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Messiaen, Loriod, Birds and Bees

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2020


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1 Soret, Marie-Gabrielle, ‘Le Fonds Olivier Messiaen, présence des oeuvres pour piano’, paper presented at the Nineteenth Festival Messiaen du pays de la Meije: ‘Le piano selon Messiaen’, La Grave, 23–31 July 2016.Google Scholar

2 Soret, Marie-Gabrielle, ‘Olivier Messiaen le défricheur’, Chroniques de la BNF, 75 (2016), 23.Google Scholar

3 Messiaen, Olivier, Traité de rythme, de couleur, et d'ornithologie (1949–1992), 7 vols. (Paris: Alphonse Leduc, 1994).Google Scholar

4 Incidentally, the archive contains an actual collection of stones gathered by Messiaen and Loriod from around the world.Google Scholar

5 The contents of the archive, as they continue to be inventoried, can be viewed at <>..>Google Scholar

6 Murray, Christopher Brent, ‘Le développement du langage musical d'Olivier Messiaen: Traditions, emprunts, expériences' (Ph.D. dissertation, Université-Lumière Lyon 2, 2010).Google Scholar

7 Hill, Peter and Simeone, Nigel, Messiaen (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005).Google Scholar

8 The only exception to this are the sketches of one work, Visions de l'Amen, which had been held in the BNF since 1950 (Le modèle et l'invention, 8).Google Scholar

9 Peter Hill has been working with these cahiers for over a decade.Google Scholar

10 See Broad, Stephen, Olivier Messiaen: Journalism 1935–1939 (Farnham: Ashgate, 2012).Google Scholar

11 Messiaen, Olivier, Technique de mon langage musical (Paris: Alphonse Leduc, 1944). The main controversy surrounding Messiaen during this decade, particularly in reaction to the perceived dissonance between his rapturous musical results, his extravagant procedural methods and his outspoken Catholicism, became known as ‘Le cas Messiaen’. See Hill and Simeone, Messiaen, 142–75. On another major controversy into which Messiaen was drawn, see Sprout, Leslie, ‘The 1945 Stravinsky Debates: Nigg, Messiaen, and the Early Cold War in France’, Journal of Musicology, 26 (2009), 85–131.Google Scholar

12 Benitez, Vincent, ‘Reconsidering Messiaen as Serialist’, Music Analysis, 28 (2009), 267–99; Timothy Cochran, ‘“The Pebble in the Water”: Messiaen, Debussy and the Meaning of Rhythmic Contrast’, Journal of Musicology, 31 (2014), 503–40.Google Scholar

13 I am loosely appropriating the concepts of ‘resisting’ and ‘assenting’ readership from Judith Fetterley's landmark literary study, The Resisting Reader: A Feminist Approach to American Fiction (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1978).Google Scholar

14 For a recent reference on confronting the writing of composers, containing articles on Messiaen among many others, see Écrits de compositeurs: Une autorité en questions, ed. Michel Duchesneau, Valérie Dufour and Marie-Hélène Benoit-Otis (Paris: Vrin, 2013).Google Scholar

15 Forte, Allen, ‘Olivier Messiaen as Serialist’, Music Analysis, 21 (2002), 3–34 (p. 3).Google Scholar

16 Gavoty, Bernard, ‘Musique et mystique: Le “cas” Messiaen’, Études, 10–12 (1945), 26–7. Quoted in full in Le modèle et l'invention, 20.Google Scholar

17 Nevertheless, others before Balmer, Lacôte and Murray have been privy to a range of Messiaen's borrowings, without ever studying the practice in depth. See, for example, Julian Anderson, ‘Messiaen and the Notion of Influence’, Tempo, 63/247 (2009), 2–18.Google Scholar

18 The most thorough distillation of the authors' methods and findings other than the book, and in English, can be found in Balmer, Lacôte and Murray's ‘Messiaen the Borrower: Recomposing Debussy through the Deforming Prism’, Journal of the American Musicological Society, 69 (2016), 699–791; versions of other composer-orientated chapters have been published in their ‘Un cri de passion ne s'analyse pas: Olivier Messiaen's Harmonic Borrowings from Jules Massenet’, Twentieth-Century Music, 13 (2016), 233–60; and ‘Jolivet Revisited: Messiaen's Borrowings in the Incantatory Works of the 1930s’, André Jolivet: Music, Art and Literature, ed. Caroline Rae (Abingdon: Routledge, 2018), 188–205.Google Scholar

19 BNF, Fonds Olivier Messiaen et Yvonne Loriod, RES VMA MS-1494, ‘Messe de la Pentecôte, pour Orgue: esquisses préparatoires (ca. 1950)’; see also RES VMA MS-1982 (2), ‘Notes (textuelles et musicales), esquisses, brouillons rassemblés: Premières recherches pour les Quatre études de rythme’. These latter notes suggest that Messiaen's interest in the Variationen was in part due to his reading of the work's opening in terms of non-retrogradable rhythms.Google Scholar

20 BNF, Fonds Olivier Messiaen et Yvonne Loriod, RES VMA MS-1491, ‘Cahier de travail, dit “Cahier Vert”’, pp. 62, 83.Google Scholar

21 For one perspective on the difference between musical ‘models' and ‘influences’, see Taruskin, Richard, ‘Review: Revising Revision’, Journal of the American Musicological Society, 46 (1993), 114–38 (pp. 117ff.).Google Scholar

22 Pople, Anthony, ‘Messiaen's Musical Language: An Introduction’, The Messiaen Companion, ed. Peter Hill (London: Faber and Faber, 1994), 25–50 (p. 47).Google Scholar

23 See, for example, Historical Interplay in French Music and Culture, 1860–1960, ed. Deborah Mawer (Abingdon: Routledge, 2018), which includes a chapter on Messiaen by Christopher Dingle, ‘Commission and Omission: The Canon According to Messiaen’ (pp. 214–32).Google Scholar

24 Szendy, Peter, Écoute: Une histoire de nos oreilles (Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 2001).Google Scholar

25 Hill, Peter and Simeone, Nigel, Olivier Messiaen: Oiseaux exotiques (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2007), 4.Google Scholar

26 See, for example, Messiaen, Traité, vi, 58.Google Scholar

27 Chadwick and Hill also catch one of the borrowings from Debussy in this passage (p. 61). In addition, they point out that there was an earlier, discarded version of the kingfisher's flight (p. 126); a glance at this earlier version, which is not described in the text, would add to this reconstitution of Messiaen's process.Google Scholar

28 The context offered in this book is largely confined to Messiaen's life and immediate orbit. For a recent study situating the Catalogue d'oiseaux alongside other musical-ornithological ‘soundscapes’, see Mundy, Rachel, Animal Musicalities: Birds, Beasts, and Evolutionary Listening (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2018), chapter 7.Google Scholar

29 See Hill, Peter, ‘From Réveil des oiseaux to Catalogue d'oiseaux: Messiaen's Cahiers de notations des chants d'oiseaux, 1952–59’, Messiaen Perspectives 1: Sources and Influences, ed. Christopher Dingle and Robert Fallon (Farnham: Ashgate, 2013), 143–74. According to Hill, there are more than 200 surviving birdsong notebooks. For another example of a study of Messiaen's birdsong transcriptions which is decentred from any specific work, see Taylor, Hollis, ‘Whose Bird Is It? Messiaen's Transcriptions of Australian Songbirds’, Twentieth-Century Music, 11 (2014), 63–100. The full collection of notebooks of Messiaen's birdsong transcriptions is now being made publicly available through the BNF's digital portal, <>..>Google Scholar

30 Such continuities are highlighted in Cheong Wai-Ling's reading; see her ‘Symmetrical Permutation, the Twelve Tones, and Messiaen's Catalogue d'oiseaux’, Perspectives of New Music, 45/1 (winter 2007), 110–37.Google Scholar

31 Another questionable analysis is the claim that the passage labelled ‘gust of wind over the sea’ in ‘Le traquet rieur’ is a 12-note passage. On the basis of this analysis, they conclude that the work is ‘a coherent piece of music that works towards its goal via a synthesis of tonal and twelve-note means' (p. 176); however, there is no way to segment it into a 12-note passage, and the authors admit that their premiss applies (only) to ‘nearly all’ the degrees of the scale.Google Scholar

32 Twelve complete recordings are included in the survey. A noteworthy absence is that of Pierre-Laurent Aimard, another pianist who has made Messiaen a cornerstone of his repertoire, whose recording of the Catalogue was released only in March 2018, after the publication of Chadwick and Hill's study.Google Scholar

33 The fact that all five authors of the books under review (plus the reviewer) are men suggests that the musicological patriarchy runs especially deep in Messiaen studies, and should stimulate reflection and activism among those of us in this area. A few studies focus on Loriod's ‘influence’ on Messiaen, on the margins. The most important of these is Christopher Dingle, ‘Yvonne Loriod as Source and Influence’, Messiaen Perspectives 1, ed. Dingle and Fallon, 197–210. Dingle's closing quotation of Loriod speaking in the third person is quintessential: ‘Yvonne Loriod does not exist without Messiaen.’Google Scholar

34 BNF, Fonds Olivier Messiaen et Yvonne Loriod, RES VMA MS-2145, ‘Pièces africaines // Yvonne Loriod’; RES VMA MS-1539, ‘Symphonie-Tala // brouillons pour Turangalila’.Google Scholar

35 BNF, fonds Olivier Messiaen et Yvonne Loriod, RES VMA MS-1492, ‘Cahier de travail, dit “Cahier Rouge”’, p. 19.Google Scholar

36 Ibid., RES VMA MS-199: ‘Liste d'oeuvres composées entre 1943 et 1946’.Google Scholar

37 Ibid., RES VMA MS-1491, ‘Cahier de travail, dit “Cahier Vert”’, p. 66. These titles refer to movements from her Pièces sur la souffrance.Google Scholar

38 Ibid., p. 72.Google Scholar

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