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Olivier Messiaen: The Reluctant Avant-gardist - a Historical, Contextual and Analytical Study of the Quatre études de rythme and the Livre d’orgue

MCNULTY, PAUL,FRANCIS (2014) Olivier Messiaen: The Reluctant Avant-gardist - a Historical, Contextual and Analytical Study of the Quatre études de rythme and the Livre d’orgue. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

Available under License Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication CC0 1.0 Universal.



Messiaen’s highly influential Quatre études de rythme and Livre d’orgue are regarded as seminal works in the development of Total Serialism. Frequently labelled as ‘experimental’, the works appear to represent a radical shift in Messiaen’s compositional aesthetics. Drawing on Messiaen’s analyses in the Traité de rythme, this thesis assesses the Quatre études and Livre d’orgue as a response to the resurgence of interest in serialism that happened after World War II. The analyses discuss and assess Messiaen’s new techniques but will also show that some of these have antecedents in practices developed by Messiaen earlier in the 1940s. Therefore, despite their apparent abstraction or asceticism, on one level the works can be seen as a logical development of Messiaen’s compositional language. Because of the explosive impact of Mode de valeurs et d’intensités, it is important to place the études and Livre d’orgue in the context of the development of Occidental music in the twentieth century, and in the context of Messiaen’s quintessential style as it was by the mid 1940s. The first half of the thesis, therefore, discusses issues surrounding the development of musical language and style in the twentieth century, Messiaen’s quintessential language, the renaissance of the Second Viennese School, and the pressures exerted by the emerging new generation of composers. These are all integral to understanding the composition of Messiaen’s experimental works, and an awareness of the people and events that shaped Messiaen’s life during this period also sheds light on ‘why’ Messiaen composed the études and Livre d’orgue. In order to determine what did or did not influence Messiaen, the thesis draws on theories of influence developed in art and literature, before highlighting experiences (positive and negative) that were influential in shaping the future direction of Messiaen’s musical language and, by implication, the future of twentieth-century music.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Messiaen, Avant-garde, Influence, Quatre études de rythme, Livre d’orgue
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Music, Department of
Thesis Date:2014
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:14 Oct 2014 09:59

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