Personalities | Olivier Messiaen | Modern Era | Opera
One of France’s greatest twentieth-century composers, Messiaen began writing at the age of seven, and studied at the Paris Conservatoire from the age of 11 under the tutelage of Paul Dukas, Maurice Emmanuel and Marcel Dupré. In 1931 he became the organist at L’Eglise de la Trinité, where he remained until his death. As a music professor at L’École Normale in Paris he founded La Jeune France, which promoted French music principles. Imprisoned by the Germans during the Second World War, he composed Quatuor pour la fin du temps (‘Quartet for the End of Time’, 1941), a work written under great personal stress and scored for the only available instruments – violin, clarinet, cello and piano. Upon his release he returned to the Conservatoire.
Although Messiaen’s primary instrument was the organ, he was drawn to musical analysis and forged a very unique style. His only opera, Saint François d’Assise (1983), premiered at the Paris Opéra and reflected his faith in Roman Catholicism. Just under four hours in length, it was conceived on a grand scale with a vast orchestra and three Ondes Martenots.
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