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University of Iowa News Release

March 22, 2004

Scholar To Speak On Complexity Of Composer Messiaen March 25

As part of a week of activities celebrating the 20th century French composer Olivier Messiaen, a leading scholar of modern French literature will visit the University of Iowa to speak on "Messiaen in Double Exposure," Thursday, March 25, at 2:30 p.m. in the Iowa Room, Iowa Memorial Union.

Walter Strauss, Treuhaft Professor Emeritus of Humanities at Case Western Reserve University, taught French and comparative literature for many years, and has spoken numerous times on musical topics. His lecture, written for a non-specialist audience, will address the discrepancy between Messiaen's religious orientation -- which was more in tune with medieval spiritual and mystical concerns -- and his situation as a composer in the modernist 20th century, developing out of Debussy and Stravinsky toward Boulez.

A French Catholic who had volunteered for the hospital corps early in World War II, Messiaen was captured by the Germans and incarcerated in a Silesian prisoner-of-war camp. When the camp commander discovered that his prisoner was a composer, he provided staff paper and a quiet location for writing music. The resulting work, "The Quartet for the End of Time," scored for piano, violin, clarinet and cello, was performed in 1940 by Messiaen and other prisoners before an audience of nearly 5,000 prisoners and guards. The work's eight movements represent the seven days of creation and the eighth day of eternity.

Messiaen wrote harmonically colorful and rhythmically complex music informed by a deep religious faith and a fascination for birdsong and the diversity of nature. He wrote in most genres and was also an organist and one of the most influential teachers of his time.

The weeklong Messiaen celebration will be capped off with a performance of "The Quartet for the End of Time," by Antares, an award-winning chamber music ensemble spending a week in residence at the UI's Hancher Auditorium. The performance begins at 8 p.m. Thursday, March 25, in Clapp Recital Hall.

Strauss's lecture is sponsored by the UI department of French & Italian, the Consulate General of France, and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Bond Fund. Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all University of Iowa-sponsored events. If you are a person with a disability who requires an accommodation in order to participate in this program, please contact department of French & Italian in advance at 319-335-2253.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

CONTACTS: Media: Mary Geraghty Kenyon, 319-384-0011,; Program: Downing Thomas, 319-335-2253,