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Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time”

Taylor University Music Department performance of  Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time”
Performed November 9, 7:30 p.m.
Recital Hall

TU Messiaen's Quartet

The Taylor University musicians practice Messian's Quartet

Olivier Messiaen (December 10, 1908 – April 27, 1992) was a French composer, organist, and ornithologist (his love of studying and watching birds led to incorporating birdsong transcriptions into his music).  He attended the Paris Conservatoire at age 11 and served as the organist at the church of La Trinite in Paris from 1931 until his death in 1992.  He was a devout Roman Catholic, and his intent in many of his compositions was to express the “marvelous aspects of faith”.

“Quartet for the End of Time” was created by Messiaen after he had been captured by the Nazis and placed as a prisoner of war in a camp in Poland. He befriended a violinist (Jean Le Boulaire), a cellist (Etienne Pasquier) and a clarinetist (Henri Akoka) while suffering in the camp; their friendship and his colorful dreams inspired him to write the piece that they would perform to follow prisoners on January 15 of 1941. The music may not have been happy or in-tune (he played on a rather dilapidated piano), but it has served to inspire countless numbers of people since its premiere.

We hope you enjoyed the performance, and we look forward to your comments.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Tim Lofton permalink
    November 12, 2009 8:30 pm

    While I was unable to attend the concert on Monday, I attended chapel on Wednesday and heard the performance of the Quartet’s 6th movement. It was bookended beautifully by the Taylor Sounds performance of “Promised Land” and Begbie’s lecture on Living the Differences, mostly because of the unusual nature of its rhythm.

    Subtitled as “The Dance of Fury, For the Seven Trumpets”, it consisted of 4 instruments (violin, cello, clarinet, piano) playing not in harmony, but in unison. It did not seem to have a timing, and in some strange way it felt like perhaps it was written for different instruments, as if they were imitating percussion or brass. Given the way that the piece was written (in a work camp) and how limited their resources were, this might be the case.

    A piece like this makes you ask a lot of questions: what was the composer thinking? What was his ideal, rather than his reality (would he have changed insturments, given the chance?) Was this meant to symbolize rage, drunkenness, or some other sort of chaos? And perhaps most for me, why does something with a backstory so sad sound so whimsical?

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