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Olivier Messiaen: Music and Color: Conversations with Claude Samuel Hardcover – March 1, 2003


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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

When French composer Messiaen died at 83 in 1992, he left behind music that in its time was on the cutting edge, influential, personal, and, improbably enough, also popular. His Quartet for the End of Time, written in a German POW camp in 1941, became a cult hit in the 1970s, and his exotic Turangalila-symphonie is one of the few major additions to the symphonic repertoire since 1945 with many enthusiastic admirers. He based an extensive body of music on birdsong and, as a devout Catholic, composed the only extant body of avant-garde Catholic organ music. Useful as an introduction to this idiosyncratic composer's life and works, this book consists of conversations from 1986 between Messiaen and critic Claude Samuel, discussions that reveal the essence of Messiaen's musical thought and the essential sweetness of his personality. The chapter on birdsong is a particular delight: Messiaen traveled the world, transcribing birdsong in the field. His work with these transcriptions reached apotheosis in the opera St. Francois d'Assise, containing a riotously beautiful depiction of St. Francis' sermon to the birds. A delightful book made more valuable by an accurate and current discography and a bibliography. John Shreffler

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: French
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Hal Leonard Corporation; Not Indicated edition (March 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0931340675
  • ISBN-13: 978-0931340673
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #865,261 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Pessi Levanto on July 22, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book is the definitive source of information about Messiaens personal views and opinions. Claude Samuel, the interwiever, is apparently quite familiar with Messiaens works and sets intelligent and thought-provoking questions to the maestro. Messiaen talks about his compositional techniques in an understandable manner, yet deep enough to satisfy the need of professional musicians as well. Delightful information is also given about Messiaens pupils and peers: Boulez, Xenakis and Stockhausen. Also somewhat surprising are his (often quite cruel) personal opinions about some composers who normally are considered to be some of the most influential in history. Also for a non-ornithologer there is a fascinating passage about bird-song and its influence and application to Messiaens music. I deeply recommend this book to everyone even remotely interested in one of the most important musical figures of the 20th century.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Pessi Levanto on July 23, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I find this book the definitive source of information about the personal views of Olivier Messiaen. Claude Samuel seems to be well aquainted with Messiaens music and poses interesting and thought-provoking questions to the maestro. The book contains passages about bird-song and greek poetry wich are quite fascinating for a layman. Also quite curious are some of Messiaens personal opinions on some of the most important composers in history. There is enough facts about Messiaens music to satisfy even those who are allready familiar with his works. The book is written in an understandable manner, yet deep enough for musicians and scholars to get a lot out of it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Culver TOP 1000 REVIEWER on October 18, 2005
Format: Hardcover
OLIVIER MESSIAEN: Music and Color, a book-length interview conducted by Claude Samuel, is the closest thing we have to an autobiography of the late French composer of deeply religious music. Samuel, a friend of the composer for three decades, set down with Messiaen in 1986 to discuss his career, philosophy, musical techniques, travels, and thoughts about contemporary music.

His youth and first love of birds is covered, as well as the various adventures he had through life searching new bird-watching (and bird-listening) opportunities. Tens of pages are dedicated to how he perceived sound and colour, as he experienced synasthesia, and his rhythmic innovations. As Messiaen was nearing the end of his life, the interview deals at length with generations after Messiaen's own. The composer is full of praise for Boulez and Xenakis and his younger wife Yvonne Loriod, but his most effusive praise is reserved for George Benjamin, one of his last students (whose career doesn't seem to have taken off quite as much as Messiaen expected). The book decades over 40 pages to "Saint Francois d'Assisi", Messiaen's opera of epic proportions premiered in 1983. Messiaen seems to hold this as his most important work, and it's a pity that nowadays it is almost forgotten while "lesser" works like "Turangalila-symphonie" and the Quatuor are frequently performed.

I learned a little bit more about certain works by Messiaen by reading this interview, and a lot more about the man Messiaen and what he felt was his mission in life. Worth reading for fans of the great composer.
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