Messiaen's Fauvette passerinette
Famously, he finished his ground-breaking Quartet for the End of Time in Stalag VIII-A, Görlitz. Invoking the songs of blackbirds and nightingales, it was the first major work written in what was to become known as his style oiseau. In the two decades that followed, he wrote dozens of works that were either explicitly studies in transcribing birdsong, or other works – usually religious – that used material from his extensive collection of birdsong notations he had amassed during regular expeditions into the countryside.
La Fauvette Passerinette -The Subalpine Warbler - was virtually complete: the pencil manuscript indicated it was ready for rewriting as a fair copy, complete with pedalling and fingering indications. Passerinette seems to have been intended as the start of a new piano cycle. He would treat birdsong in a very different way to before, with the birdsong generating the harmonies rather than being scored against harmonic backgrounds that evoked the bird’s habitat.
I received an email from Peter Hill announcing his discovery and inviting me to attend that very rare thing: a Messiaen world premiere, which took place a year ago in Sheffield. Now the new piece has been recorded and made the top 20 classical albums chart – not bad for modernist music. It was featured on CD Review at the weekend and can be heard for another 4 weeks by clicking the button.