Pre-organised session - New Approaches for Analyzing the Music of Olivier Messiaen
Chair: Christopher Murray
This session proposing new approaches for analyzing Messiaen’s music will revise and sometimes contradict received notions concerning the composer’s creative techniques and his particular reputation as a modernist innovator. It intends to shift the center of gravity in existing analyses of the composer’s music away from the neologisms of his writings toward the lesser-known innovations of his compositional workbench and their nuanced relationship with earlier musical traditions. To this end, the participants in this session propose interrelated analytical models for approaching Messiaen’s music in terms of his creative techniques and musical universe. They will focus on different steps in the compositional process and different levels in the resulting work. Although they mobilize contrasting evidence, all of the contributors highlight the usefulness of reinserting Messiaen’s works into the larger context of his education, cultural background, and personal taste. Their findings underline critical differences between analyses of Messiaen’s works on a so-called neutral or immanent level and those that take into consideration new knowledge of his working techniques and the intertextual associations of his musical universe. Balmer et al.’s conception of Messiaen’s “borrowing technique” is developed in several contributions, as is the potential impact of genetic sketch studies on the analysis of Messiaen’s works. Several individual contributions present new ideas concerning Messiaen’s composition with pre-composed formulas and his formal procedures notably his “montage” and use of additive forms. Other techniques rarely applied to Messiaen’s music are used to new ends, including Formenlehre, comparative formal analysis, and reconstructive (rather than inductive) analytical perspectives.