OLIVIER MESSIAEN: Music and Color, a book-length interview conducted by Claude Samuel, is the closest thing we have to an autobiography of the late French composer of deeply religious music. Samuel, a friend of the composer for three decades, set down with Messiaen in 1986 to discuss his career, philosophy, musical techniques, travels, and thoughts about contemporary music.
His youth and first love of birds is covered, as well as the various adventures he had through life searching new bird-watching (and bird-listening) opportunities. Tens of pages are dedicated to how he perceived sound and colour, as he experienced synasthesia, and his rhythmic innovations. As Messiaen was nearing the end of his life, the interview deals at length with generations after Messiaen's own. The composer is full of praise for Boulez and Xenakis and his younger wife Yvonne Loriod, but his most effusive praise is reserved for George Benjamin, one of his last students (whose career doesn't seem to have taken off quite as much as Messiaen expected). The book decades over 40 pages to "Saint Francois d'Assisi", Messiaen's opera of epic proportions premiered in 1983. Messiaen seems to hold this as his most important work, and it's a pity that nowadays it is almost forgotten while "lesser" works like "Turangalila-symphonie" and the Quatuor are frequently performed.
I learned a little bit more about certain works by Messiaen by reading this interview, and a lot more about the man Messiaen and what he felt was his mission in life. Worth reading for fans of the great composer.