Introduction and project outline

Messiaen in 1937 (Studio Harcourt/Public domain)

Olivier Messiaen (1908-92) is one of the most significant composers of the twentieth-century, yet remains one of the least discussed. The Boston University Messiaen Project is a multi-year, cross-disciplinary project dedicated to scholarly discussion and performance of Messiaen’s music; and to related cultural, historical, theological issues, in an effort to raise awareness of this notable figure. Using the resources of Boston University, cooperation from organizations in the City of Boston, and advances in technology, it aims to provide a variety of musical and scholarly offerings that will be of interest to a wide range of audiences. BUMP is jointly sponsored by the School of Music (College of Fine Arts), the School of Theology, and the College of Arts and Sciences at BU.

Community involvement

In addition to working with different departments at Boston University we have established relationships with local music groups, including orchestras, choruses and chamber groups, to provide a range of concerts, pre-concert lectures, events for children, exhibitions, and other educational experiences associated with French culture during Messiaen’s life, and the art and music of France during his lifetime. We have sponsored a number of special events focussing on his pupils (a dazzling array of luminaries including Stockhausen, Boulez and Xenakis).

2006 project launch and conference

Nigel Simeone and Peter Hill, authors of the Messiaen biography (Yale, 2005) were guests at the official launch of BUMP in September 2006.

2007 weekend conference

A second conference was held in the fall of 2007. This event focused on cross-disciplinary work, especially work on Messiaen’s theology, and was hosted by the School of Theology. Several papers from the conference were developed and published in a collection edited by Andrew Shenton by under the title Messiaen the Theologian (Ashgate, 2010).

Fall 2008 centenary festival
For the entire fall semester of 2008 Boston University promoted a series of Messiaen events at the University and in the City of Boston in cooperation with many local organizations. This culminated at the actual anniversary of his birth, Wednesday December 10 with a weekend of events on December 6 and 7, including a performance of the Quatuor pour la fin du temps at the Museum of Fine Arts.

Ongoing BUMP events

Since 2009 Andrew Shenton and BUMP have been involved in many projects relating to Messiaen’s life and work, including publications, and recitals at venues in Boston and elsewhere. Most recently, a series of concerts were held at BU in February 2020 that included a performance of Oiseaux exotiques. The next major event for the BUMP will be a series of events on Messiaen’s organ music. More details will be published here in due course.


Please see the publications section for details of Dr. Shenton’s published writing on the life and work of Olivier Messiaen. These include two essays in Messiaen in Context (Robert Sholl, editor), (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2023):  “Messiaen at Sainte-Trinité, Paris,” and  “Messiaen on Record: the Organ Music;” an essay entitled “Apocalyptic themes in the music of Olivier Messiaen,” in Dies ire, dies illa: Music in the Apocalyptic Mode (Lorenzo DiTommaso and Colin McAllister, editors), (Leiden, Brill, forthcoming 2023); and an introduction to the Turangalîla-Symphonie (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2032).