Olivier Messiaen

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About this artist

One of the twentieth century's most unique composers, Olivier Messiaen often went out into the wild, transcribing birdsongs he heard and incorporating the sounds into his music. He based other melodies on ancient Gregorian chants, complex conglomerations of pitches that he devised, and the music of North India. Like Arnold Schoenberg, Messiaen also applied principles of the modern compositional style of serialism to his writing, using the complex rules to generate rhythms and chord changes. A detailed look at the score of Quartet for the End of Time reveals palindrome-like layered rhythms, a clarinet bird call floating above and hundreds of harmonies logically interlaced with mathematical intricacy. Unlike many of his peers, intellectualisms did not take away from the purity and natural beauty of his style. His influence is felt in many areas, from the work of equally original students -- including Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen -- to the open harmonies of pianist McCoy Tyner.