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Press Release

Press Release

Doctoral Thesis on composer Olivier Messiaen and the composer as a composite role in musical modernism

Jonas Lundblad.
Jonas Lundblad

MFA in Music Jonas Lundblad’s doctoral thesis in Musicology will be put forth for public defence at the Faculty of Arts, Psychology and Theology at Åbo Akademi University.

The thesis is entitled A Composite Modernist Composer: A Study of Intersections between Composition, Theorizing, and Performance in Olivier Messiaen.

The public defence of the doctoral thesis takes place on 25 May 2023 at 12 PM in the Armfelt auditorium, Arken, Tehtaankatu 2, Turku. Professor Edward Campbell, University of Aberdeen, Scotland, Great Britain will serve as opponent and Professor Johannes Brusila, Åbo Akademi University, as custos.


The French composer Olivier Messiaen (1908‒1992) contributed to creating an exalted role of the composer in modernist art music. Through his own music, and as one of the 20th century’s most influential teachers of composition, he shaped several of the most important names in the post-war avant-garde. This dissertation breaks new ground through analyses of central elements in a new view of composers as intellectuals, philosophers and researchers. Through critical readings of Messiaen’s own descriptions of his activities, it also shows how certain aspects were highlighted, while others were passed over in silence. Among the latter is not least the composers’ activities as interpreters of their own works.

The thesis contains detailed studies of how Messiaen adopted theoretical principles and transformed them into compositional ideas, and how he, as a performing musician, approached his own music in other ways than in his analyses as a composer. In addition, it examines how Messiaen’s writings shaped his reception on a broader cultural scene, especially in influential writings by philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari.

The dissertation follows a revived musicological interest in modernism, as a concept and an epoch. Historical distance to an earlier tendency of understanding the music on composers’ own premises creates opportunities for new knowledge and new interpretations of modernism’s significance. This study of Messiaen builds on previous in-depth studies of how composers’ writings contributed to creating their authors’ elevated status and follows a musicological paradigm that stresses the self-standing value of musical performance. The manifestly Catholic composer Messiaen has often been treated as a religious solitary, rather than being studied as an integral part of the modernism he contributed to shape. In contrast, his music and writings are here deliberately placed in context.

The thesis provides an in-depth understanding of how theorizing, and performance formed key aspects of Messiaen’s composite activity as a composer. Through such a detailed studies of one of the 20th century’s most important composers and teachers, a wide range of perspectives on the rise of the century’s exalted role as a composer are provided, together with methods for further explorations of musical modernism more broadly.



Jonas Lundblad was born in 1982 in Örebro, Sweden. He can be reached by phone +46 702 848 034 or email jonas.lundblad@musik.uu.se.

The doctoral thesis can be read online through the Doria publication archive.

Click here for a press photo of the doctoral student.