Olivier Messiaen is among the most influential figures in the music of the twentieth century. At first alarming and shocking audiences, he later won an unassailable position, respected at home in France and abroad for his achievement through a musical language that is intensely personal, emotional and informed by a deep Catholic piety. His musical idiom was derived from a number of sources, with an interest in bird-song that is directly evident in his Oiseaux exotiques (Exotic Birds) and Catalogue d’oiseaux (Catalogue of Birds) and indirectly elsewhere in his music, in which he developed a form of serialism that has been variously interpreted. Le merle noir (The Blackbird), for flute and piano, was written in 1951 as a test piece for the Paris Conservatoire. After the the sustained notes of the piano have died away, the flute plays a solo passage, its inspiration derived from the song of the bird. The piano enters with a phrase immediately echoed by the flute, extended and then returning after an episode recalling the opening. The same material provides the basis for the rapid final section.

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