Olivier Messiaen
Quatuor Pour la Fin du Temps


5.0
classic

Review

by taylormemer USER (92 Reviews)
September 11th, 2009 | 38 replies


Release Date: 1941 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Music for eternity.

One the most delicate and influential pieces of music during the mid twentieth century was not first heard in a bright and colourful French auditorium, with frocks, tuxedos and gowns. Instead, it was performed on a viciously cold evening in barrack number 27 of the now infamous Stalag VIII-A prisoner-of-war camp deep within Germany’s darkened borders of 1941. Of all places music has been premiered, and possibly will ever be premiered, the dank surroundings of snow-covered wood, stiff wire and towering watch-posts, seems like one of the most unlikely for a lively French composer to derive any kind of musical influence. The piece was Olivier Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time” (Quatour pour la Fin du Temps). A fitting title under the dire circumstances perhaps, but its true ideology stems from a much more thought provoking subject.

A religious man at heart, Messiaen was indeed never brought up strongly devout, and always claimed his religious state was due to simply being “born a believer”. Whether we can believe him or not, Messiaen forever maintained that the true meaning of the work was entirely independent of its apparent initial source: war and the end of the time and the world. But the idea of time in his eyes was not that of its purest ending, but rather its opposite. A copy of the score itself will entail what exactly this is to mean. Firstly during the quartet’s written preface, Messiaen quotes directly from chapter ten of John’s Book of Revelation whereby a soaring angel draped in cloud and rainbow, signals “that there will be no more Time.” Note that ‘time’ is capitalised to emphasise its meaning. Subsequently, the ending of time, refers solely to when eternity is not predetermined by the material prominence of how time itself is measured. Literally, the quartet is for eternity; the period which “God’s mystery is answered and all evil is thrown down upon the Earth.”

“Liturgy of Crystal” validates the above analysis, while also preserving Messiaen’s dedicated interest in birdsong in the higher registers. In this instance, the clarinet imitates a chummy blackbird, while the violin does so for a shrilling nightingale. Careful listening will embody this clever use of instrumentation even more so. The two are wholly independent in both melody and rhythm, but share a common direction compared to that of the more stagnate piano part, which recycles irregular permutations of dense chords, some with nine tones or more. Similarly the cello slides between its harmonic notes gracefully, but doesn’t deviate outside of its same fifteen note melody. The contrast in motion here is essentially to signify that Messiaen sought out to differentiate himself from his predecessors and contemporaries with respect to how time is illustrated in music via its particular harmony and rhythm; the birds move freely in their instance, while the cello and piano remain endless and eternal. It’s a frequently occurring theme throughout the work.

“Abyss of birds” also shares commonality with Liturgy, but does so through just the solo clarinet, who again is imitating some form of birdsong, albeit slower and more sorrowful. Clarinettist, Henri Akoka, was the first to see the music for this particular movement en route to Stalag. Messiaen has his poor eyesight to thank for not being on the cowering front-line prior to this journey – he rather served as a humble medical auxiliary. Being captured at Verdun in the July of 1940 with little more than a rucksack filled by some of the influential musical works of Beethoven, Bach and Debussy, sketches of the quartet came to life primarily through memory. Despite the conditions, he managed to (rather quickly) score much of the music he intended to complete before his military service. In a turn of fortune, the commander of Stalag actually allowed Messiaen to continue his composition on a dusty corner piano without much interruption. Here he came into contact with violinist Jean le Boulaire and cellist Etienne Pasquier, two renowned professional musicians in their homeland. Messiaen made good use of the available expertise for such an unusual grouping of instruments, but also naturally desired to include himself in the performance, thus a piano line was fittingly added. It’s hard to image how the music could have worked otherwise.

Much of the quartet’s musical elements merely derive their content from Messiaen’s adoration for the music of others. Indeed, Bach and Beethoven’s boldness fit in here, as does Debussy’s turn-of-the-century experimentations with the octatonic and whole tone scales; Messiaen uses both extensively throughout to maintain sections of stability. The folk-like spaciousness of Bartok makes an entrance, as does the clamouring primitivism of Stavinsky. Such contrast in mood gives rise to some of the work’s most profound moments. The tidal change between “Eulogy to the eternity of Jesus” and “Dance of fury, for the seven trumpets” is startlingly powerful. The former plods resonant piano chords (see Radiohead’s Pyramid Song for similarity) between the cellos weeping tones, while the latter has each musician play a rhythmically colourful melody over separate octaves in a chaotic manner. Again the religious entitlements here are prevalent to what the music is playing. The eulogy itself is marked as ‘infinitely slow’ – eternity once again in the piano and cello. The dance is reminiscent of the apocalypse, with its immediate successor “Tangle of rainbows” compounding the end of Time itself.

The profound religious association here may throw off those not accustom to such devotedness. However, aside what works so efficiently is the musical representation of a man’s passion -- his birds, his religion, but most of all his deeply introspective mindset. A true synesthete, who turned six months of dark peril into six months of colour, while at the same time regulating the life of his fellow prisoners to be more pleasant. In turn, his music ironically gave way to his freedom; he was released not long after the premiere of the quartet with the camp commanders deciding him as little a threat as he was apparently a meek bands-person rather than a true soldier. They may have found it in their hearts to release him, along with others, but “Quartet for the End of Time” is piece truly that once again proved the power music has on opposing sides of humanity. In the same make-shift theatre bearing sub-zero temperatures, the enemies still managed to share a common interest towards a performance of timeless music. Messiaen later recollected, “Never was I listened to with such rapt attention and comprehension.”



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Comments:Add a Comment 
Prophet178
September 11th 2009


6397 Comments


I've been wanting to get into classical, I'll definitely check this out, sounds epic.

taylormemer
September 11th 2009


4962 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I wouldn't consider this a 'place to start' if that's what you are intending.

Prophet178
September 11th 2009


6397 Comments


No not really, just that I'm interested in classical.

devsol
September 11th 2009


356 Comments


fantastic review

Athom
Emeritus
September 11th 2009


17242 Comments

Album Rating: 4.6

pos pos pos pos pos pos.

Electric City
Emeritus
September 11th 2009


15762 Comments


yesssssssssssssss one of my favorite classical pieces

eulogy is so beautiful

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
September 11th 2009


17364 Comments


fuck that shit i was gonna review this


the first eulogy is ridiculously good

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
September 11th 2009


17364 Comments


wait what who the fuck messed up my tagging with that I/22 bullshit

taylormemer
September 11th 2009


4962 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Piss off you clown I messed up your dumbass tagging. You screwed up my original tagging, and my 1941 release date, what is wrong with you? You made it 01/01/2009, lol idiot. I/22 refers to Messiaen's catalogue. Release/premiere dates here don't reflect publication, nor do they reflect when the work was recognised. They help justify where the work lies in relation to his others, whether its chronological or not. For example Bach's catagloue is organised by genre. BWVs 1-224 are his cantatas, Chorales are from 250 to 438. This is because most of Bach's works aren't stuck down by a date.



Messiaen has two running catalogues currently and they are in continual development because his diaries/letters etc. are still being sifted through. The 'II' (second) catalogue was to include works missed out in the 'I' catalogue. It's really exactly the same as Opus (Op.) numbers, BWV numbers, D, S, TWV, K etc. The reason why I put them in it for the reason that music dating from these eras is often not released the same as albums are today. For this reason Philip Glass's music has no need for cataloging because he composed in a time where technological advancement allowed for release dates to be relevant. So... don't try that shit again.

thebhoy
Emeritus
September 11th 2009


4463 Comments


OH SHIT SON....

also, yeah I really need this.

Piglet
September 12th 2009


7865 Comments


Been a while since you did a classical review jake
... clown lol
using a bit of old slang again?

Electric City
Emeritus
September 12th 2009


15762 Comments


that was beautiful taylor

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
September 12th 2009


17364 Comments


~oops~

Piglet
September 13th 2009


7865 Comments


Not sure whether I should check this out. I have an expendable collection of famous composers, but...

Phantom
September 13th 2009


8985 Comments


that was one of the best burns i've seen on here and it couldn't happen to a more deserving user.

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
September 13th 2009


17364 Comments


i was usually thinking of the actual album itself which i thought was supposed to be what was reviewed, not the work itself (in this case i was gonna review the tashi one)

but if youre gonna review the work itself than youre right i had no idea it was tagged that way


~got burned~

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
January 18th 2010


17364 Comments


listened to this again last night so good

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
July 18th 2010


17364 Comments


argh the louanges (or eulogies or whatever) are soooooo good

Electric City
Emeritus
July 18th 2010


15762 Comments


idk alex i mean there are some cool riffs (i like the one in the first song) but i feel like im just getting kinda pummeled and after a few minutes i just feel like turning on something else. "pummeled" doesnt mean like "THIS LABUM IS 2 HEAVY FOR ME" but it just doesnt capture my attention plus the lyrics tend to annoy me

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
July 18th 2010


17364 Comments


yeah whatever go listen to your dumb new jersey shit rock and pretend youre fighting the man



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