Resilience of Picturesque: Olivier Messiaen’s Birdsong in Livre du Saint Sacrement

Conference: The European Conference on Arts & Humanities (ECAH2022)
Title: Resilience of Picturesque: Olivier Messiaen’s Birdsong in Livre du Saint Sacrement
Stream: Aesthetics, Design
Presentation Type: Oral Presentation
Ya-Yin Liu, National Taiwan University, Taiwan


After the meetings of the Second Vatican Council, Catholic mass was permitted to be conducted in the vernacular rather than solely in Latin. Meanwhile, this introduction of the vernacular liturgy posed a threat to plainchant and its beauty. Seeming to preserve the beauty of plain songs, Olivier Messiaen incorporated plain songs into his organ pieces since 1960, but in his final organ piece, places more value upon bird songs seeming to celebrate nature and beauty. Also, it can be seen that, while the nostalgia "picturesque" which links to two other aesthetic ideals of the beauty and the sublime waves the whole work, it can almost be certain that Messiaen used bird songs to convey the unexplained. However, instead of a pictorial way of representing, structuring or symbolizing, bird songs here are neither ciphers nor semiotic systems, to say the least. Like Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s characterization of the diagram in Mille Plateaux, Messiaen’s bird songs are anti-representational and anti-meaningful. They are meant to be suggestive, and are not sufficient in themselves. Through detailed analysis to Messiaen’s use of bird songs in his last organ composition, this paper argues that there is a picturesque turn with transforming into the diagram. Thus, the resilience of Picturesque improved as the liberation of aesthetics with multiple expression. While the linguistic turn and pictorial turn affect the art in the second half of the twentieth century, Messiaen’s musical language and bird songs in his final organ piece reflect a contemporary picturesque of post-historical era.

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