The scholar-pianist Peter Hill and the musicologist Nigel Simeone have written the book on Messiaen. With the help of Yvonne Loriod, the composer's widow, they had unlimited access to the great man's manuscripts, diaries, letters, and files. Their labor of love is now out from Yale University Press, and it's a splendid achievement, something that every committed fan of Messiaen's music will want to own. Messiaen's life was not the stuff of drama, though it did have some dramatic incidents. Hill and Simeone seldom stray too far from the diaries and datebooks that form the core of their narrative, but they offer fascinating glimpses into Messiaen's inner life, which was never as naive or narrow as his public image as a "devout composer" let on. Much here has never been told, including the story of the tragic mental decline of Messiaen's first wife, Claire Delbos. The man himself emerges a richer, more complex presence — sometimes pedantic, sometimes fantastical, often charmingly ordinary in his habits. (There he is in 1980, at the height of his world fame, playing bits of the Messiah with the chorus at the Trinité.) The book also includes much testimony from people who knew Messiaen well, Hill included. I was especially struck by the testimony of Alexander Goehr, who describes the tense atmosphere in Messiaen's class at the Paris Conservatory amid the stylistic battles of the nineteen fifties. Goehr reports: "Face to face with his sometimes obstreperous students and opinionated hangers-on, he was even reduced to tears. We sat in silence for long periods, especially after an aggressive attempt by one of us to argue with him. Here were we, before one of the most perfect musicians of our times, combative and argumentative, in tense, unbroken silence. And he would say, 'Gentlemen, let us not argue like this. We are all in a profound night, and I don't know where I am going; I'm as lost as you.'" But he got out.