Oiseaux exotiques (1955-56)

Olivier Messiaen

solo piano, flute (and piccolo), oboe, two clarinets, clarinet in E-flat, bass clarinet, bassoon, two horns, trumpet, percussion, glockenspiel and xylophone

Dedicated to Yvonne Loriod, Les Oiseaux exotiques were composed at the request of Pierre Boulez for his Domaine Musical concerts at the Petit Théâtre Marigny, and premiered in Paris on March 10th, 1956. Within an ensemble that includes a xylophone, two clarinets, a small wind band, and percussion instruments, Messiaen wrote a considerably important part for the solo piano. In fact, this work could almost be considered a piano concerto, replete with three short, and two longer cadenzas. Aside from the piano, two B-flat clarinets also play an important role, specifically within the central tutti, in the song of the migrating thrush. An important solo is also assigned to the xylophone.

Les Oiseaux exotiques draws on the exotic bird songs of India, China, Malasia, and the Americas. Some of the more significant appropriations include the lyric call of the wood thrush, which concludes the first movement and initiates the final piano cadenza with the full-throated tones of its sunny, ringing, almost solemn fanfare. The Baltimore oriole, plumped up in its orange and black plumage, delivers a joyous set of vocalises, while the Virginia red cardinal holds forth with a rapid and flowing high-pitched song. The gray catbird begins his strophes with a mewing sound, hence its name. The mocking bird brings brassy motives with staccati articulations, the whole rich in harmonics.

Performances