Olivier Messiaen ‘Oiseaux Exotiques’

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.]



12 Responses to “Olivier Messiaen ‘Oiseaux Exotiques’”

  1. 1 Gentress Myrrh July 4, 2008 at 11:06 pm

    Many thanks for the download opportunity! This lp was my first introduction to Messiaen many years back, and I remember being fully entranced by the concept and the compositions. I look forward to now having a “portable” version for my commute! haha…

  2. 2 continuo July 5, 2008 at 7:49 am

    Hi Monica. Thanks for commenting. Love your collages over there at http://www.myrrhofrochester.net
    My favorite is the one called ‘Wode’. Nature elements wins me over, I think. And I look forward to listen to your radio show, as well. Very avantgarde and consistent with your visual art. I’m glad I have readers like you!

  3. 3 Laurent July 5, 2008 at 7:50 am

    C’est l’année Messiaen à Poitiers. Concert en décembre et conférences… Je te tiens au courant, si tu veux ?


  4. 4 continuo July 5, 2008 at 8:02 am

    Oui, merci. Nous avons quelques manifestations également par chez nous.

  5. 5 paramo July 8, 2008 at 11:18 pm

    Once one visits you, (s)he wants always to return.You are such a kind of exceptional weblog. Your posts are like news from an unknown friend, modest and true. I wish La Folie could repay even a small part of the gratitude back. LA FOLIE.

  6. 6 continuo July 9, 2008 at 7:45 am

    Thanks. Comments are my reward.

  7. 7 chris_c August 11, 2008 at 9:37 am

    thanks for this – it is new to me and looks fascinating – can’t wait to hear it

  8. 8 Schizoid October 31, 2008 at 4:20 pm

    Thank you very much for this!

  9. 9 Jochen November 15, 2008 at 5:04 pm

    Hello Continuo,

    as always I enjoyed strolling through your collection after a longer absence. Just a short note on the last words in this post: The type in use on the record cover is not Eurostile, but Microgramma. Aldo Novarese (1920-95) designed the font in 1952 together with Alessandro Butti (1893-1959) and redesigned the font under the name Eurostile in 1962. The release date of the record and the use of Eurostile started me wondering, as they don’t seem to fit together.
    I share your opinion on the graphic designer’s choice, but it is too easy to judge a few decades later: most graphic design of the 1950s mostly doesn’t relate to the content of the designed work, but reflects the technological possibilities of that time and an astonishing belief in progress and modernity.
    Let’s be honest: there are far more really, really ugly package designs than this one. Sadly, it is completely divided from the reason it’s made for.

    Visiting your site was great pleasure as always! Go on!

    Kind regards,

  10. 10 continuo November 15, 2008 at 8:08 pm

    Jochen, it’s an honour to have such a knowledgeable reader like you. So much so for the Eurostyle, then! I was not dismissing the cover art, just wondering what was the mental process taking place in the designer’s head. Your paragraph on modern technology is interesting but doesn’t explain the extremely massive typesetting on the back cover of this LP. This shall remain a mystery to me.
    Thanks a lot for taking the time to write this valuable comment, Jochen. I recommend readers to visit your netlabel’s web presence at http://www.expiremental.com

  11. 11 Jon Arson June 29, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    Just found out this guy existed. I’m not really into classical music, but this is amazing. Thanks for the link.

  12. 12 continuo June 29, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    Often 20th century so-called classical music doesn’t sound like classical music at all.

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