November 12, 2017

Sunday, November 12, 2017, 2:30pm Emmanuel Anglican Church, 609 Dufferin Ave., Saskatoon

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Messiaen: Quartet for the End of Time

The story of the composition of this work is quite moving. During World War II Messiaen was captured by the Germans and interred in a prisoner of war camp in Görlitz, Germany (now Poland). After he managed to obtain some paper and a small pencil from a sympathetic guard, he composed a piece for three fellow musicians who were also prisoners.  The piece was premiered inside the prison camp, outdoors and in the rain, in 1941. The musicians had decrepit instruments and an audience of about 400 fellow prisoners and guards.

The piece contains religious elements as well as birdsong, which he transcribed throughout his life and incorporated into his music. Hindu rhythms, non-retrogradable rhythms and modes (palindromes) are an essential part of his musical language, as well as a sense of the expansion of time representing eternity and the contemplation of religious concepts (and likely his current circumstances), hence Quartet for the End of Time. It is a work of special beauty that Messiaen describes as “ecstatic, majestic, meditative and very expressive”, a fitting remembrance of those who have sacrificed their lives in many conflicts.


Some information on the first performers of this work: