Messiaen’s Quatour pour la Fin du Temps

I just picked up a CD of Oliver Messiaen’s ‘Quatour pour la Fin du Temps’, or ‘Quartet for the End of Time’. The recording is from 1978, with Daniel Barenboim on the piano. 

I had heard Messiaen’s ‘Oiseaux exotiques’ and ‘Les offrandes oubliées’ both recently at the SLSO, which were fantastic (Oiseaux exotiques especially). I dont know what if I’ve been in a Messiaen mood lately or what, but I picked up this album on a recommendation from Alex Ross’ (The New Yorker) blog and I think it’s great.

There’s an interesting story behind this piece. Messiaen wrote ‘Quatour pour la Fin du Temps’ while in a German prison camp in 1940, for himself and three other inmates- a clarinettist, a violinist and a violoncellist. The quartet first performed the piece for the 5000 inmates of the camp in the winter of 1941. 

As I was trying to understand the piece, I was reading some program notes from a USC recital and found the following paragraph particularly interesting:

“His development of a varied and flexible rhythmic system, based in part on ancient Hindu rhythms, came to fruition in the Quartet, where more or less literally Messiaen put an end to the equally measured “time” of western classical music. The architecture of the Quartet is both musical and mystical. There are eight movements because God rested on the seventh day after creation, a day which extended into the eighth day of timeless eternity.”

Anyways, this is a great album to pick up. I thought the 6th movement was my favorite upon first listen. Next time I listen to this, I’ll be enjoying a bottle of La Fin du Monde to accentuate the mood. 

The only other thing I want to say about this piece is that I wish I had listened to the final movement with the volume lower, because it segued directly into the next ‘M’ artist on my iTunes, which was Michael Jackson’s ‘Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”. At least I won’t have to clean my ears out today…


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