Messiaen’s Quartet For the End of Time

Perhaps not quite strictly law and religion-related, but my son Thomas and I went to a concert of Olivier Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time” this afternoon.  Messiaen is a wonderful 20th century French composer who created the quartet in 1941 as a POW in a German camp.  Messiaen met a clarinettist, a violinist, and a cellist in the camp; the only guy who had his instrument was the clarinettist, but they managed to get hold of the other instruments and debut the piece in the prison. 

The quartet, in 8 movements, is deeply informed by Messiaen’s abiding Catholicism.  It is “for the end of time” in two senses.  Messiaen takes the Book of Revelation as his inspiration.  His point of departure is Chapter 10, where the seventh angel descends and announces that “time shall be no longer” — the end of Time as the end of past and future and the beginning of eternity.  Messiaen’s time signatures are also iconoclastic in the piece; in fact, sometimes there is no definite rhythm at all (I don’t understand how the players were able to be in unison), and it was in this sense too that Messiaen wanted to convey the end of the usual 3/4 and 4/4 measured time in Western classical music.  Time is characterized throughout the piece as sad and weary, to be contrasted with the lively music of heaven.  The piece was challenging, but just great. 

Then, Thomas and I came home to watch our Patriots lose, as Time expired.  — MOD

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: