Olivier Messiaen et les oiseaux

Olivier Messiaen et les oiseaux

By following the composer on his ornithological research, in his class at the Paris Conservatoire or in front of his organ in the Church of the Trinity, the film evokes the work of Olivier Messiaen, one of the major artists of the 20th century. It recalls the three motives around which he built all his work: his Catholic faith, his love of nature and birds, and the relationship between colour and sound.


“The first reports of Messiaen’s notating birdsong come from the time of his military service at the beginning of the war. One witness remembered Messiaen filling ‘any number of notebooks with the astonishing rhythmic and melodic virtuosity of birdsong’. Others tell of Messiaen volunteering for the least popular hours for sentry duty in order to be out of doors for the dawn chorus.” 

Roderick Chadwick1


“From the clump of blossoming, snow-sprinkled furze, the Wren’s precipitated trill gushes out, so strong and vibrant that it is astonishing to see a tiny brown bird rise up, fleeing at the level of the frozen soil on little round wings. The bare hedge has its winter song, sweet and a little sad, that of the Hedge-Sparrow. The Lark drops from on high onto the field, still all white, the joyous torrent of his song, and like an inevitable and charming accompaniment, the voice of the Robin Redbreast modulates, tireless and clear. Even the icy January night has its song: the primitive, savage refrain of the great Tawny Owl, articulated now and then like a sorrowful human cry.” 

Olivier Messiaen2

  • 1Roderick Chadwick and Peter Hill, Olivier Messiaen’s Catalogue d’oiseaux. From Conception to Performance (London: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 17.
  • 2Olivier Messiaen, preface to Pourquoi les oiseaux chantent, by Jacques Delamain (1960 [1928]). Translation to English by Roger Nichols.


« Compositeur et organiste réputé, Olivier Messiaen a été aussi un grand pédagogue. Michel Fano, qui a suivi sa classe de composition au conservatoire de Paris, filme quelques moments privilégiés de son enseignement. Ce film, coréalisé avec Denise Tual, montre aussi Messiaen tour à tour croyant, ornithologue, synesthète évoquant les concepts fondamentaux de son inspiration avec une aisance souvent pétillante. (Le musicien imitant certains chants d'oiseaux n'est pas sans rappeler Rouch ré-émettant les cris des sorciers pour certains films). À cette faconde, le film confronte audacieusement des séquences aux correspondances visuelles ou sonores recherchées, les réalisateurs réussissent ainsi le pari de nous glisser vers le monde du mystère et du rêve cher au musicien. »

François Waledisch1

  • 1François Waledisch, « Olivier Messiaen et les oiseaux, » Tënk.

UPDATED ON 13.11.2023
IMDB: tt3539152