Birdsong in the music of Olivier Messiaen

Kraft, David (2000) Birdsong in the music of Olivier Messiaen. PhD thesis, Middlesex University. [Thesis]

PDF - Final accepted version (with author's formatting)
Download (12MB) | Preview
PDF - Final accepted version (with author's formatting)
Download (15MB) | Preview


The intention of this investigation is to formulate a chronological survey of Messiaen's treatment of birdsong, taking into account the species involved and the composer's evolving methods of motivic manipulation instrumentation in corporation of intrinsic characteristics and structure. The approach taken in this study is to survey selected works in turn, developing appropriate tabular forms with regard to Messiaen's use of 'style oiseau', identified bird vocalisations and even the frequent appearances of music that includes familiar characteristics of bird style, although not so labelled in the score. Due to the repetitive nature of so many motivic fragments in birdsong, it has become necessary to develop new terminology and incorporate derivations from other research findings. The 'motivic classification' tables, for instance present the essential motivic features in some very complex birdsong.

The study begins by establishing the importance of the unique musical procedures developed by Messiaen: these involve, for example questions of form, melody and rhythm. The problem of 'authenticity' - that is, the degree of accuracy with which Messiaen chooses to treat birdsong- is then examined. A chronological survey of Messiaen's use of birdsong in selected major works follows, demonstrating an evolution from the general term 'oiseau' to the precise attribution of particular material to particular birds.
In later periods the composer explores new Instrumentation and accompanying harmonies (or chordal complexities) to create as closely as possible the unique timbres and other idiosyncrasies of birds' vocalisations; at the same time, Messiaen begins to introduce a much larger variety of species in to his music using birdsong from all over the world. The representations of birdsong are much more 'authentic', or at least more colourful, than in previous works and perhaps, with the accompanying portrayal of landscape in (for example) Catalogue, greater verisimilitude is created.

The inclusion of so many exotic species in the scores of, for instance Sept Haikai and Chronochromie is a result of Messiaen's meticulous ornithological investigations and painstaking notations. More importantly, the monophonic bird style tends increasingly to be replaced by other textures such as two-voice homophony, homorhythm, hybrid forms and polyphony.

The most pertinent works of this final period are evaluated clearly displaying the many features of each birdsong and call, and their part in the structure of the pieces. Conclusions are drawn concerning the technical means by which the composer realises t he distinguishing features of each birdsong. The thesis is sustained by a close study of three elements governing Messiaen's treatment of birdsong (rhythm, .melody and structure), especially considering the close relationship between them.

There has not previously been a systematic attempt to analyse Messiaen's pieces in this way. This research provides a coherent structural overview of Messiaen's employment of birdsong, displaying recurring patterns found in the use of rhythm, melody and structure. Further, the recent publication of Messiaen's 'Trait de Rythme, de Couleur et d'Ornithologie' enables the research to be genuinely up-to-date, using the composer's personal comments on, and analyses of, birdsongs found frequently in his music.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: A thesis submitted to Middlesex University in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Research Areas: A. > School of Media and Performing Arts > Performing Arts
B. > Theses
Item ID: 6445
Depositing User: Repository team
Date Deposited: 26 Aug 2010 14:06
Last Modified: 21 Jun 2021 16:43

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Activity Overview

Additional statistics are available via IRStats2.