all rehearsals and recording sessions. This recording had exceptional international success, including the award of a Grand Prix du Disque. Jennifer gave 25 performances of Livre du Saint Sacrement round the world before the score was published.
Jennifer was the Artistic Advisor to, and performed in, the LWT South Bank Show television programme about Messiaen in 1985. This programme has been shown all over the world. There were three screenings at the Barbican in 1999 as part of Visions – The Music of Olivier Messiaen.
Jennifer gave the second London performance of Messiaen’s Livre du Saint Sacrement at the Royal Festival Hall in 1988. A full house, again with the composer present, gave her another prolonged standing ovation and her playing attracted more magnificent press notices.
Following the great success of the filming of the première of Livre du Saint Sacrement”, Channel 4 commissioned a further programme. La Nativité du Seigneur was filmed in concert at the 1989 Norwich and Norfolk International Festival and shown on Christmas Day. La Nativité du Seigneur is distributed worldwide and is currently being promoted for 2002 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Messiaen’s death.

In 1990, Jennifer’s outstanding ability and contribution to music received international recognition with the award of Personnalité de l’Année by the French-based jury. She was the first British woman to win the award and only the third British artist to do so after Sir Georg Solti and Sir Yehudi (later Lord) Menuhin; Sir Simon Rattle has since won it.
In 1992, Jennifer opened a special festival at l’Eglise de la Sainte Trinité, Paris where Messiaen’s complete organ works were performed. The cycle was recorded by Jade Records; the boxed set of six CD’s received great acclaim, and Jennifer’s recording was also released as a separate CD winning, among other awards, the Diapason d’Or (France), Prix de Répertoire (France) and the Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik (Germany).
In 2001, she opened the new season of concerts at the Royal Festival Hall with a programme that included the UK première of a newly-discovered piece by Messiaen, Offrande au Saint Sacrement. In November, she was invited to Avignon by the Association Orgue hommage à Messiaen to give a recital and participate in the dedication of a plaque at the church where the composer was baptised. This was such a success that she was immediately re-engaged to repeat her programme in the 2002 Acanthes Festival. This is one of her many concerts around the world commemorating both the 10th anniversary of Messiaen’s death and the centenary of Maurice Duruflé’s birth.

Regis Records has re-released all Jennifer's Messiaen recordings, made by Unicorn-Kanchana, as a boxed set of six CDs (RRC6001). These are also available as two single and two double CDs. All are at budget price and carry the Penguin CD Guide Top Recommendation, a judgement endorsed by The Gramophone (May 2002).

Visit Jennifer's home page


Dame Gillian Weir and Olivier Messiaen


"Our generation is the fortunate recipient of this remarkable testament to Gillian Weir's intellectual, spiritual and musical affinity with Messiaen's music. Messiaen's own recordings inspire us, but Gillian Weir's transport us to a seemingly ideal plane, where music, technique and organ sound blend into something greater than their parts."
[Organists' Review, February 1995]

In the year which marks the 10th Anniversary of the composer's death, Priory Records announces the reissue on its own label of Gillian Weir's legendary recordings of the complete organ works of Olivier Messiaen. When the set was originally issued by Collins Classics, critics all over the world were unanimous not only in their praise of the performances, but also in their respect for the fundamental musical affinity between performer and composer. "This corpus of organ music - incontrovertibly the most profound and significant of the twentieth century - has here found a recording which in itself is a landmark in the history of recorded sound" wrote one critic. "There is no doubt that Gillian Weir's recording of the complete Messiaen is the reference by which all other performances will now be judged", wrote another. BBC Music Magazine chose the set as one of its "Best CD's of 1994".

The complete cycle - which Messiaen personally urged Gillian Weir to commit to CD - was recorded on the famous organ of Aarhus Cathedral in Denmark during January and February 1994: the original recordings were made in association with BBC Radio 3.

Priory have remastered the recordings and made the series available separately for the first time: there are four single CD's, and one double CD, the latter including the Livre du Saint Sacrement. Dame Gillian herself has written booklet notes for the series, reflecting many decades of association with the composer and his organ music. The first CD [PRCD 921 - La Nativite du Seigneur, Le Banquet Celeste, L'Apparition de l'Eglise Eternelle] was issued on 29 October 2002 when Dame Gillian opened the 2002/3 Organ Recital series at London's Royal Festival Hall.
These are superb recordings and Priory have done a magnificent job in making them available again with excellent presentation enhanced by Mark Rowan-Hull's artwork inspired and based on Messiaen's music.

The fifth and sixth volume are combined into this final 2-CD set. The works include Livre du Sacrement, and three new additional works published after Messiaen's death:
• Prélude
• Monodie
• Offrande au Saint Sacrement
These three pieces were not in the original issue of this series, but were recently recorded for this re-release series on the same organ at Århus Cathedral.
This disc also contains an exceptional 30-page booklet that is becoming a notable hallmark of each disc in this series:
• Notes by the player herself, recognised as a Messiaen authority throughout the world, writer on his organ music in Faber's The Messiaen Companion, and and able to give unique insights into the way a performer thinks about the music;
• Reproductions of original paintings by Mark Rowan-Hull who is famous for translating into visual terms his vision of the organ music of Messiaen;
• Articles by distinguished scientists from Oxford and London Universities on the latest research into synaesthesia;
• Stoplists of the Århus organ as well as La Trinité, with descriptions of Messiaen's experiences and changes he desired on that instrument;
• List of organ works, when and if they were published and performed;
• Timeline of important milestone's in Messiaen's life.
“Gillian Weir's cycle remains the best of all, and she, playing the marvellous Frobenius instrument at Århus, brings that special spaciousness and intensity to the Livre that distinguishes her cycle as a whole... It is, quite simply, one of the finest organ recordings ever made.”
Arnold Whittall, October 2004 Awards issue of Gramophone

Visit Gillian Weir's Homepage


Buy Messiaen CDs at