Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992)

Episodes

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01A Student In Paris20170710

Donald Macleod focuses on Messiaen's student days in Paris.

Donald Macleod explores Olivier Messiaen's student days in Paris

Olivier Messiaen was the single most important contributor to the organ repertoire in the twentieth century. He took up learning the organ whilst he was a student in Paris, and was fortunate to hear virtuoso organists around the city, including Louis Vierne, Charles Tournemire, Charles-Marie Widor and Marcel Dupré. Aged just twenty-two, he succeeded Charles Quef as titular organist at the Sainte-Trinité in Paris. Messiaen remained in this post for over sixty years, composing many solo works for the organ that pushed the instrument to its very limits. He rose to become one of the leading composers in France, and also a worldwide musical celebrity. This week Donald Macleod focuses each day on one specific organ work Messiaen composed, whilst exploring the period in which it was written along with those other instrumental works from the same time.

Olivier Messiaen didn't come from a musical background. He taught himself the piano and at the age of eleven started attending classes at the Paris Conservatoire. Amongst his earliest works are his Preludes for solo piano, composed in the aftermath of his mother's death. By 1930 Messiaen had won the conservatoire's First Prize for composition. In that same year he composed his work for solo organ, Diptyque, which he described as an essay on earthly life and eternal happiness in two parts. Messiaen's faith would always be a key part of his life, and integral to his music. In that same year, 1930, he composed a cantata about transcendence, La mort du nombre, exploring the relationship between human time and eternal time, between music and silence.

Offrande au Saint-Sacrement
Olivier Latry, organ

A Reflection in the Wind (Prelude No 8)
Pierre-Laurent Aimard, piano

Diptyque
Hans-Ola Ericsson, organ

Les Offrandes oubliées
Orchestre National de Lyon
Jun Märkl, conductor

La Mort du nombre
Jaël Azzaretti, soprano
James Oxley, tenor
Christophe Poiget, violin
Alice Ader, piano

Producer Luke Whitlock.

02Working At The Sainte-trinite20170711

Donald Macleod focuses on Messiaen's appointment as organist at Sainte-Trinite in Paris.

The devil's voice is heard in Messiaen's music presented by Donald Macleod

Olivier Messiaen was the single most important contributor to the organ repertoire in the twentieth century. He took up learning the organ whilst he was a student in Paris, and was fortunate to hear virtuoso organists around the city including Louis Vierne, Charles Tournemire, Charles-Marie Widor and Marcel Dupré. Aged just twenty-two, he succeeded Charles Quef as titular organist at the Sainte-Trinité in Paris. Messiaen remained in this post for over sixty years, composing many solo works for the organ that pushed the instrument to its very limits. He rose to become one of the leading composers in France, and also a worldwide musical celebrity. This week Donald Macleod focuses each day on one specific organ work Messiaen composed, whilst exploring the period in which it was written along with those other instrumental works from the same time.

In 1931 Messiaen was appointed the youngest titular organist in Paris, at Sainte-Trinité. Members of the congregation were alarmed by his occasional adventurous and dissonant improvisation at the organ, and some claimed they could hear the devil's voice emerging from the organ pipes. It was in these early years, after leaving his studies at the Paris Conservatoire, that he composed his orchestral work Le tombeau resplendissant. Messiaen said of this work that he wanted to write a kind of Beatitude for those who discover in their faith something more than the illusion of distant youth. The following year, 1932, he married the violinist Claire Delbos, who was the daughter of a professor at the Sorbonne University. His wedding gift to his new bride was a chamber work, a Theme and Variations for them both to play together on the violin and piano. By 1934 Messiaen had completed a new work for solo organ called L'Ascension. Originally for orchestra, he transcribed this piece for organ adding a new third movement. Like so many of his compositions, L'Ascension is deeply rooted within Messiaen's own Christian beliefs.

Livre d'orgue (2nd mvt Première pièce en trio)
Olivier Messiaen, organ

Le Tombeau resplendissant
Orchestre de l'Opéra Bastille
Myung-Whun Chung, conductor

Theme and Variations
Maxim Vengerov, violin
Itamar Golan, piano

L'Ascension
Thomas Trotter, organ

Producer Luke Whitlock.

03Exploring The Music Of Peru20170712

Donald Macleod focuses on Messiaen's Peruvian-inspired works.

Donald Macleod journeys through Olivier Messiaen's Peruvian inspired compositions

Olivier Messiaen was the single most important contributor to the organ repertoire in the twentieth century. He took up learning the organ whilst he was a student in Paris, and was fortunate to hear virtuoso organists around the city including Louis Vierne, Charles Tournemire, Charles-Marie Widor and Marcel Dupré. Aged just twenty-two, he succeeded Charles Quef as titular organist at the Sainte-Trinité in Paris. Messiaen remained in this post for over sixty years, composing many solo works for the organ that pushed the instrument to its very limits. He rose to become one of the leading composers in France, and also a worldwide musical celebrity. This week Donald Macleod focuses each day on one specific organ work Messiaen composed, whilst exploring the period in which it was written along with those other instrumental works from the same time.

In the years following World War Two, Olivier Messiaen who up until that point was regarded mainly as a parish organist, found himself propelled into the limelight. He was referred to as the Atomic Bomb of Contemporary Music. In the summer of 1945 he turned his attention to a song cycle called Harawi, exploring themes of Love and Death. These songs may have been inspired by his wife Claire who was now seriously ill, or by a new women in his life, the pianist Yvonne Loriod. Similar to his Peruvian folklore-inspired choral work Cinq Rechants from a few years later, Harawi is in part based on the Quechua language of Peru. By 1947, Messiaen returned to the Paris Conservatoire as a teacher. Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen, George Benjamin and even Quincy Jones were all taught by him at some point. Just a few years later, after a gap of some ten years, Messiaen returned to writing music for the organ with his Livre d'orgue. It is a pioneering work which pushes the instruments boundaries to the very limits. In this music Messiaen was keen to abolish our perception of time by employing heterophony, where several musical structures proceed alongside each other without perceptible coordination.

Chant des déportés
BBC Symphony Chorus
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Andrew Davis, conductor

L'Amour de Piroutcha (Harawi)
Rachel Yakar, soprano
Yvonne Loriod, piano

Cinq Rechants
RIAS Chamber Choir
Daniel Reuss, director

Livre d'orgue (5th - 7th mvts)
Hans-Ola Ericsson, organ

Producer Luke Whitlock.

04Becoming A Celebrity20170713

Donald Macleod explores Messiaen's period of fame.

Donald Macleod explores Olivier Messiaen's period of fame

Olivier Messiaen was the single most important contributor to the organ repertoire in the twentieth century. He took up learning the organ whilst he was a student in Paris, and was fortunate to hear virtuoso organists around the city including Louis Vierne, Charles Tournemire, Charles-Marie Widor and Marcel Dupré. Aged just twenty-two, he succeeded Charles Quef as titular organist at the Sainte-Trinité in Paris. Messiaen remained in this post for over sixty years, composing many solo works for the organ that pushed the instrument to its very limits. He rose to become one of the leading composers in France, and also a worldwide musical celebrity. This week Donald Macleod focuses each day on one specific organ work Messiaen composed, whilst exploring the period in which it was written along with those other instrumental works from the same time.

By the 1960s Olivier Messiaen had married his second wife, the pianist Yvonne Loriod. The couple were invited to tour Japan in 1962, where he was enthralled by the landscape and the birds whose songs he recorded. Messiaen was also amazed by the enthusiastic reception they received in Japan, where they were treated like celebrities and constantly filmed. He had now risen to a figure of national and international importance, and soon came a commission from André Malraux, the Minister of Culture under General de Gaulle. For this commission Messiaen composed his orchestral work Et exspecto ressurrectionem mortuorum, which was a memorial to the French dead of the two world wars. He was still very active as an organist at the Sainte-Trinité in Paris, and a few years later in 1969 Messiaen completed his Meditation on the mystery of the Holy Trinity for organ.

Préludes pour piano
Håkon Austbø, piano

Monodie
Gillian Weir, organ

Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum
Cleveland Orchestra
Pierre Boulez, conductor

Méditations sur le mystère de la Sainte Trinité (Meditation VIII & IX)
Olivier Messiaen, organ

Producer Luke Whitlock.

04Becoming A Celebrity20170713

Donald Macleod explores Messiaen's period of fame.

Donald Macleod explores Olivier Messiaen's period of fame

Olivier Messiaen was the single most important contributor to the organ repertoire in the twentieth century. He took up learning the organ whilst he was a student in Paris, and was fortunate to hear virtuoso organists around the city including Louis Vierne, Charles Tournemire, Charles-Marie Widor and Marcel Dupré. Aged just twenty-two, he succeeded Charles Quef as titular organist at the Sainte-Trinité in Paris. Messiaen remained in this post for over sixty years, composing many solo works for the organ that pushed the instrument to its very limits. He rose to become one of the leading composers in France, and also a worldwide musical celebrity. This week Donald Macleod focuses each day on one specific organ work Messiaen composed, whilst exploring the period in which it was written along with those other instrumental works from the same time.

By the 1960s Olivier Messiaen had married his second wife, the pianist Yvonne Loriod. The couple were invited to tour Japan in 1962, where he was enthralled by the landscape and the birds whose songs he recorded. Messiaen was also amazed by the enthusiastic reception they received in Japan, where they were treated like celebrities and constantly filmed. He had now risen to a figure of national and international importance, and soon came a commission from André Malraux, the Minister of Culture under General de Gaulle. For this commission Messiaen composed his orchestral work Et exspecto ressurrectionem mortuorum, which was a memorial to the French dead of the two world wars. He was still very active as an organist at the Sainte-Trinité in Paris, and a few years later in 1969 Messiaen completed his Meditation on the mystery of the Holy Trinity for organ.

Préludes pour piano
Håkon Austbø, piano

Monodie
Gillian Weir, organ

Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum
Cleveland Orchestra
Pierre Boulez, conductor

Méditations sur le mystère de la Sainte Trinité (Meditation VIII and IX)
Olivier Messiaen, organ

Producer Luke Whitlock.

05Inspired By The Music Of Mozart20170714

Donald Macleod focuses on Messiaen's love for Mozart's music.

Donald Macleod delves into Olivier Messiaen's love for the music of Mozart

Olivier Messiaen was the single most important contributor to the organ repertoire in the twentieth century. He took up learning the organ whilst he was a student in Paris, and was fortunate to hear virtuoso organists around the city including Louis Vierne, Charles Tournemire, Charles-Marie Widor and Marcel Dupré. Aged just twenty-two, he succeeded Charles Quef as titular organist at the Sainte-Trinité in Paris. Messiaen remained in this post for over sixty years, composing many solo works for the organ that pushed the instrument to its very limits. He rose to become one of the leading composers in France, and also a worldwide musical celebrity. This week Donald Macleod focuses each day on one specific organ work Messiaen composed, whilst exploring the period in which it was written along with those other instrumental works from the same time.

Mozart was one of Messiaen's favourite composers, and he created a number of works inspired by Mozart including The Smile, Chant dans le style de Mozart and Concert à quatre. That final work for full orchestra Messiaen left incomplete, and it was finished by the composer's wife Yvonne Loriod in consultation with the oboist Heinz Holliger, and one of Messiaen's former pupils, the composer George Benjamin. Although in his final years Messiaen had to give up teaching at the Paris Conservatoire, he did remain organist at the Sainte-Trinité in Paris where a hand rail was even put in place to help Messiaen reach the organ loft. In that decade before his death, Messiaen composed another monumental work for the organ, Livre du Saint Sacrement, which was another work very much connected with the composer's deep-rooted Christian faith.

Chant dans le style de Mozart
Guy Deplus, clarinet
Yvonne Loriod, piano

Livre du Saint Sacrement (7th - 10th mvts)
Gillian Weir, organ

Petites esquisses d'oiseaux (1st - 2nd mvts)
Yvonne Loriod, piano

Concert à quatre
Catherine Cantin, flute
Heinz Holliger, oboe
Yvonne Loriod, piano
Mstislav Rostropovich, cello
Orchestre de l'Opéra Bastille
Myung-Whun Chung, conductor

Producer Luke Whitlock.

05 LASTInspired By The Music Of Mozart20170714

Donald Macleod focuses on Messiaen's love for Mozart's music.

Donald Macleod delves into Olivier Messiaen's love for the music of Mozart

Olivier Messiaen was the single most important contributor to the organ repertoire in the twentieth century. He took up learning the organ whilst he was a student in Paris, and was fortunate to hear virtuoso organists around the city including Louis Vierne, Charles Tournemire, Charles-Marie Widor and Marcel Dupré. Aged just twenty-two, he succeeded Charles Quef as titular organist at the Sainte-Trinité in Paris. Messiaen remained in this post for over sixty years, composing many solo works for the organ that pushed the instrument to its very limits. He rose to become one of the leading composers in France, and also a worldwide musical celebrity. This week Donald Macleod focuses each day on one specific organ work Messiaen composed, whilst exploring the period in which it was written along with those other instrumental works from the same time.

Mozart was one of Messiaen's favourite composers, and he created a number of works inspired by Mozart including The Smile, Chant dans le style de Mozart and Concert à quatre. That final work for full orchestra Messiaen left incomplete, and it was finished by the composer's wife Yvonne Loriod in consultation with the oboist Heinz Holliger, and one of Messiaen's former pupils, the composer George Benjamin. Although in his final years Messiaen had to give up teaching at the Paris Conservatoire, he did remain organist at the Sainte-Trinité in Paris where a hand rail was even put in place to help Messiaen reach the organ loft. In that decade before his death, Messiaen composed another monumental work for the organ, Livre du Saint Sacrement, which was another work very much connected with the composer's deep-rooted Christian faith.

Chant dans le style de Mozart
Guy Deplus, clarinet
Yvonne Loriod, piano

Livre du Saint Sacrement (7th - 10th mvts)
Gillian Weir, organ

Petites esquisses d'oiseaux (1st - 2nd mvts)
Yvonne Loriod, piano

Concert à quatre
Catherine Cantin, flute
Heinz Holliger, oboe
Yvonne Loriod, piano
Mstislav Rostropovich, cello
Orchestre de l'Opéra Bastille
Myung-Whun Chung, conductor

Producer Luke Whitlock.