'Listen to the birds; they are great masters!’ was the advice Paul Dukas gave his student Olivier Messiaen.
Messiaen took the advice to heart: he amassed an impressive collection of birdsong from around the world. In Oiseaux Exotiques, he brings together 48 birds from Asia, North and South America: impossible to do in the real world, but enchanting in that of Messiaen.
Stravinsky’s Le chant du Rossignol also lets exotic nature triumph: the song of the lively nightingale from Andersen’s fairy tale wins out – ultimately – over its mechanical counterpart.
“The exotic birds singing in this score have wonderfully coloured feathers, reflected in the music: all the colours of the rainbow wheel about, including red, the colour of hot countries and the beautiful cardinal of Virginia!”
- Olivier Messiaen
Messiaen makes the explosion of colours of all those birds audible: “In the second tutti, the part with the horns: orange, mixed with gold and red. In the first and last cadenza of the piano solo: green and gold. And the central tutti: spirals of colour, whirlpools of intertwined rainbows with blue, red, orange, green, purple and pink.”
What's that bird? Answer 5 questions or upload a photo and the Merlin Bird ID app will help you solve the mystery.download the free app
Wolfgang is a smartphone app for live classical music. While the orchestra is playing, Wolfgang tells you what is happening ‐ at the very moment ‐ in the music.download the wolfgang app
messiaen on birds
Olivier Messiaen discussing bird calls and songs.watch the video
bbc: the essay
BBC Radio 3 presenter Tom McKinney celebrates the birdsong-inspired music of the twentieth-century French composer Olivier Messiaen and its special place in his life.listen to the podcast