Five essential works by Messiaen

We choose the best works by the 20th-century composer, Messiaen

Messiaen best compositions

Quatuor pour la fin du temps

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Written for the available musicians in a prisoner of war camp – a violinist, clarinettist, cellist and pianist (Messiaen himself) – the result is a most unusual and magical sounding work.

Recommended recording:
Gruenberg, de Peyer, Pleeth & Béroff
EMI 586 5252

Turangalîla-symphonie

Messiaen’s most exuberant work for orchestra includes the unforgettably delirious sound of the ondes martenot.

Recommended recording:
Peter Donohoe (piano), Tristan Murail (ondes martenot); CBSO/Rattle
EMI 586 5252

La nativité du Seigneur

This is a work to convert anyone who fears that organ music is dull and ‘fusty’. By turns dramatic and utterly other-worldly, Messiaen’s music revolutionised the organ’s perceived character.

Recommended recording:
Jennifer Bate
Regis RRC 1086

Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus

In this epic piano cycle, lasting about two hours, Messiaen presents several contemplations of the ‘child-God’, ranging from reflective to ebullient.

Recommended recording:
Peter Hill
Regis RRC 2055

Des Canyons aux étoiles…

Written to celebrate the bicentenary of the United States Declaration of Independence, Messiaen, inspired by the Bryce Canyon in Utah, creates stunning colours from just 44 players.

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Recommended recording:
Radio France PO/Myung-Whun Chung
DG 471 6172