Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Music



Major Professor

Rachel M. Golden

Committee Members

Leslie C. Gay, Jacqueline A. Avila


Scholars often speak of Olivier Messiaen’s (1908-1992) use of birdsong as inspiration in his compositions. The avian vocalizations he dictated and catalogued while traveling throughout France and the world make appearances throughout his oeuvre. Other well documented influences upon his music include landscape and religion. In order to better comprehend the ecological, religious, and political underpinnings of Olivier Messiaen’s musical output, one must deduce how he drew upon nature and religion as inspiration. I propose that such an understanding can be reached through an in-depth examination of Messiaen's Des canyons aux étoiles . . . (1971-1974).

Through analysis of Messiaen’s composition and cultural context, this study sheds light on the fundamental relationship between Des canyons, natural soundscape, and American environmentalism. It thus provides a culturally relevant, interpretive framework for understanding issues of soundscape, landscape, and place within his work. Messiaen’s use of animal and geological inspiration demonstrates not only his interest in adapting the music of nature for artistic purposes, but also his advocacy for a sustainable relationship between humanity and the non-human world. In so doing, Messiaen utilized his subjective experiences in wild locations as a symbol for this peaceful human-nature relationship. Des canyons aux étoiles . . . contains a coded environmentalist political message informed by Messiaen’s own experiences of nature and a spiritual imperative to glorify God’s creation.

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