Messiaen La Quatour Pour La Fin du Temps / The Quartet for the End of Time – Pt. I

This work, for Violin, Clarinet, Cello and Piano, composed in 1941 by the 20th century master, Olivier Messiaen, was conceived and written in a concentration camp,Stalag VIIIA in Silesia, on January 15, 1941.It remains the single most beautiful, spiritual, and one of the most challenging of the 20th century, and certainly deserves to be on every serious clarinetists list of works to perform or to perform again, and again.I have had the good fortune to perform the work more than a dozen times both in Canada and the US. I had heard much about the work before I purchased the parts and then studied the work for many years before our first performance with the Montreal Chamber Quartet in Boston, Massachusetts at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.Prior to my performing analyses of the work and especially the discussion of the Solo Clarinet section: “Abyss of the Birds” (Abime des oiseaux), I want to set down the English translation of the text and the words of the composer himself, Olivier Messiaen.MovementsCrystal Liturgy Vocalise for the Angel who announces the end of time Abyss of the Birds Intermezzo In praise of the Eternity of Jesus Dance of Fury, for the seven trumpets Cluster of rainbows, for the Angel who announces the end of Time In praise of the Immortality of Jesus Olivier Messiaen and the Quartet for the End of Time.”I saw a mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed in a cloud and with a rainbow on its head. And his face was as if it were the sun and his feet pillars of fire. He set his right foot upon the sea and his left foot on earth, and standing upon the sea and the earth, lifted his hand up to heaven and swore by Him who lives forever and ever saying: THERE SHALL BE TIME NO LONGER; but on the day of the trumpet of the seventh angel, the mystery of God shall be consummated.” (Revelation of St. John, Chapter X, verses 1 to seven).Conceived and written during my detention, “Quartet for the End of Time” was first played at Stalag VIIIA on January 15,1941 by Jean La Boulaire (violin), Henry Akoka (clarinet), Etienne Pasquier (cello) and myself on piano. It was directly inspired from this quote from the Apocalypse. Its musical language is essentially non-materialistic, spiritual, catholic. The styles melodiously and harmoniously bring out an ubiquitous tonality, and draws the listener closer to a sense of eternity in time and space. Special rhythms strongly help to detach onself from the temporal. (All this remains babblings when we consider the overwhelming grandeur of the subject!)The Quartet is made up of eight movements. Why? Seven is the perfect number, the creation of six days sanctified by the holy sabbath: the seventh day of rest continues into eternity and becomes the eight of the invulnerable light of inalterable peace.”1. Crystal Liturgy. Between 3 and 4 o’clock in the morning, the awakening of the birds. A blackbird or a nightingale soloist improvises, surrounded by sonorous dust, a halo of trills lost high in the trees. Translate that into a religious context: You will have the harmonious silence of Heaven!2. Song for the Angel who Announces the End of Time. The first and third parts (very short) evoke the power of this mighty angel — crowned with a rainbow, clothed in a cloud — who stands one foot upon the sea and one foot on earth. All around are the eternel harmonies of heaven. Soft cascades on the piano … a distant carillion clang … and the simple strains of the violin and cello.3. Abyss of the Birds. Clarinet Solo. The Abyss is Time with its sadnesses, its lassitudes. The birds are the opposite of Time. They are our desire for light, for the stars, for rainbows, the joyful song.4. Interlude. Scherzo has a more outgoing character than the other movements but, at the same time, it is connected to them by melodic reminders.5. Homage to The Eternity of Jesus. Jesus is deemed the Word. Through the cello, love and reverence magnifies this powerful but sweet Word into a powerful statement. The melody majestically fades into the distance. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was in God and the Word was God.6. Dance of Fury for Seven Trumpets. Rhythmically, the most characteristic piece of the series. The four instruments combine to give the impression of gongs and trumpets. (The first six trumpets of the Apocalypse is followed by various catastrophes. The trumpet of the seventh angel announces the consumation of the mystery of God). Use of added [rhythmic] values, rhythms augmented or diminished… Music of stone, of formidable, sonorous granite…7. Rainbows for the Angel who Announces the End of Time Certain passages from the second movement recur here. The powerful angel appears, above all the rainbow that covers him … In my dreams I hear and see a catalogue of chords and melodies, familiar colours and forms … The swords of fire, these outpourings of blue-orange lava, these turbulent stars … 8. The Eternity of Jesus Expansive solo violin, counterpart to the violoncello solo of the fifth movement. Why this second encomium? It addresses more specifically the second aspect of Jesus, Jesus the Man, the Word made flesh…. Its slow ascent toward the most extreme point of tension is the ascension of man toward his God, of the child of God toward his Father, of the being made divine toward Paradise.


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