WMU News

French composer finds 'new life' in Davidson book

Jan. 24, 2002

KALAMAZOO -- Twentieth-century French-born composer and organist Olivier Messiaen has come back to life through the pen of Dr. Audrey Ekdahl Davidson, a retired Western Michigan University professor.

In her book "Olivier Messiaen and the Tristan Myth," newly published by Praeger Publishers, Davidson, WMU professor emerita of music, takes Messiaen's life and compares it to the tragic medieval love story of Tristan. Messiaen, who died in 1992 at the age of 84, composed more than 25 musical works during his life, three of which focused on the Tristan myth.

Widely interpreted, the story of Tristan and his ill-fated lover, Iseult, originally began as a Celtic myth and was later tied into Arthurian legend. Fantastic battles, forbidden love and poisoned drinks color the myth, which caught the eye of 19th-century German composer Richard Wagner and became the topic of his opera, "Tristan und Isolde."

Messiaen followed suit with his own modern adaptation in the form of three compositions: the song cycle "Harawi," "Turangalîla-symphonie" and choral composition "Cinq rechants." By examining Messiaen's varied musical styles and complex musical background in his compositions, Davidson shows that a common theme and techniques exist throughout the three musical works, which also incorporate influences from such diverse sources as Peruvian folklore, Indian ragas, Indonesian monkey chant and bird songs.

Davidson's publisher describes her work by saying, "Davidson's examination of these works reveals both their interrelatedness and their many layers of musical and textual meaning. This new study is the only full-length consideration of this most significant work, applying literary techniques of stylistic analysis and source study as well as musical analysis of Messiaen's aesthetics and form."

Davidson retired from the WMU School of Music in 1993, after 28 years with the University. Her works on both early and modern music have been widely published. For 25 years, she served as the musical director of the Society for Old Music, which regularly presents concerts for the community and the International Congress on Medieval Studies, which is held annually at WMU.

Media contact: Scott K. Crary, 269 387-8400, scott.crary@wmich.edu

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