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Poèmes pour Mi (Poems for Mi) is a song cycle for dramatic soprano and piano or orchestra by Olivier Messiaen, composed in 1936 and 1937 and dedicated to his first wife, Claire Delbos. The text are poems by the composer based on the New Testament.

Poèmes pour Mi
Song cycle by Olivier Messiaen
Claire Delbos and Olivier Messiaen.jpg
Claire Delbos and Olivier Messiaen in 1933
TextPoems by the composer
Composed1936 (1936)–1937
DedicationClaire Delbos
Duration32 min
  • soprano
  • piano or orchestra


Messiaen composed the work at the Lac de Pétichet in the summer of 1936, setting his own poems.[1] He specifically called for a grand soprano dramatique (great dramatic soprano), probably with the voice of Marcelle Bunlet[2][3] in mind, who was a notable singer of Brünnhilde at the time.[4] Messiaen dedicated the cycle to his first wife, Claire Delbos,[1] a violinist and composer.[5] It is one of three major song cycles, with Harawi and Chants de Terre et de Ciel, and the only one which he also orchestrated, the following year in Paris.[6]

The piano version was premiered on 28 April 1937 as a concert de la Spirale, by Marcelle Bunlet and the composer at the piano.[6] It was published by Edition Durand.[6] The first performance of the orchestra version took place at the salle Gaveau in Paris on 4 June 1937. The soprano Marcelle Bunlet was accompanied by the orchestra of the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire, conducted by Roger Désormière.[1]

Text structure and scoringEdit

In his poems, Messiaen paraphrases verses from the New Testament in "surrealist poetry". The poems can be seen as depicting first a couple's spiritual struggle, then their journey together.[5] In this work, the rhythmic language uses very irregular durations, and certain processes dear to the author: added values, added points, non-retrogradable rhythms, plus some borrowings from Greek metrics and Hindu rhythmics. The "Mi" syllable of the title is a word of affection, imitating a diminutive, and the nickname of the dedicatee.[6]

  1. Action de grâces
  2. Paysage
  3. La Maison
  4. Épouvante
  5. L'épouse
  6. Ta voix
  7. Les deux guerriers
  8. Le collier
  9. Prière exaucée

The work is scored for soprano solo, four flutes, three oboes (also Cor Anglais), two clarinets, three bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, percussion (three players) and strings. The duration is given as 32 minutes.[1]


Both versions of the song cycle have been recorded.[4]


  1. ^ a b c d "Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) / Poèmes pour Mi (1936-1937) / pour grand soprano dramatique et orchestre" (in French). French National Library. Retrieved 15 November 2018.
  2. ^ Marcelle Bunlet on Great Opera singers
  3. ^ Marcelle Bunlet on BnF
  4. ^ a b c Oliver, Michael (February 1987). "Messiaen Poèmes pour Mi". Gramophone. Retrieved 15 November 2018.
  5. ^ a b Schmid, Rebecca. "From our Repertoire: Messiaen's "Poèmes pour Mi"" (in French). French National Library. Retrieved 15 November 2018.
  6. ^ a b c d Halbreich, Harry (1987). L'oeuvre d'Olivier Messiaen (in French). Gramophone. p. 204.
  7. ^ Lise Arseguet on BnF
  8. ^ Maria Oràn on BnF
  9. ^ Olivier Messiaen / Poèmes pour Mi / Sept Haïkaï / Le Réveil des oiseaux Deutsche Grammophon (1997)

External linksEdit