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Dictionary of World Biography
intellectual life lay in his vast correspondence. He
acted as a kind of clearing house for all the great
contemporary intellects in the fields of philosophy
and science. He supported the modern, mechanistic
philosophy against the science of the Ancients, and
defended the right to pursue scientific knowledge
against theological bigots. But he was also violently
opposed to what he saw as ‘atheistic’ and ‘materialistic’
currents in the thinking of *Bruno, Campanella, and
*Fludd. Mersenne’s own scientific research was largely
concerned with the physics of sound. He experimented
with pitch and harmonies counting the vibrations of
long strings against time: he succeeded in formulating
quantified explanations of consonance, resonance and
dissonance. He was interested in the effect of music
on the human emotions, which he sought to attribute
to entirely rational and mechanical forces. Mersenne
emphasised that languages were merely combinations
of signs invented by men for the sake of convenience
in communication. Like many 17th-century scholars
he was eager to develop a perfect, universal language,
based on scientific principles. Mersenne dedicated
himself to scientific explanations. His dying wish was
for an autopsy to discover the cause of his own death.
Mesmer, Franz Anton (1734–1815). Austrian
physician. The word ‘mesmerism’ is derived from
his name. His theories concerning the influence of
planets on the human body and the existence of an
all-pervasive ‘magnetic fluid’ that affected the nervous
system naturally did not commend themselves to
the medical profession. It was even less attracted by
the healing sessions in Paris in which he appeared
dressed in purple silk with an iron rod in his hand.
A commission set up by the Académie des Sciences
rejected (1784) his magnetic theories and thereafter his
popularity waned. He owed his successes partly to the
effects of his mumbo jumbo upon the imaginations of
his patients, and partly to amelioration produced by
hypnotism which he had the power to induce without
being able to comprehend it.
Messager, André Charles Prosper (1853–1929).
French composer. A pupil of *Saint-Saëns, he first
won wide acclaim with a comic opera, La Basoche
(1890). He was artistic director 1901–06 of Covent
Garden Opera in London. Monsieur Beaucaire (1919)
was the best known of his many operettas.
Ferner, H., André Messager. 1948.
Messalina, Valeria (24–48 CE). Roman Empress.
Wife of *Claudius, she was only 15 when she
married, and as the beautiful young mother of his
son Britannicus held Claudius completely enthralled,
though notorious in Rome for her lasciviousness,
amorality and the murders she instigated. Her
downfall and execution was due to her ‘marriage’ in
public to her favourite lover, Silius.
Messerschmitt, Willy (1898–1978). German aircraft
designer and manufacturer. He produced his first
aeroplane in 1916 and, a few years later, founded
his own firm for their manufacture. His fighters and
fighter bombers, Me. 109, 110, 210 and 410, were
among the most successful German aircraft of World
War II.
Messiaen, Olivier (Eugène Prosper Charles) (1908–
1992). French composer, born in Avignon. Son of a
professor of English and a poet, he taught himself
the piano, then studied organ with Marcel Dupré
and composition with Paul *Dukas. From 1931 he
was organist at the Trinité Church, Paris, taught at
the Schola Cantorum 1935–39, and was a professor
of composition at the Sorbonne 1942–88: Pierre
*Boulez, Yannis *Xenakis and Karlheinz *Stockhausen
were pupils. After army service, he was a prisoner of
war at Görlitz (1940–41). Primarily a melodist, he
used innovative tone-colouring influenced by his
studies of Greek chants, Hindu ragas, bird songs,
plainsong and microtonality. He wrote on musical
theory and his philosophy was imbued with his
Catholic faith. His major pieces include La Nativité
du Seigneur (1935, organ solo), Quatuor pour la fin
du temps (1941, piano, clarinet, violin, cello), Visions
de l’Amen (1943, two pianos), Vingt Regards sur
l’Enfant-Jesus (1944, piano), Turangalila-Symphonie
(1946–48, a luxuriantly romantic work, probably
his most accessible), Chronochromie (1960, ‘The
Colour of Time’ for large orchestra), Couleurs de la
Cité Celeste (1963) and Et Exspecto Resurrectionem
Mortuorum (1964). His second wife, Yvonne Loriod
(1924–2010) was a magnificent pianist and teacher
who premiered works by her husband and Boulez.
Griffiths, P., Olivier Messiaen. 1985; Hill, P., and
Simeone, N., Messiaen. 2005.
Mestrovic, Ivan (1883–1962). Yugoslav sculptor,
born in Dalmatia. He studied in Vienna and Paris and
between the two world wars became widely known
for the vigorous monumental style and emotional
intensity he applied to the many war memorials for
which he was commissioned. In his own country his
best known works include the great Yugoslav national
temple at Kossovo and the immense statue of Bishop
Gregory outside the walls of Split. He became a US
citizen in 1954.
Metaxas, Ioannis (1870–1941). Greek soldier and
dictator. He was Assistant Chief of Staff in the Balkan
Wars but opposed cooperation with the Allies in
World War I and was exiled by *Venizelos. After the
war he was an ultra-royalist and several times held
office. After George II was restored (1935), Metaxas
was first minister of war and then Prime Minister
1936–41. On the dissolution of parliament in 1936
he ruled as dictator until his death. He organised
the successful defence against the Italian attack