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Belvedere Olivier Messiaen - Saint-Théoffrey
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Belvedere Olivier Messiaen - Saint-Théoffrey

Belvedere Olivier Messiaen - Saint-Théoffrey

Olivier Messiaen in the heart of the Matheysine landscape

Olivier Messiaen in his house in Petichet, 1977 © archives Olivier Messiaen


Olivier Messiaen (1908 - 1992) was a French composer, organist and educator; he was also passionate about birds. He was one of the world's most celebrated artists of the 20th century. After spending part of his childhood in Grenoble, Olivier Messiaen came back to the Matheysine area in 1936 and built a modest summer house in Petichet in front of the lake of Laffrey. Every summer until 1991, he returned to this house with his wife and favourite performer of his work, Yvonne Loriod. Early in the morning he would walk in the lanes, writing down the bird songs he heard and then return to the house to compose. The artist was very discreet. He was seen as a simple and humble man living "in a world of his own". Local people sometimes bumped into him at the church of Saint-Theoffrey, to which he contributed to the costs of renovation, and where he used to play the harmonium. Today his body rests at the cemetery of Saint-Théoffrey; an extract of his work Harawi is engraved in golden lettering on his monument, a large stylized bird made of white Carrare marble.


« I've seen here absolutely magnificent mountain landscapes. The Dauphiné is really the greatest thing in France » - Olivier Messiaen, 1935, extract of a letter for his wife Claire Delbos

Olivier Messiaen, a genius composer


"I think the sounds are colourful.  Each complex of sounds has its own colour. When I write music, I perceive colours"
Olivier Messiaen, 1988, interview with Arthur Kopel


His catalog, gathering more than 70 pieces, including the Quatuor for the End of the World, Bird Catalogue and Turangalîla Symphonia, reveals original and innovative music. His work is remarkable in its language and unique style. Messiaen could see colours listening to sounds, and the songs of birds inspired him the musical notation which he translated to the piano. Inspired by his travels, this nature lover could recognize around fifty birdsongs. He spent 37 years at the Conservatoire de Paris as a professor of harmony, analysis and composition and was considered as an outstanding educator, nurturing several generations of new talented artists (Pierre Boulez, Betsy Jolas, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Iannis Xenakis, Tristan Murail...).
But it is in Petichet that he wrote the main part of his work, inspired by the bucolic and calm environment. He found here a unique site to study birds. Aware of the fragility of this environment, he sought "to save its extraordinary landscape from modern civilization". His wish became reality with the creation of a designated site of natural interest.

Olivier Messiaen in his house in Petichet, early 80’s, © coll. Museum matheysinOlivier Messiaen in his house in Petichet, early 80’s, © coll. Museum matheysin

A selection of his work :

Contemplation of the Father, Twenty gazes on the Christ-child (1944)

By Paul S. Kim

The Field Lark, Small sketches of birds (1985)

By Paul S. Kim


The Robin, Small sketches of birds (1985)

By Paul S. Kim


Love Star-bird, Harawi: Songs of love and death (1945)

By Marcelle Bunlet, soprano and Olivier Messiaen, piano.

Recorded during a gig in Vichy in 1954.

The Blackbird, Small sketches of birds (1985)

By Paul S. Kim

Bird songs, Livre d'orgue (1951)

By Olivier Messiaen and recorded in 1956 in the "Sainte Trinité" church

in Paris in front of more than 2000 people.

© : Records made in 2008 for the celebration of the centenary of Olivier Messiaen's birth by Bernard Fort (Groupe musiques vivantes de Lyon), lead by Communauté de communes de la Matheysine with the help of Musée matheysin.

Messiaen, an artist fascinated by nature

Olivier Messiaen in his garden in Petichet, 1977 © archives Olivier MessiaenOlivier Messiaen in his garden in Petichet, 1977 © archives Olivier Messiaen


The lakes of Matheysine are of great interest for birds as feeding and nesting places for many rare and protected species.  More than 50 species can be seen here and in the spring these professional singers give us an open air concert of the highest order. With their rich and varied melodies, the birds we encounter here are the basis of the composer's work.
Listen carefully! You may hear the Eurasian Reed Warbler perched in its reed bed, or the sonorous giggle of the European Green Woodpecker in the nearby forest, also home to the Eurasian golden oriole. The hedges and meadows below the gazebo offer a multitude of hiding places for the Garden Warbler, Yellowhammer and the Song Trush.



"As soon as I hear a bird's song,
I recover and I forget my worries.
If I feel dying and hear a birdsong,
then I am cured!
Olivier Messiaen, 1989

Birds of Petichet :

Garden Warblers

© J.F. Noblet


© A.Lorenzini

Eurasian Golden Oriole

© J. Stevant

Song Thrush

© J. Stevant


© F. Pinto

Eurasian Reed Warbler

© All pictures and sounds come from the SDD.

From the glaciers to the lakes

A glacial landform

> 40,000 years ago, during the last great ice age, the glacier of Romanche was already 1400 meters high. Rising largely above the plateau of Matheysine, it spread out beyond Pierre-Châtel.
At the same time, the glacier of Valbonnais extended to the south entrance of La Mure. The space between the 2 glaciers was occupied at the time by a vast glacial lake.

Retreat of glaciers

> Around -30,000 years ago, the glacier of Romanche started to recede erratically/ This process saw boulders from the rear of the glacier eventually building up on its front edge and today you can stand on this accumulation called the "terminal moraine". As the glacier receded step by step, lakes have been created by the melt water coming from the glacier and the run off of the near-by hills.

The plateau of Matheysine nowadays

> Nowadays the glacier has disappeared and four lakes occupy the valleys between the moraines. From the oldest to the youngest in the direction of the glacier's retreat, you find the lake of Pierre-Châtel also known as the Lake of the Cordelier, the Lake of Petitchet, the great Lake of Laffrey and the Dead Lake !
The oldest lake in La Mure has been clogged and is now a large swampy area partially protected as many animals and botanically sensitive species have found refuge there !

By Thierry Grand

Discover the best which surrounds you

The Matheysin plateau offers a vast range of ecosystems. This large diversity of environments made up of reed beds, bocages, peatlands, swamps and rushes, provide shelter for rare and protected species.

The Reed Bed © Léo CassaroThe Reed Bed © Léo Cassaro

The Peatlands © Léo CassaroThe Peatlands © Léo Cassaro

The reed bed

Eurasian Reed Warbler © F. Pinto



Made up of common reed or Phragmites, the reed bed is a rare environment in Isère. Its large stems (sometimes measuring more than 3 meters high) end with a distinctive beige ploom.

In the water, it's used as reproduction and feeding areas for fishes. On the surface, it's a prime location for nesting and a huge meat safe for birds. The Eurasian Reed Warbler nests there, weaving between the reed stems, away from the predators.

The wooded hedge


Landscape shaped by human, the bocage is made of fields and meadows bounded by hedges. Those wind breaks are real ecosystem themselves and limit the effect of erosion. Giving shade during the warm days, they protect the predators and create ideal living conditions for the species nearby.

The Red-backed shrike, typical sparrow of the bocage, uses the thorny shrubs or even the barbed wires as meat safe as it impales its prey such as insects, voles, lizards on it...


The Red-backed shrike © J. Carlin

The peatlands

Yellow wide lip orchid © J. Carlin


These fragile environments, specific to the Matheysin plateau, need thousands of years to build up. The organic matter in the ground, which is full of water and poorly oxygenated, piles up millimeter by millimeter and forms the peat.

Very few plant and animal species survive in these tough conditions, for example the rare Yellow wide lip orchid. This little orchid is one of the first life-forms that colonize this ecosystem. It can even move itself floating with its bulb when the water level changes!

Aquatic life

Many unimagined treasures live beneath the surface of the lake. Large patches of characian algae, an example of granulocytic algaes rich in limestone, form clouds between 1 and 6 meters deep. The seagrasses show the purity of the water quality.

The lake also provides a home for 14 species of fish: From the Common roach to the Northern pike, the Brown trout and the famous Arctic char. Some freshwater jellyfish can also be found. Measuring less than 25mm, they are harmless to humans but are formidable predators for microscopic organisms.

Characian algae © G.Billard

Arctic char © ONEMA

A treasured wealth

Sundew © SDD




A designated natural sensitive site (also called ENS) is a remarkable area in terms of natural heritage, for the wealth as much as the rarity of the species it shelters. In these areas the Département takes steps to protect the wildlife as well as to welcome the public.
The first aim of this management strategy is to protect biodiversity by promoting the natural and human heritage of the Matheysine.
Created in 2014, this ENS of 250 hectares includes 9 peatlands. Because they represent a unique natural wealth in our Département, their conservation constitutes a high environmental priority.
Heritage plant species, remarkable birds and breathtaking landscapes made of gigantic glaciers make this site unique and worthy of protection/
In this fragile environment, 9 protected plants, around twenty rare birds such as the Short-Eared Owl or the Little Bittern, but also 7 species of bats and 6 species of amphibians are listed.
Even so those wetlands are not only a shelter but also store, purify and filter the water.
To preserve them, the work with the farmers is necessary to sustain the traditional management approaches.