The Kennedy Center

Olivier Messiaen


Born Avignon, France, in 1908, Olivier Messiaen was a composer and organist, and one of the most influential teachers of the 20 th Century. From his birth, Messiaen was surrounded by the arts. When he was eleven years old, he entered the Paris Conservatory, studying organ with Marcel Dupré and composition with Paul Dukas. While there, he took first prize in both areas, as well as in improvisation. After graduation in 1930, he was appointed principal organist of La Trinité in Paris, a position he retained for many years

Messiaen entered the French army in 1939 and was a prisoner of war for two years. While in a German prison camp, he composed his Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time). He joined the faculty of the Paris Conservatory in 1942 and throughout the rest of his life he worked at various music centers around the world including Tanglewood, 1948, and Darmustadt, 1950-1953. It was through such institutions that Messiaen's unique style influenced many students, including Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Boulez.

Among Messiaen's organ works are La Nativité du Seigneur and Le Corps Glorieux . He was very religious and his music, both organ and other, reflects his extreme faith, bordering on mysticism. He used musical resources from many traditions, ranging from rhythms of the orient to early Christian Gregorian Chant to birdsong. He was an elected member of many organizations, ranging from the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts, to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Olivier Messiaen


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