- Peter Hill, University of Sheffield, UK and Nigel Simeone, University of Sheffield, UK
- Series : Landmarks in Music Since 1950
What makes Oiseaux exotiques so important is that it is arguably the first of Messiaen's major works to create a successful synthesis between his music and his passion for ornithology. The earliest composition to use birdsong to a significant extent was the Quatuor pour la fin du Temps (1940–41). A newspaper interview a few years later (France-Soir, 1948) demonstrates Messiaen's growing desire to move away from the stylization that had characterized the Quatuor towards a much greater realism, based on a close observation of birds in their natural habitat. At the same time, Messiaen continued to regard birdsong as music – and divinely inspired music at that – a belief that led for a time to an obsession with truth-to-nature. Against this background, Oiseaux exotiques proves to be a landmark, the work in which Messiaen the musician began to regain the upper hand over Messiaen the ornithologist.
The introductory chapter (Chapter 1) outlines the background to Oiseaux exotiques, discussing Messiaen's relations with the 1950s avant garde – in particular with his former pupil Pierre Boulez – and his involvement with the concerts of the Domaine musical, for which Oiseaux exotiques was composed. In Chapter 2, access to Messiaen's sketches enables the authors to analyse his compositional methods in unprecedented detail; a generous number of music examples refer to birdsong recordings actually used by Messiaen (which can be heard on the accompanying CD), and trace step-by-step the evolution of musical ideas from first notation to finished score. Chapter 3 provides a commentary on the music, investigating issues of continuity and texture, and revealing the processes underlying the score's dazzling profusion. In two further chapters Peter Hill and Nigel Simeone recount the reception history of Oiseaux exotiques, and compare recorded interpretations, taking as their point of departure the historic premiere, included in full on the CD. Finally, the Conclusion considers the implications of Oiseaux exotiques for the composer's subsequent music, from the Catalogue d'oiseaux (1956–8) to the later masterpieces of Messiaen's style oiseau.
Contents: Introduction; Context; Birdsong and sketches; Commentary; First performance, reception and publication; Interpretations; Postscript; Appendix A:the birds in Oiseaux exotiques; Bibliography; Discography; CD track list; Index.
About the Author: Peter Hill is Professor of Music at the University of Sheffield. A former student of Messiaen, he is editor of The Messiaen Companion (1995), and co-author, with Nigel Simeone, of the ground-breaking biography, Messiaen (2005). As a pianist he is a leading performer of Messiaen's music, and has recorded the composer's complete works.
Nigel Simeone is Professor of Historical Musicology at the University of Sheffield. He is the author of Paris: A Musical Gazetteer (2000), two books on Messiaen, and co-author, with Peter Hill, of the acclaimed biography Messiaen (2005).
Reviews: 'In Olivier Messiaen: Oiseaux exotiques, Peter Hill and Nigel Simeone have provided a fascinating study that draws together several strands of musicological research, including source studies, reception history, commentary and analysis. This beautifully written book is an original and fascinating exploration of the surprising alliance of music and nature by one of the twentieth century's most underrated composers. It is the first study to present new material from Messiaen's cahiers, and its commentary to the music on the accompanying CD makes this book a tremendously engaging read. Against the context of music in Paris and Messiaen's personal life, the authors present a systematic and comprehensive study of the piece in which Messiaen's birdsong style ceases to be mere transcription and becomes an integral part of his musical language. Olivier Messiaen: Oiseaux exotiques joins a small number of books that both break new scholarly ground and also appeal to general readers-in particular, those willing to listen to Messiaen's music with spirit and with understanding.'
Andrew Shenton, Boston University, author of Olivier Messiaen's System of Signs.
‘Olivier Messiaen: Oiseaux exotiques shows Ashgate's ongoing commitment to the work of Messiaen and the well-honed team of Hill and Simeone provide a highly readable and communicable account of this seminal work...pitched ideally and is approachable from enthusiasts as well as students and academia. The book is presented in the usual high quality Ashgate style with beautifully set musical examples’ www.oliviermessiaen.org
‘… intelligence, common sense and musical insight do all that is required.’ (Five star rating) BBC Music Magazine
‘… an ideal subject for Ashgate's 'Landmarks in Music Since 1950' series, while the combination of Hill and Smeone is, to put it mildly, an extremely effective marriage of talents. Although doubtless an over-simplification, Hill takes the lead in the musical commentary, drawing upon his vast experience as a performer, while the book profits from Simeone's encyclopaedic knowledge and nose for an intriguing tangent to provide a thoroughly rounded context… The inclusion of [the] recording typifies the authors' ability to identify and access source materials of the highest order and importance, covering myriad bases. These alone would make the book extremely desirable, but Hill and Simeone also know what to do with them, and, crucially, how to write about their subject in an insightful and engaging manner. They have set a very high standard against which future work-based examinations of Messiaen, especially those drawing upon sketch materials, will be judged. While it is possible to conceive of ways in which a book on this subject may have been tackled differently, it is hard to imagine it being done better.’ Tempo
‘Hill played for Messiaen in 1986, which makes his perceptive comparisons of the recorded interpretations of the Oiseaux particularly valuable… This indispensable little book covers all of Messiaen's birdsong compositions with Oiseaux as a focus…’ Times Literary Supplement
‘… Hill and Simeone have made an admirable contribution to Ashgate's series. Olivier Messiaen: Oiseaux exotiques is, in a word, an engaging read, and should be consulted by all scholars interested in the life and music of Messiaen, as well as his place in contemporary art music since 1950.’ Notes
‘Hill’s and Simeone’s analysis of Messiaen’s work combines cultural history, musicology, and sociological theory in a novel fashion . . . But the real value of Hill’s and Simeone’s work is found in the sections that compare Messiaen’s various drafts of Oiseaux.’ H-France
‘Hill and Simeone’s study is a marvel of documentary detail and vividly reconstituted historical contexts . . . [an] invaluable CD . . . accompanies the study.’ Music and Letters
‘Par son usage d’un matériau inédit, ce livre de Hill et Simeone, à l’instar de leur biographie, s’impose comme un livre incontournable sur Messiaen, dont l’approche analytique de l’oeuvre se trouve renouvelée. Le deuxième chapitre constitue à ce titre le point d’intérêt majeur de l’ouvrage.’ Revue de Musicologie
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