Possibly the most overwhelming influence on Messiaen’s music was
his fascination with birdsong and the ways in which he could replicate
the sounds of nature within his music.
Oiseaux exotiques, for solo piano and an ensemble of woodwind, brass and percussion, was the result of a request from Pierre Boulez and Messiaen’s more methodical research and interest in ornithology. After depicting a dawn chorus of French birds in Réveil des oiseaux (1953), he next turned his attention to a new work which would include birds from much further afield.
Messiaen's sources for the new work included recordings of American birds on disc, including the Wood Thrush, which plays such an important (and expressive) part in the work, from its initial appearance in the first piano cadenza, to its last just before the end of the work.
But not all the birds in Oiseaux exotiques came from records, as Messiaen also visited bird exhibitions and private aviaries in and around Paris, to see and hear Shamas, Red Cardinals and other spectacular non-native birds.