Dr. Andrew Simpson

An analytical seminar devoted to the music of French composer Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992), whose immense, influential body of work engages with Roman Catholic theology, birdsong, rhythm, and synesthetic color. A devout Roman Catholic composer whose oeuvre includes opera, orchestral and choral works, organ and piano literature, song cycles, and instrumental chamber music, Messiaen remains of the most important and original figures in twentieth-century composition.

Messiaen’s own theoretical writings assist in articulating his highly original musical vision, expressed by means of distinctive terminology (e.g., modes of limited transposition, personnages rhythmiques, non-retrogradable rhythms).

The first portion of the seminar will consist of gaining familiarity with Messiaen’s theoretical writing with respect to his own music; the second will explore the extensive analytical literature on Messiaen (e.g., Robert Sherlaw Johnson, Peter Hill, Jonathan Bernard, Christopher Dingle, Roger Nichols, Carla Huston Bell, Anthony Pople). These studies will be supplemented by focused analysis of selected Messiaen works throughout the semester.

In the final weeks, seminar members will give a presentation on a piece or topic relevant to Messiaen. A term paper is the capstone project.