Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time

Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time

25-31 October

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Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992)
Quartet for the End of Time
(80th anniversary since premiere)


The great French composer Olivier Messiaen was 31 years old when France entered World War II. He was captured by the German army in June 1940 and imprisoned in Stalag VIII-A, a prisoner-of-war camp in Görlitz, Germany (now Zgorzelec, Poland). While in transit to the camp, Messiaen showed the clarinetist and fellow prisoner, Henri Akoka the sketches for what would become Abime des oiseaux (3rd movement of Quartet for the End of Time). Two other professional musicians were also among Messiaen’s fellow prisoners; violinist Jean le Boulaire and cellist Etienne Pasquier. After he managed to obtain some paper and a small pencil from a sympathetic guard (Carl-Albert Brüll), Messiaen wrote a short trio for them. In time this piece developed into Quartet for the End of Time, written for clarinet, violin, cello and piano.
Quartet for the end of Time was premiered outdoors, in the freezing rain, on 15th January 1941 in Barrack 27 of Stalag VIII-A. The musicians had decrepit instruments and an audience of about 400 fellow prisoners and guards. Messiaen later recalled: “Never was I listened to with such rapt attention and comprehension.”
Several months after the premiere, Messiaen was released (again with the help of Brüll) thanks to an entreaty by his former organ teacher and professor at the Paris Conservatoire, Marcel Dupré.
Eighty years after its first performance, Quartet for the End of Time is as vibrant and striking as it was in 1941. It is widely regarded as one of the great masterpieces of 20th century chamber music.
Messiaen wrote in the Preface to the score that the work was inspired by text from the Book of Revelation (Rev 10:1–2, 5–7, King James Version):
‘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 ...’


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St Leonard's Church · Hythe


The Parish of St Leonard, Hythe
Oak Walk
CT21 5DN


The ancient parish church of Hythe, St Leonard's has overlooked this historic Cinque Ports Town for nearly a thousand years. St Leonard's is also known as "the church with the bones," on account of its famous ossuary containing a large collection of human bones.
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