Olivier Messiaen

Test Questions:

1.  Please write the first three Modes of Limited Transposition.  (2 points per scale)

2.  Discuss the  3 Petites Liturgies and the ondes martenot. (6)

3.  Discuss Messiaen’s interest in bird song and the Oiseaux Exotiques. (6)

4.  Discuss Messiaen’s interest in Bryce Canyon and Des canyons aux etoiles. (6)

5.  Discuss the Quartet for the End of Time. (6)

6.  Discuss the criticism of Messiaen’s music. (3)


Our unit about Olivier Messiaen will include discussions of Messiaen’s life, his compositions, his influences, and theory.  We will discuss of The Modes of Limited Transposition, Messiaen’s interest in ornithology and bird song, and his love of Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park.

A scale is a collection of pitches.  Musicians arrange the collection in ascending or descending in order to discover relationships between the pitches.  The Modes of Limited Transposition are referred to as symmetrical scales, because in the transpositions there are limited numbers of collections.

The chromatic scale is the first and simplest symmetrical scale.  The collection remains the same in all transpositions. The whole tone scale is the second symmetrical scale.  There are two possible collections of whole tone scales. There are three possible collections of the octatonic scale.

In our introductory class, we listened to “Regard de l’Esprit de joie” (#10 of theVingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus).  Vingnt regards contains 20 pieces, large individual works, all of extreme difficulty.  We noted in class that #10 brought to mind the works of other composers.  Students mentioned Ginastera, Copland, Prokofiev, and we also compared the styles of Scriabin and Henry Cowell.

In class, we discusses Messiaen’s Modes of Limited Transposition.  A wiki article shows these modes.  For the test, students should be able to discuss and construct the whole tone scale (Mode 1), the octatonic scale (Mode 2) and Messiaen’s Mode 3.

Des canyons aux etoiles: The Wood Thrush:


Our discussion of Messiaen’s connection to Bryce Canyon is discussed in this article: http://www.juilliard.edu/journal/2007-2008/0802/articles/0802_Axiom.php

Our discussion of the ondes martenot featured the following website:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2009/oct/12/ondes-martenot

The listening example of the Trois petites liturgies de la présence divine can be found at this youtube address:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XFfWb-PVutc

In our discussion of Messiaen’s life, we used the Olivier Messiaen internet website: http://www.oliviermessiaen.org/messiaen2index.htm

In our discussion of the Quartet for the End of Time, we used the following website: http://www.amuse.vic.edu.au/VCE/SOLO3_4/ENS_WORKS/quartet_end_of_time/Messiaen_notes.pdf