Olivier Messiaen: Quatuor Pour La Fin Du Temps

(Notes), Paris, Durand & Cie Editeurs, France

Charge: French Prisoner of War
Prison: Stalag 13 A, Goerlitz, Silesia (Map)

Olivier Messiaen writes:

[Revelation of St John the Divine 10: 1-7]

'My Quatuor pour la fin du temps' was conceived and written during my captivity and received its first performance at Stalag VII A on 15 January 1941. The performers were Jean Le Boulaire (violin), Henri Akoka (clarinet), Etienne Pasquier (cello) and myself at the piano. It was directly inspired by this quotation from the Book of Revelation. Its musical lanuage is essentially immaterial, spiritual and Catholic. Modes which achieve a kind of tonal ubiquity, melodically and harmonically, here draw the listener towards eternity in space or the infinite. Special rhtythms, beyond metre, contribute powerfully in dismissing the temporal (all this remains no more than a tentative, stampered attempt, when one thinks of the overwhelming grandeur of the subject)...."

The Cellist Etienne Pasquier, one of the four musicians who gave first performance of the Quatuor pour la find du temps in a German prisoner-of-war camp later said:
"We were housed in huts. I wass in the hut for the cooks, as I was placed on kitchen duty. [] Whenever the guards weren't looking, I 'd always make sure that Messiaen got an extra portion.
Messiaen had helped to establish the camp theatre. He also had a corner in the hut that was used as a church and where he could compose. He then came across a violinist in possession of a violin. For my own part, I was able to buy a cello from an instrument maker in Goerlitz after we'd organized a collection among our fellow prisoners. I was allowed to go into the town t buy it with one of the camp guards. Soon after that Messiaen wrote a trio for us. We played it for him in the washrooms. The trio became the fourth movement of the quartet, the Interlude.
[...] the hut we used as the theatre. It consisted of an auditorium, a stage and a room where the props were stored. Once Messiaen had finished Quatuor, we rehearsed here at six o'clock every evening after work. The rehearsal lasted till lights out at ten. A piano had been provided for Messiaen but its keys used to stick. We rehearsed for months. An officer always sat at the back and listened." (see text annotation for CD)

Other prison writings by the author:

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