01 Oiseaux Exotiques (15:24)
02 La Bouscarle [from Catalogue d’Oiseaux] (11:46)
03 Réveil des Oiseaux (20:53)
Yvonne Loriod: piano
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Vaclav Neumann cond.
Total time: 48:00
LP released 1959 on Candide Records, USA
(recorded between 1956 and 1959).
This LP gathers 3 compositions entirely based on bird songs, as collected and notated by Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992). Birdcalls were collected in the field (picture above) and notated at a slower speed and several octaves lower than the original. Messiaen also used LP recordings and urban birding. The ensuing melodies are then arranged for the soloists and orchestra’s instruments, a mix of flutes, horns, percussion and violin. The compositions include many bird-calls perfectly recognizable as such, since the works are actually a succession of bird-calls set to avantgarde contemporary music. In ‘Des Canyons Aux Etoiles’, 1974, Messiaen also composed a famous calling movement: ‘Appel interstellaire’ – or Interstellar Call – a solo movement for french horn, the solitary instrument trying to reach the stars and left unanswered (see YouTube video). I assume, for Messiaen, birds’ singing is directed at the heaven, hence sacred melodies. The clarity and precision of Messiaen’s compositions is striking, possibly because of his use of complex rhythms and sublte, intertwined melodies. ‘Réveil des Oiseaux’ and ‘Oiseaux Exotiques’ have many musical references to Stravinski (Histoire du Soldat, 1918, Les Noces, 1923), another devilishly precise rhythm composer. ‘Réveil des Oiseaux’ was commissioned by Heinrich Strobel for the Donaueschingen Festival and premiered October 1953 in West Germany with Hans Rosbaud conducting – CD available on Col Legno or Hänssler [see Peter Hill’s article for detailed description]. This US LP was the first officially available LP of ‘Oiseaux Exotiques’, composed 1956 – and later revised in 1988, but that’s another story. Track #2, ‘La Bouscarle‘, is from Catalogue d’Oiseaux for solo piano. This recording is not available on CD, as far as I can tell. The cover features a pretty impressive bird from Le Louvre Museum: an egyptian, basalt statue of a hawk, from the 30th Dynasty (4th c. BC). Why would a graphic designer chose such a picture for Messiaen’s agile music just escapes me. The choice of Eurostyle typesetting is interesting, though. [See previous Messiaen post as well.]