It is my determination that Oliver Messiaen’s first song cycle, Poèmes pour Mi (1936), exhibits nearly all of the representative musical and literary devices of the composer’s arsenal: musical and poetic symbols and symmetry, asymmetric and exotic rhythms, color and harmony, and is inspired by his Catholic faith, and must therefore be regarded as among the composer’s most significant early vocal works. After outlining a brief biography and an overview of the work and its premiere, the subsequent analysis covers the compositional techniques and thematic devices are presented, including specific discussion of spirituality, numerical symbols, modal vocabulary, musical colors, and the “Boris motif.” A description of the cycle follows, highlighting important aspects of each piece as they relate to Messiaen’s style. Musical examples appear where relevant.
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