Olivier Messiaen was a French composer, organist, and ornithologist who was one of the major composers of the 20th century. His music is rhythmically complex; harmonically and melodically he employs a system he called modes of limited transposition, which he abstracted from the systems of material generated by his early compositions and improvisations. He wrote music for chamber ensembles and orchestra, vocal music, as well as for solo organ and piano, and also experimented with the use of novel electronic instruments developed in Europe during his lifetime.
Birdsong fascinated Messiaen from an early age, and in this he found encouragement from his teacher Dukas, who reportedly urged his pupils to “listen to the birds”. Messiaen included stylised birdsong in some of his early compositions (including L’abîme d’oiseaux from the Quatuor pour la fin du temps), integrating it into his sound-world by techniques like the modes of limited transposition and chord colouration. His evocations of birdsong became increasingly sophisticated, and with Le réveil des oiseaux this process reached maturity, the whole piece being built from birdsong: in effect it is a dawn chorus for orchestra. The same can be said for “Epode”, the five-minute sixth movement of Chronochromie, which is scored for eighteen violins, each one playing a different birdsong. Messiaen notated the bird species with the music in the score. The pieces are not simple transcriptions; even the works with purely bird-inspired titles, such as Catalogue d’oiseaux and Fauvette des jardins, are tone poems evoking the landscape, its colours and atmosphere.