Olivier Messiaen is one of the most important composers of the second half of the 20th century. An organist and a pianist, he is also recognized worldwide for his renowned teaching at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse in Paris.
Born from a father who was an English teacher and a mother who was a poet, Olivier Messiaen gained at a young age a deep catholic faith. After his first piano and harmony lessons, he enters (being 11 years old) the Conservatoire de Paris in 1919. His teachers are Maurice Emmanuel, Marcel Dupré, Paul Dukas, Charles-Marie Widor. In about 6 years, he wins first prizes in harmony, fugue, counterpoint, accompaniment with a piano, music history, organ, improvisation with an organ, and finally composition.
In 1931, Olivier Messiaen takes the organist position at the Eglise de la Trinité. He improvises, composes a lot, experiments his musical ideas, inspired by the plain-chant, ancient and Asian rhythms, and the bird songs which fascinate him – he even decides to become an ornithologist.
He starts teaching in 1934, at the Ecole Normale de Musique in Pairs and at the Schola Cantorum. He becomes an harmony teacher at the Conservatoire in 1942, after World War II, during which he is made prisoner and composes his Quatuor pour la fin du temps. During this perios, he meets Yvonne Loriod, who becomes his wife and the main performer of his piano works.
Progressively, Olivier Messiaen starts giving analysis classes, aesthetic classes, rhythm classes, at the conservatory and abroad. In 1966, his analysis class is instituted as a composition class. It draws students from the entire world; among them: Pierre Boulez, Pierre Henry, George Benjamin, Karlheinz Stockhausen or also Iannis Xenakis.
The work of Messiaen, music wise and teaching wise, has been honored by many rewards and many events (foundation, festival…). His theoretical writings allow to approach his aesthetic, notably Théorie de mon langage musical (1944).