Olivier Messiaen

In his diverse oeuvre, the French composer and organist, Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992), focused on topics such as love, nature and its creatures, an opulence of colours, as well as his strong catholic believe. The artist, being an synaesthete, identified sounds as colours and therefore tried to implement the ideal “theological rainbow” into his works, which was meant to be an audible equivalent to the light, breaking in the colourful church windows. Shaped by his carefree childhood in Northern France Messaien started to play the piano, self-taught. He later studied at the Conservatoire in Paris under i.a. Paul Dukas. In 1931 he took over as an organist in the church La Trinité (Paris) which he held for 60 years.

After his military conscription for a total of 9 months in 1940 he was taken into captivity in Stalag VIII A in Görlitz, where he finished his “Quatuor pour la fin du temps“ and performed it alongside fellow POWs at the campsite. It has become one of the most important pieces of chamber music of the 20th century. Back in France he started to teach at the Conservatoire. Composers like Pierre Boulez, Iannis Xenakis and Karlheinz Stockhausen have been amongst his students.