Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Olivier Messiaen - Quartet For The End Of Time (MHS - MHS 978)
I can gratefully state that I am a keen audience for the works of Olivier Messiaen and have a well established collection of his recordings. However, most of them are miles apart even though their structures have similarities on base level. There are some of his earlier works which stand out from the group but even on those works, his different style of approach can be seen and felt. Quartet For The End Of Time or originally Quatuor Pour La Fin Du Temps is one of those pieces. When compared with his later works, it has a more classical style to it even though with long passages from the clarinet which creates a chilling effect on the listener. On the other hand, this composition is not only beautiful in the musical sense, but also on the composing stage as well.
There are some compositions which are a result of uncompromising circumstances. This composition is a clear example of this type. It is essential to learn about the circumstances during the composition of this work in order to fully grasp the reality behind the melancholy and even depressive notes that dominate it. Messiaen was enlisted in the French army during WWII and he was in a prisoner camp when he wrote this work. He was accompanied by three other French musicians and he wrote a trio for them which later on became a quartet with Messiaen on the piano. The premiere was in a barrack of the prisoner camp in front of 5.000 prisoners and German soldiers. Interestingly the front row was for the German guards whom were all the more effected by the pure beauty of the piece. Of course there were some mishaps like the cello with three strings.
To be honest, it can be noted that this piece is one of the most important works of 20th century music not only because of it's emotional value, but also musically. The gloomy atmosphere along the composition was also similarly offered to us by the likes of Sibelius, but his position was merely a depression in the dense forest house where he was feeling more productive.
It is really hard to explain the composition. When you listen to it, the first thing that strikes you is that the name is extremely proper to the composition. There is a dark atmosphere. Really dark. This is the work of Messiaen, but it is more rightful to say that this is the best piece about war since it was written within the war itself. I am also a deep admirer of Britten's War Requiem which is similarly affectionate and emotional. However, there is a small difference between them and that is War Requiem is the child of grief after war and Quartet For The End Of Time is the child of grief, pain and suffering during the war. There are no more words to describe it. None needed as well as the whole piece speaks for itself.