1st Edition

Olivier Messiaen: Oiseaux exotiques

By Peter Hill, Nigel Simeone Copyright 2007
    140 Pages
    by Routledge

    What makes Oiseaux exotiques so important is that it is arguably the first of Messiaen's major works to create a successful synthesis between his music and his passion for ornithology. The earliest composition to use birdsong to a significant extent was the Quatuor pour la fin du Temps (1940-41). A newspaper interview a few years later (France-Soir, 1948) demonstrates Messiaen's growing desire to move away from the stylization that had characterized the Quatuor towards a much greater realism, based on a close observation of birds in their natural habitat. At the same time, Messiaen continued to regard birdsong as music - and divinely inspired music at that - a belief that led for a time to an obsession with truth-to-nature. Against this background, Oiseaux exotiques proves to be a landmark, the work in which Messiaen the musician began to regain the upper hand over Messiaen the ornithologist. The introductory chapter (Chapter 1) outlines the background to Oiseaux exotiques, discussing Messiaen's relations with the 1950s avant garde - in particular with his former pupil Pierre Boulez - and his involvement with the concerts of the Domaine musical, for which Oiseaux exotiques was composed. In Chapter 2, access to Messiaen's sketches enables the authors to analyse his compositional methods in unprecedented detail; a generous number of music examples refer to birdsong recordings actually used by Messiaen (which can be heard on the accompanying CD), and trace step-by-step the evolution of musical ideas from first notation to finished score. Chapter 3 provides a commentary on the music, investigating issues of continuity and texture, and revealing the processes underlying the score's dazzling profusion. In two further chapters Peter Hill and Nigel Simeone recount the reception history of Oiseaux exotiques, and compare recorded interpretations, taking as their point of departure the historic premiere, included in full on the CD. Finally, the Conclusion considers

    Contents: Introduction; Context; Birdsong and sketches; Commentary; First performance, reception and publication; Interpretations; Postscript; Appendix A:the birds in Oiseaux exotiques; Bibliography; Discography; CD track list; Index.


    Peter Hill is Professor of Music at the University of Sheffield. A former student of Messiaen, he is editor of The Messiaen Companion (1995), and co-author, with Nigel Simeone, of the ground-breaking biography, Messiaen (2005). As a pianist he is a leading performer of Messiaen's music, and has recorded the composer's complete works. Nigel Simeone is Professor of Historical Musicology at the University of Sheffield. He is the author of Paris: A Musical Gazetteer (2000), two books on Messiaen, and co-author, with Peter Hill, of the acclaimed biography Messiaen (2005).

    'In Olivier Messiaen: Oiseaux exotiques, Peter Hill and Nigel Simeone have provided a fascinating study that draws together several strands of musicological research, including source studies, reception history, commentary and analysis. This beautifully written book is an original and fascinating exploration of the surprising alliance of music and nature by one of the twentieth century's most underrated composers. It is the first study to present new material from Messiaen's cahiers, and its commentary to the music on the accompanying CD makes this book a tremendously engaging read. Against the context of music in Paris and Messiaen's personal life, the authors present a systematic and comprehensive study of the piece in which Messiaen's birdsong style ceases to be mere transcription and becomes an integral part of his musical language. Olivier Messiaen: Oiseaux exotiques joins a small number of books that both break new scholarly ground and also appeal to general readers-in particular, those willing to listen to Messiaen's music with spirit and with understanding.' Andrew Shenton, Boston University, author of Olivier Messiaen's System of Signs. ’Olivier Messiaen: Oiseaux exotiques shows Ashgate's ongoing commitment to the work of Messiaen and the well-honed team of Hill and Simeone provide a highly readable and communicable account of this seminal work...pitched ideally and is approachable from enthusiasts as well as students and academia. The book is presented in the usual high quality Ashgate style with beautifully set musical examples’ www.oliviermessiaen.org ’... intelligence, common sense and musical insight do all that is required.’ (Five star rating) BBC Music Magazine ’... an ideal subject for Ashgate's 'Landmarks in Music Since 1950' series, while the combination of Hill and Smeone is, to put it mildly, an extremely effective marriage of talents. Although doubtless an over-simplification, Hill takes the lead in the musical commentary, drawing