Front cover image for Messiaen's mimesis : the language and culture of the bird styles

Messiaen's mimesis : the language and culture of the bird styles

Robert Joseph Fallon, University of California, Berkeley (Degree granting institution)
A major portion of Olivier Messiaen's music imitates birdsongs. Even for a composer known for his stylistic independence, this "bird style" seems unusually idiosyncratic. His worldwide sojourns to transcribe birdsongs appertain more to ornithology, it would seem, than to music composition, and critics have found his birds easy targets for their barbs. In order to better understand Messiaen's bird style, I examine both the pervasive critical bias against nature representation in music and the bird style's relationship to art and science. I show that Messiaen's early works contain far more birdsongs than has previously been recognized and, from my research with Messiaen's notebooks at the Bibliotheque nationale de France, show that he used a sound recording to transcribe the North American birdsongs in his most famous orchestral bird piece, Oiseaux exotiques (1956). With spectograms made from this recording, I offer the first detailed analysis of the accuracy of Messiaen's transcriptions
Thesis, Dissertation, English, 2005