The end of time

By Tom Quiner


I ran across an interesting article in The Wall Street Journal about the French composer Olivier Messiaen.

As readers of Quiner’s Diner may know, I have composed a great deal of music and have a new musical in rehearsals right now. I compose my music in the comfort of my studio in my home.

Mr. Messiaen composed a piece that is considered a “masterwork of 20th century chamber music” while interred in a Nazi concentration in 1941. His composition is titled Quartet for the End of Time.

Its premier performance was in barack 27 at Stalag VIII-A near Gorlitz, Germany. The audience consisted of prisoners of war and German soldiers. The temperature was barely above freezing and achieved that only through the crush of bodies packed into the spartan surroundings. The performers were fellow prisoners attired in Czech army jackets.

Here’s how the Journal’s Corrina Da Fonseca-Wollheim described the performance:

“What he offered his fellow prisoners that night was a work of transcending beauty with moments of archangel-like severity. An act of faith and a compositional tour-de-force that encompasses medieval modes and Indian rhythmic cycles, birdsong transcriptions and bold orchestrations, the “Quartet for the End of Time” is a masterwork of 20th-century chamber music.”

The composer said the piece was inspired by the book of Revelation (10:1-2, 5-7):

“And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: 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 …. And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever and ever … that there should be time no longer: But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished ….”

What kind of music would a man write who doesn’t know what tomorrow will bring, whether he will live or die? In the case of Olivier¬†Messiaen, it is the Quartet for the End of Time.