Sunday, January 6, 2013

Olivier Messiaen: Synaesthesia - Music and Colours

Olivier Messiaen (1908 – 1992)

Messiaen was a French composer, organist and ornithologist, widely regarded as a major composer of the 20th century.

Messiaen was gifted with Synaesthesia, whereby he perceived colours when he heard sounds and musical chords. He cited the importance and relevance of using these colour combinations in his compositional process.

His music is rhythmically complex (he was interested in rhythms from ancient Greek and from Hindu sources); harmonically and melodically it is based on modes of limited transposition, which he abstracted from his early compositions and improvisations.

Many of his compositions depict what he termed "the marvellous aspects of the faith", and drew on his deeply held Roman Catholicism.

Messiaen was deemed as 'a bit eccentric' and he had a particular fascination for birdsongs; he believed birds to be the greatest musicians and considered himself as much an ornithologist as a composer.

He notated bird songs worldwide and incorporated birdsong transcriptions into most of his music.

His innovative use of colour, his conception of the relationship between time and music, his use of birdsong and his desire to express religious ideas are among features that make Messiaen's music distinctive.

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