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1 May 2024


234 mm x 156 mm | 208 pages

20 illustrations

Hardback | £25

World Rights: Reaktion



This groundbreaking biography offers fresh perspectives on the life, ideas and music of French twentieth-century composer, organist and ornithologist Olivier Messiaen. Drawing on previously unexplored sketches and archival material, Robert Sholl seamlessly combines elements of biography, musicology, theology, philosophy, psychoanalysis and aesthetics to present a nuanced perspective on Messiaen’s work. This book examines the profound impact of Messiaen’s devout Catholicism, which found expression through his work as a church organist, his engagement with birdsong, his interaction with Surrealism and his influence on major musical figures of the latter twentieth century. Unlike previous biographies, this book also considers the perspectives of Messiaen’s contemporaries and students, providing a comprehensive understanding of his life and artistic legacy.



After a high-flying final, the jury consisting of great specialists of the organ and Olivier Messiaen presented the prizes for the 2022 edition:


- SECOND PRIZE: Luca Akaeda Santesson

- THIRD PRIZE: Pierre-Francois Purson

- FOURTH PRIZE: Kasumi Hamano



- PUBLIC AWARD : Kasumi Hamano

A big congratulations to all the candidates and winners!

Cleveland Museum of Art unearths archive recording of Messiaen and Yvonne Loriod
2 piano concert of 1978

On the occasion of the 70th birthday of Olivier Messiaen, the Cleveland Museum of Art invited the composer to perform a two-piano concert with his wife, Yvonne Loriod, on October 13, 1978, in Gartner Auditorium. This remarkable recording, which captures a rare instance of Messiaen at the piano performing his own music, marks the launch of the CMA Recorded Archive Editions

Click here for more background information and the audio files.


It is with great sadness that we learn of the death of Claude Samuel, who past away on June 14 2020 in Paris, at the age of 88 years old. A true titan of journalism and French music radio, Claude Samuel is also an emblematic figure in the history of Radio France as producer and Music Director of Radio France (1989 to 1996).

A graduate in medicine in dental surgery, Claude Samuel also followed musical studies at the Schola Cantorum with Daniel-Lesur. Very early on, he joined the world of journalism and the music press, but also the world of radio, a medium for which he produced nearly 1,000 programs for France Culture and France Musique.

Passionate about contemporary music, Claude Samuel was at the inception of numerous competitions and festivals which allowed him to encourage and promote this music to an ever wider audience. In 1967, as part of the Royan International Festival of Contemporary Art (1965-1972), he launched the "Messiaen competition" for the contemporary piano. He continued this role with the Festival des arts de Persépolis (1967-1970) and the International Meetings of Contemporary Art in La Rochelle (1973-1979), then the Rencontres de Musique Contemporain in Metz and the Festival of Traditional Arts in Reindeer.

He was also the initiator of several City of Paris competitions, such as the Jean-Pierre Rampal flute competition, the Maurice André trumpet competition, the Martial Solal piano-jazz competition and the Étienne Vatelot violin-making and archery competition. .

First appointed adviser for programming and production at Radio France, Claude Samuel occupied the position of Music Director from 1990. In the same year, he launched the first edition of the festival "Présences", a contemporary music festival which brought together a large and varied audience. Claude Samuel was also the confidant of the greatest contemporary composers of his time, notably Olivier Messiaen, of whom he was the author of biographies and collections of interviews, as well as Pierre Boulez and Iannis Xenakis. In the early 1960's he was head of the Vega record label that launched Domain Musical recordings with Boulez and many first edition recordings of Messiaen.

JB St James's 065.jpg

Jennifer Bate OBE, BA (Hons), Hon DMus (Bristol), FRCO, ARCM, LRAM, FRSA (1944-2020)


Sir Andrew Parmley. Director of the Royal College of Organists


With great sadness the College has learned of the death of Jennifer Bate.  She was the daughter of H A Bate, organist of St James, Muswell Hill, in London, and studied theory and composition with him from a young age.  She became a member of the RCO in July 1966 and within a year had achieved both ARCO and FRCO.  She became a favourite at all the world’s great festivals, performing in over 40 countries: last year she celebrated a 50-year career as a full-time professional organist.


Her father emphasized the importance of working with living composers, inviting them to come and hear her playing their music and advise her on how to play it better - leading to long-standing friendships with composers including Sir Lennox Berkeley, Peter Dickinson, Flor Peeters and Peter Racine Fricker. 


Jennifer was recognised as the world authority on the organ works of Olivier Messiaen with whom she worked extensively.  She gave the British premiere of his Livre du Saint Sacrament, and her recording of the work won a Grand Prix du Disque.  In 2011, President Sarcozy appointed her to the rank of Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur, with the citation Organiste, Spécialiste de l’oeuvre de Messiaen.  The same year, the French government also awarded her the rank of Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres for her work worldwide to help French organ music capture a wider audience.


As well as the works of Messiaen, Jennifer’s discography includes the music of Elgar, Stanford, Whitlock, the Wesleys and their contemporaries, and the complete organ works of Franck and Mendelssohn.


Composers including William Mathias and Naji Hakim wrote for her, and her own compositions for organ, written for concert performance rather than liturgical use, were frequently commissioned for particular events or instruments.


Jennifer gave the opening celebrity recital at the Royal Festival Hall in 2014 after the refurbishment of the Hall and organ, and acted as organ consultant when the Harrison & Harrison organ at St James Muswell Hill, installed by her father after the war, required restoration, giving the reopening recital in October 2011.


Jennifer pioneered programmes to introduce the organ to children.  She was a Patron of the Society of Women Organists, formed last year, and her annual Jennifer Bate Organ Academy, now in its 15th year, is a unique course promoting all-round musicianship for young women.


Peter Dickinson, The Guardian 30th March 2020


The organist Jennifer Bate, who has died aged 75 from cancer, was a leading exponent of the music of Olivier Messiaen. They met in 1975, when the composer and his wife, Yvonne Loriod, went to hear her play his music at St James’s, Muswell Hill, north London. Afterwards he asked her if she had heard his own recordings. She had not, but it emerged that she played exactly as he did and he was delighted.

They kept in touch, and the uncanny rapport between them lasted until his death in 1992. He heard her play many times and wrote that she was “an excellent organist, not only for her virtuosity. She is a really accomplished musician who loves what she plays and knows how to make others love it too.” She supported many other living composers and made a CD of my own complete organ works and played them all over the world.

Jennifer’s international career led her into some challenging situations. One organist in France was so angry he had not been asked to perform that he sabotaged her recital by locking doors, turning the power off and making noises during the programme. In Medellín, Colombia, she was not met because her contact failed to realise that she could be a woman.


She once had to get to a recital at St Mark’s, Venice, by wading through the square in 2ft of water. Jennifer loved northern Italy, giving some 150 recitals there, and her constant tours outside Europe took her to Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the Caribbean and South America.

In her first two Proms appearances (1974-75) she played major organ works by Liszt. Her first recording, in 1978, featured the same composer, on the same Royal Albert Hall instrument. Her complete Messiaen is a landmark; so is the complete Mendelssohn, for which she supplied endings to some unfinished pieces, and a complete César Franck; then came a whole series of British works including early music CDs of 18th century composers from John Stanley to Samuel Wesley, on instruments of the period. She was always concerned about the organs she was going to play, matching programmes carefully, and usually expected three days on which to rehearse.


In 1986 she gave the British premiere of Messiaen’s two-hour Livre du Saint Sacrement in a sold-out Westminster Cathedral with the composer present. Her subsequent recording gained a Grand Prix du Disque.


Born in London, Jennifer said of her mother, Dorothy (nee Hunt) that she was “the daughter of an organist, sister of an organist, married to an organist and eventually had me, yet another organist”. Her father, Horace, was the organist and choirmaster at St James’s Church, Muswell Hill, and a well-known teacher of the instrument. An only child, at the age of four Jennifer went to school able to read words as well as music. Her father was influential throughout his lifetime: he was a stern taskmaster, but his insight was invaluable.

In her early teens Bate was a pianist but she realised that her hands were too small. So her father showed her what the organ could do and she was hooked. She gained ARCM (1961) and LRAM (1963) diplomas in organ performance, with record high marks, but her father thought she needed a general education, so from Tollington school she went to Bristol University to study music.

There her professor told her she would never make a living playing the organ, so on graduating in 1966 she became a librarian at the London School of Economics. Three years later, student disturbances there gave her three weeks off on full pay, during which she could learn major works at St James’s, and so encouraged her to return to music.


In 1968 she had married the somewhat older organist George Thalben-Ball, having “fallen in love with his musicianship the first time she met him”. She looked after him during a serious illness, but they divorced in 1972.

When Jennifer embarked on her career as an independent concert artist she had no teaching post to support her, but her tours abroad took off from 1970. For her first recital in Paris she invited the organist of Notre Dame and his assistant as well as the composers Duruflé and Langlais with their wives. They all came.

In these years Jennifer started to open new organs and to broadcast for the BBC. She composed some pieces and recorded them, and in the new century ran an annual course for young women organists aged 13 to 21, the Jennifer Bate Organ Academy. She was also a fluent writer.

Her many awards included being made chevalier of the Légion d’honneur (2011), and in Britain she received an honorary doctorate from Bristol University (2007) and was appointed OBE (2008). She was a radiant personality who endeared herself to everyone when she played, lectured or taught.

Jennifer is survived by her partner, Andrew Roberts.

• Jennifer Lucy Bate, organist, born 11 November 1944; died 25 March 2020

See also Messiaen and Jennifer Bate here

Jennifer Bate b.1944 d.2020

It is with sadness that we report the passing of Pascal Emmanuel Messiaen (b.1937) the only son of Olivier and Claire Delbos (Messiaen's first wife). Pascal passed away on 31st January 2020 and is survived by his wife Josette who he married in 1958.


French punk rock artist nods to Messiaen!

Didier Wampas and Bikini Machine

Olivier Messiaen here

The Olivier Messiaen Foundation was formed to preserve and cherish the work of Olivier Messiaen, one of the major composers of contemporary music in France in the twentieth century.
The Olivier Messiaen Foundation was created in 1995 under the aegis of the Fondation de France by his widow Yvonne Loriod Messiaen 3 years after the death of her husband. 
The foundation will enable the creation of a museum, concerts, master classes etc. at Petitchet in the Isère region of France and also contribute to the conservation of manuscripts, works annotations and belongings. Much of these documents have already been entrusted to the National Library of France (BNF). The Foundation also supports young composers and pianists, as well as researchers or authors dedicated to the work of Olivier Messiaen.
 La Fondation Messiaen               Maison Messiaen

The Olivier Messiaen Foundation, under the aegis of the Fondation de France, told the BNF all manuscripts, archives, scores, records, books, photographs and objects collected by Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) and his wife Yvonne Loriod Messiaen (1924-2010), be held at the BNF forthwith.

Messiaen himself had already given some documents in the 50's and others had been filed by Yvonne Loriod Messiaen after 1992.
Nearly two hundred fifty linear meters of documents (manuscripts of his works, letters, books, photographs, sound recordings, programs) have now joined the departments of 
Music and Audiovisual in the National Library of France.
The material will be gradually made available to researchers, musicians, music lovers worldwide.


Fauvettes de L'Hérault - concert des garrigues - (work reconstructed by Roger Muraro)
At the turn of the 1960s, Olivier Messiaen left unfinished the composition of a great concerto that he could have titled Les Oiseaux de l'Hérault. The work, for piano, several soloists and orchestra, was to respond to an official commission for the centenary of Claude Debussy, in 1962.

The trip to Japan by Olivier Messiaen and Yvonne Loriod in the summer of 1962 disrupted the development of this concerto. The fascination that Messiaen had for this country inspires him indeed Sept Haïkaï for piano solo and small ensemble. Undoubtedly pressed by the deadlines, he resumed and adapted some of the themes of the concerto, to Sept Haïkaï. It is by mixing songs of birds of Japan and some of southern France that the composer would pay tribute to Debussy.

If the first works found in the concerto propose a too brief orchestration, the score of the piano solo, on the other hand, is magnificent, brilliant and among the most daring of this period. Based on birds' notes taken in 1958 in the Hérault, the work reveals new songs, including the improvisations of a stunning polyglot Hypolaïs and warblers who compete with virtuosity.

Taking again the indications of structure left by the author, Fauvettes de l'Hérault - garrigue concert is the title I chose to give to the piece for piano alone, among those evoked by Messiaen in the manuscripts of the concerto.
I thank the Fondation Olivier Messiaen and the BnF for their unfailing support of my work. (Roger Muraro)

Tokyo naturally imposed itself for the world premiere. Roger Muraro performed Fauvettes de l'Hérault - concert of the garrigues for piano solo, at Toppan Hall, on June 23, 2017, underlining in fact the close links between this new work and Sept Haïkaï.


***Messiaen world premiere at the BBC Proms 2015 thanks to

Birmingham Conservatoire academic***

Christopher Dingle, Professor of Music at Birmingham Conservatoire, has devoted much of his professional career to studying Messiaen.
The new piece Un oiseau des arbres de Vie will most likely be the last mature orchestral work to emerge from the catalogue of one of the most influential composers of the 20th century. The composition was previously intended for Messiaen’s final completed orchestral work Éclairs sur l’Au-Delà… (1987-91) and contained his familiar signature ‘Bien’ indicating the movement was complete.
The movement lasts about four minutes and the material comes from Messiaen’s transcription of the song of the Tui, a New Zealand bird. A keen ornithologist, all of Messiaen’s music from the 1950s onwards includes birdsong, while much of his music expresses his Catholic faith.

Christopher Dingle’s research on the piece was supported by the French Music Research Hub at Birmingham Conservatoire, part of Birmingham City University, and he drew on over 20 years’ study of Messiaen’s oeuvre to fully realise the three-stave score.


He said: “From everything we know of Messiaen, it is almost certain that he would have used this movement in another work had he lived longer – it is too good a piece to discard. I am hugely excited about hearing the piece, and this is likely to be the last premiere of a complete mature orchestral movement by Messiaen.

“Birdsong was a fascination of his throughout his life, but he became more rigorous and scientific in his approach from the 1950s onwards. He filled many manuscript books with birdsong notations, and much of it was done in the field, but he also used recordings, working the birdsong into his compositions.
“His use of birdsong is much more sophisticated than any other composer in terms of the species he represented, the interpretation of song, and the notation. He regarded birds as God’s musicians, almost like angels.”

Un oiseau des arbres de Vie is a challenging piece. The orchestra is very large, the woodwind section including seven flutes and eight clarinets, while there is also plenty of tuned and unpitched percussion, and multiple changes of tempo.
Dingle added: “It’s fast and furious, with the song flying around the instruments and continually punctuated by a punchy gesture for the whole orchestra. I think it will be breath-taking for the audience and leave the conductor and orchestra breathless!”

The world premiere of Olivier Messiaen’s Un oiseau des arbres de Vie took place on 7 August at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the BBC Proms. It was performed by the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Nicholas Collon.


The eagerly awaited recording of La Fauvette Passerinette by Peter Hill relased by Delphian DCD34141.
La Fauvette Passerinette – a Messiaen world premiere, with birds, homages and landscapes (Messiaen, Stockhausen, Ravel, Anderson, Dutilleux, Sculthorpe, Young, Takemitsu,Murail and Benjamin). 

Gillian Weir and Olivier Messiaen (1988)

The Gillian Weir Messiaen Prize
will be awarded annually for the next 10 years for the best performance by a student at Birmingham City University’s Royal Birmingham Conservatoire of a work or works by French composer Olivier Messiaen.

During her illustrious international career, Dame Gillian has been particularly renowned for her performances of Messiaen’s organ music; she made the first commercial recording of the complete works, gave the UK première from the composer's manuscript of the ‘Méditations sur le Mystère de la Sainte Trinité’, and has written, lectured and broadcast extensively on his music. 

Concerning the gift, she spoke of her admiration of the work being done in the Conservatoire’s Organ Department and congratulated them on their glowing international reputation. The award was facilitated by Conservatoire organ tutor Henry Fairs, whose own career has also included complete performances of the composer’s music. 

Daniel Moult, the current Head of Organ Studies, commented:
“All of us in the Organ Department are honoured and delighted that Dame Gillian should aid our students in such a generous and palpable way. Many young musicians are in need of every conceivable financial assistance, and this prestigious prize will be much coveted and appreciated for years to come in the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.”

Part of Birmingham City University, the new Royal Birmingham Conservatoire is a unique contemporary building, incorporating five public performance spaces including a new 500 seat concert hall for orchestral training and performance, a purpose-built organ studio and private rehearsal and practice rooms. Furthermore, as the first purpose built conservatoire in the UK since 1987, the £57 million institution which opened last year is the only one of its kind in the country designed for the demands of the digital age.
The Organ Studio at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, for example, houses a Eule Pipe organ with extensive plans for additional new instruments, and features overhead performance lighting and a Dante audio network for flexible location recording purposes.
The venue has a distinctive shape and tranquil atmosphere created by natural light flooding onto the pale wood of the interior. It is completely flexible in terms of the set-up and layout of the performance area and audience seating.
Meanwhile, organ music plays a vital role in the life of the city of Birmingham, with regular recitals given by City Organist Thomas Trotter and guests on the Town Hall’s historic instrument by William Hill and Symphony Hall’s Klais organ. Birmingham is also home to the libraries of the Royal College of Organists and the British Institute of Organ Studies.

The first Gillian Weir Messiaen Prize competition will took place at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, with the winner awarded £1,000. See Gillian Weir's Homepage

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