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Published on Feb 24, 2011
Olivier Messiaen (French pronunciation: [ɔlivje mɛsjɑ̃]; December 10, 1908 -- April 27, 1992) was a French composer, organist and ornithologist, widely regarded as one of the major composers of the 20th century. His music is rhythmically complex (he was interested in rhythms from ancient Greek and from Hindu sources); harmonically and melodically it is based on modes of limited transposition, which he abstracted from his early compositions and improvisations. Many of his compositions depict what he termed "the marvellous aspects of the faith", and drew on his deeply held Roman Catholicism. He travelled widely and wrote works inspired by diverse influences such as Japanese music, the landscape of Bryce Canyon in Utah and the life of St. Francis of Assisi. He said he perceived colours when he heard certain musical chords, particularly those built from his modes (a phenomenon known as synaesthesia); combinations of these colours, he said, were important in his compositional process. Messiaen received a commission from Alice Tully for a work to celebrate the U.S. bicentennial. He arranged a visit to the USA in spring 1972, and was inspired by Bryce Canyon in Utah, where he observed the canyon's distinctive colours and birdsong. The twelve-movement orchestral piece Des canyons aux étoiles... was the result, which was first performed in 1974 in New York