Olivier Messiaen

Olivier Messiaen
Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) with students from London’s Royal Academy of Music

My wonderful composition teacher at Ulster University, Dr David Morris, is an authority on the music of the French composer Olivier Messiaen. My piano teacher at university encouraged me to play Messiaen’s piano music. The divine Vingt regards sur l’enfant Jésus (1944) were a revelation.

Messiaen’s musical language took me a little while to fathom. After a katharsis I broke down in tears so beautiful was his sound world and its message. I learned Messiaen’s techniques from analysis and performance and from reading his book La téchnique de mon langage musical (1944). Of influence have been his additive approach to rhythm, use of the deçi-tâlas of Sharngadeva, added resonance, listening to birdsong, synthetic modal harmony, sound-as-colour, symmetry, symbolism and the use of prime numbers.

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