Roussillon: looking for the blue rock thrush
Messiaen’s introductory notes to Le Merle Bleu (Blue Rock Thrush) and Le Traquet Stapazin (Black-eared Wheatear) describe the landscape on the coast near Banyuls-sur-Mer in vivid detail, along with the birds he heard, and whose voices he transcribed, and the impressions he gained from the colours and sounds of the sea and the cliffs. I decided to devote a day of The Long Spring to finding the very places he describes, and listening out for the birds he found in June 1957.
Messiaen is specific in naming where on the coast he based himself: “Near Banyuls: Cap l’Abeille, Cap Rederis.” I set out on Tuesday morning and walked south from Banyuls. I was looking for a cliff face among the many minor capes and inlets that make up the main headlands he mentions. “In an echoing rock crevice, the blue rock thrush sings....his song blends with the sound of the waves.”
I was struck by the way distance, and the angle of the cliffs, and the way the sea masked certain pitches at times, made a big difference in the sounds that reached me. The blue rock thrush song in particular, varied in timbre from rich and bell-like, to thin and dry.