Quatuor pour la fin du temps (1941)

Pianist: Matthew Schellhorn; Soloists of the Philharmonia Orchestra: James Clark (violin), Barnaby Robson (clarinet), David Cohen (cello)

I. Liturgie de cristal (Liturgy of Crystal) [0:10]
II. Vocalise, pour l'Ange qui annonce la fin du Temps (Vocalise, for the Angel who Announces the End of Time) [2:45]
III. Abîme des oiseaux (Abyss of Birds) [7:49]
IV. Intermède (Interlude) [16:10] 
V. Louange à l'Éternité de Jésus (Praise to the Eternity of Jesus) [17:58]
VI. Danse de la fureur, pour les sept trompettes (Dance of Fury, for the Seven Trumpets) [25:24]
VII. Fouillis d'arcs-en-ciel, pour l'Ange qui annonce la fin du Temps (Tangle of Rainbows, for the Angel who Announces the End of Time) [31:32]
VIII. Louange à l'Immortalité de Jésus (Praise to the Immortality of Jesus) [38:54]

A work for clarinet, violin, cello and piano by Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992), who composed the piece while being held prisoner by the Germans during the Second World War. The quartet was premiered by clarinetist Henri Akoka, violinist Jean le Boulaire, cellist Étienne Pasquier and Messiaen on the piano in Stalag VIII-A in Görlitz, Germany (now Zgorzelec, Poland) on Jan. 15, 1941, before an audience of about 400 prisoners and guards. The work was inspired by the Book of Revelation, in particular Rev. 10:1-2, and 5-7. "And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven ... and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire ... and he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot on the earth ... [He] lifted up his hand to heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever ... that there should be time no longer." (KJV) However, the phrase "there should be time no longer" is actually a mistranslation better rendered as "there should be no more delay". Messiaen described each movement in the preface - I. "Between three and four in the morning, the awakening of birds: a solo blackbird or nightingale improvises, surrounded by a shimmer of sound, by a halo of trills lost very high in the trees. Transpose this onto a religious plane and you have the harmonious silence of Heaven." II. "The first and third parts (very short) evoke the power of this mighty angel, a rainbow upon his head and clothed with a cloud, who sets one foot on the sea and one foot on the earth. In the middle section are the impalpable harmonies of heaven. In the piano, sweet cascades of blue-orange chords, enclosing in their distant chimes the almost plainchant song of the violin and cello." III. "The abyss is Time with its sadness, its weariness. The birds are the opposite to Time; they are our desire for light, for stars, for rainbows, and for jubilant songs." IV. "Scherzo, of a more individual character than the other movements, but linked to them nevertheless by certain melodic recollections." V. "Jesus is considered here as the Word. A broad phrase, 'infinitely slow', on the cello, magnifies with love and reverence the eternity of the Word, powerful and gentle, 'whose time never runs out'. The melody stretches majestically into a kind of gentle, regal distance. 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.'" (quoted from John 1:1, KJV) VI. "Rhythmically, the most characteristic piece of the series. The four instruments in unison imitate gongs and trumpets (the first six trumpets of the Apocalypse followed by various disasters, the trumpet of the seventh angel announcing consummation of the mystery of God). Use of added values, of augmented or diminished rhythms, of non-retrogradable rhythms. Music of stone, formidable granite sound; irresistible movement of steel, huge blocks of purple rage, icy drunkenness. Hear especially all the terrible fortissimo of the augmentation of the theme and changes of register of its different notes, towards the end of the piece." VII. "Recurring here are certain passages from the second movement. The angel appears in full force, especially the rainbow that covers him (the rainbow, symbol of peace, wisdom, and all luminescent and sonorous vibration). - In my dreams, I hear and see ordered chords and melodies, known colors and shapes; then, after this transitional stage, I pass through the unreal and suffer, with ecstasy, a tournament; a roundabout compenetration of superhuman sounds and colors. These swords of fire, this blue-orange lava, these sudden stars: there is the tangle, there are the rainbows!" VIII. "Large violin solo, counterpart to the violoncello solo of the 5th movement. Why this second eulogy? It is especially aimed at second aspect of Jesus, Jesus the Man, the Word made flesh, immortally risen for our communication of his life. It is all love. Its slow ascent to the acutely extreme is the ascent of man to his god, the child of God to his Father, the being made divine towards Paradise."


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