M4C Logo AHRC Logo

Bruce Forman

Music, Birmingham City University

Thesis title:

The influence of liturgical improvisation on Olivier Messiaen�s musical language

That Messiaen was a practicing liturgical organist is well known, as is the fact that in that capacity a lot of his practice constituted improvisation. Due in part to its ephemeral nature, and also to its very specific cultural-theological locus in Catholic liturgy, however, the impact that this role had on his wider musical practice is more often asserted than explored.

This project aims to add substance to our understanding of his practice in this area. Primarily this will involve engaging with a representative sample of the available recordings of Messiaen’s liturgical improvisations, together with preparatory materials and sketches. These elements are further informed by consideration of the theology of Liturgy, which grounds the context in which the improvisations were made. This in turn may shed light on what Messiaen may have meant when describing his concert works as ‘liturgical’.

Research Area

  • Music


'To transpose a sort of office to the concert hall': what is liturgical about Messiaen's Trois Petites Liturgies de la Présence Divine? Royal Musical Association Annual Conference, September 2022.

'The wine of my dissonances has become very bitter, and I am obliged to add much water': Olivier Messiaen as an ecclesiastical musician. 12th Biennial International Conference on Music Since 1900, June 2022.

Et Exspecto Resurrectionem Mortuorum: Olivier Messiaen and a liturgical basis for musical theology, Theology and the Arts stream, Society for the Study of Theology Annual Conference (Conference Theme 'The End of the World'), March 2022.

'I want to yield a living music': Olivier Messiaen and liturgical improvisation, British Forum for Ethnomusicology and Royal Musical Association Research Students' Conference, January 2022.