P0126. PETER HILL: Messiaen Recital. (U.K.) Unicorn-Kachana 9078, recorded 1984 & 1985. Long out-of-print, Final Copy! - 053068907828
“Messiaen's first instrument was always the organ, but he was a considerable pianist too, and the works he wrote for the two instruments form the pillars on which the remainder of his output rests. Like his organ music, his works for solo piano span virtually the whole of his creative life - the first published pieces, the eight Preludes, date from 1929 when he was 21, the last, the Petites Esquisses d'Oiseaux, from 1985, seven years before his death. Almost the whole of Messiaen's stylistic journey can be charted in his piano music, among them the most radical pieces he ever wrote.
Peter Hill worked his way through the entire oeuvre in the 1980s and early 1990s, making his recordings originally for the Unicorn-Kanchana label, and consulted the composer himself over his interpretations. Their reissue now as a collection makes for a wonderful bargain, for they are totally authoritative and hugely intelligent accounts of some of the most important pieces in the 20th-century piano repertoire. Works such as the Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus and the two-piano Visions de l'Amen (in which Hill is joined by Benjamin Frith) have been regularly recorded; they are also the only explicitly theological pieces in Messiaen's piano output, though everything he wrote was dedicated to the greater glory of God. But the early Preludes, the Four Studies in Rhythm and the uncompromising and compelling Canteyodjaya from the late 1940s, as well as all seven books of the Catalogue d'Oiseaux (1956-58) and its codicil La Fauvette des Jardins of 1970, are much less frequently encountered on disc. Hill is the perfect guide to their intricacies and beauties. He makes light of the formidable difficulties of Canteyodjaya, demonstrates that the Four Studies are much more than dry technical exercises and grades and minutely colours every strand of the aural landscapes that make up the Catalogue.”
- Andrew Clements, THE GUARDIAN, 6 Sept, 2002
“Olivier Messiaen, one of the most important and influential French composers of the 20th century, was a prolific and distinctive composer who sought to capture in music both the beauty of the natural world and the spiritual secrets of Roman Catholic mysticism. The style he created in a compositional career that lasted more than six decades drew on everything from bird song - he is said to have quoted the songs of more than 250 species in his works - to Indian and Balinese rhythmic modes, as well as more conventional forms of Western chromaticism and Serial techniques.
He deployed these elements with an extraordinary sense of color and texture, and he contributed major works to virtually every part of the concert repertory. His ‘Apparition de l'Eglise Eternelle’ (1932) and ‘Nativité du Seigneur (1935) are centerpieces of the contemporary organ literature. And his piano works, most notably the ‘Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant Jésus’ (1944) and the ‘Catalogue d'Oiseaux’ (1959) demanded that pianists stretch both their techniques and their imaginations to come to terms with the music's combination of spirituality and overt pictorialism.
Although Mr. Messiaen gravitated toward increasingly large structures in the last decades of his life, his best-known and most frequently played work is a chamber piece, the ‘Quartet for the End of Time’. Mr. Messiaen composed the work in 1940, when he was a prisoner in a German stalag in Silesia. Using the instruments available to him - violin, clarinet, cello and piano - he created a work that described the Apocalypse, in both its terrifying and Heavenly manifestations. The work, with Mr. Messiaen playing the piano, had its premiere before an audience of 5,000 prisoners.
‘Mr. Messiaen's peculiar method has always enabled him to compose brilliant pages’, Donal Henahan wrote in THE NEW YORK TIMES in 1986, ‘especially those in which great percussive climaxes clash with sudden tendrils of Webernesque sound. He has been a master manipulator of the metallic sonorities that have appealed so strongly to composers ever since Stravinsky's RITE OF SPRING first startled the world in 1913. He also has been an ingenious experimenter with complex rhythms and advanced devices of Serialism, attributes that give his music a special cachet with other musicians especially, whether he is working with full orchestra, chamber group or keyboard instrument’.
After he completed his studies, in 1930, Mr. Messiaen became the principal organist at the Church of the Trinity in Paris, a position he held until the early 1970s. He began teaching in 1936, when he joined the faculty of the Ecole Normale de Musique; his career was interrupted by the outbreak of World War II in 1939. He joined the French army, and was taken prisoner in 1940.
Mr. Messiaen was repatriated in 1942, and began teaching harmony at the Paris Conservatory. One of his early students was Pierre Boulez. ‘To study with him’, Mr. Boulez later wrote, ‘was as if one were withdrawing oneself from the mass and electing for obstinacy’. Even then, Mr. Boulez recalled, Mr. Messiaen was interested in the music of Asia and Africa, and he explored that fascination in his classes. Mr. Messiaen's students included the German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, the Greek-born French composer Iannis Xenakis, and more recently, the young British composer George Benjamin.
Another of Mr. Messiaen's early students was the pianist Yvonne Loriod, whom he married in 1961, two years after the death of his first wife, Claire Delbos. Miss Loriod and her sister Jeanne are still considered among the most authoritative performers of Mr. Messiaen's music.
In the 1940s and ‘50s Mr. Messiaen also taught composition and analysis, in Saarbrucken and Darmstadt, Germany, in Budapest and at Tanglewood in Lenox, Mass. His classes were legendary for their scope. He was as likely to analyze Indian rhythmic cycles, Greek modes or varieties of birdsong as the major works of Beethoven or the Serial works of the Second Viennese school. All these techniques were part of his compositional arsenal. In 1944 he explained his style in a treatise titled TECHNIQUE DE MON LANGAGE MUSICAL.
Throughout his life, Mr. Messiaen refused to commit himself to a single contemporary compositional school, but drew freely from them all, including electronic music. ‘When I hear music’, he once said, ‘I see colors, not through my eyes, but through my intellect’."
- Allan Kozinn, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 29 April, 1992