Olivier Messiaen was born in Avignon, France, the son of a literature scholar and a poet. Not long after World War I began, he went to stay with his uncle in Grenoble, where he began playing piano and composing. After the war, the family moved to Paris and Messiaen entered the Conservatory. He did not adhere to any particular style or “school” of composition, but from very early on was forming his own individual musical voice. His influences included his faith, the rhythms of India and Greece, and even bird song.
Messiaen was called to military service at the outbreak of World War II, and was taken a prisoner of war in May 1940. During the winter of 1940-41 at the Görlitz internment camp in Silesia he composed Quatuor pour la fin du temps to perform with his fellow inmates. The première performance of his most ambitious work to date took place in the POW camp. Upon his release in May 1941 he was appointed as professor of harmony at his alma mater, and he did not retire until 1978. He also taught analysis and composition, and his students included Karlheinz Stockhausen and Iannis Xenakis. By the time of Messian’s passing, many honors had been bestowed upon him, including the naming of a mountain in Utah Mount Messiaen.