The Messiaen/Birdsong Project

This page contains elements of my work from my dissertation, which is related to Western composers’ use of sounds of nature in their music. Since I studied Catalogue d’Oiseaux (“Catalog of Birds”) abroad, it’s only fitting that the majority of the featured, multidisciplinary perspectives revolve around Olivier Messiaen.

Please enjoy scrolling through the (ongoing) process of my journey.


Aldeburgh, England

In Fall 2015, I prepared one movement from Catalogue d’Oiseaux –– I. Le Chocard des Alpes — to send off to the Aldeburgh Music Festival. Pierre-Laurent Aimard was concluding his tenure as director of the festival and wanted his final year to revolve around Messiaen’s largest work for solo piano. With four other pianists, I was invited to study with PLA & his wife, Tamara Stefanovich, in summer 2016 at the Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme in Aldeburgh. Photos from my time in England are below.

The Lecture

In November 2016, I presented the first version of this talk at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I later revised it for use in April 2017 at a College Music Society conference. The video below is a combination of the Powerpoint presentation and speech. My own musical recordings at the piano are also included. In the original lecture recital, a performance of three movements of the Catalog immediately followed the talk.

The Music

The Podcast

One of the main goals for this project has always been to demonstrate how Messiaen’s Catalog of Birds is applicable to fields outside of music. Many pianists I’ve spoken with know of Messiaen’s Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jesus (“Twenty Contemplations on the Infant Jesus”) and, thanks to music history class, most have heard Quatuor pour la fin du temps (“Quartet for the End of Time”); but other than a select few, not as many are aware of the Catalog. Perhaps this series is for my fellow musicians, as well as the general public.

Among the individuals I interviewed for the series are:

  • Craig Eley, Assistant Director of Humanities Networks at UW-Madison’s Center for the Humanities. Craig has done considerable work (his own dissertation) on the use of recorded nature sounds and uses of birdsong throughout American culture.
  • Todd Welbourne, Emeritus Professor of Piano & multimedia guru.
  • Steve Dembski, Emeritus Professor of Composition. Steve first encountered Messiaen’s music while studying in Paris and even translated for the traveling French composer during a trip to the US.
  • Mark Berres, ornithologist, mobile app developer, and professor in the Nutritional Sciences and the Animal Sciences Department.

You can listen HERE!