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Quatuor pour la fin du temps

From Academic Kids

Quatuor pour la fin du temps, also known by its English title Quartet for the End of Time, is a piece of chamber music by the French composer Olivier Messiaen. It was written in 1940 and is generally regarded as one of his finest works.

Composition and first performance

Messiaen had been captured by the German army during World War II and was being held as a prisoner of war in Görlitz in Silesia. He had managed to obtain some manuscript paper and upon discovering a violinist, a cellist and a clarinettist among his fellow prisoners, he wrote a short trio for them. He later wrote the Quatuor for the same trio, plus himself at the piano. The Quartet was premiered to an audience of 5,000 fellow prisoners of war and prison guards in Stalag VIII A on January 15, 1941. Messiaen later recalled the occasion: "Never have I been heard with as much attention and understanding."

Inspiration

Messiaen wrote in the preface to the score that the work was inspired by text from the tenth chapter of the Book of Revelation.

"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…"

Structure

The work is in eight movements.

  1. "Liturgie de cristal" (Liturgy of crystal) - for the full quartet
  2. "Vocalise, pour l'Ange qui annonce la fin du Temps" (Vocalise, for the Angel who announces the end of time) - for the full quartet
  3. "Abîme des oiseaux" (Abyss of birds) - for solo clarinet
  4. "Intermède" (Interlude) - for violin, cello, and clarinet
  5. "Louange à l'Éternité de Jésus" (Praise to the eternity of Jesus), for cello and piano
  6. "Danse de la fureur, pour les sept trompettes" (Dance of fury, for the seven trumpets) - for the full quartet
  7. "Fouillis d'arcs-en-ciel, pour l'Ange qui annonce la fin du Temps" (Mingling of rainbows, for the Angel who announces the end of time) - for the full quartet
  8. "Louange à l'immortalité de Jésus" (Praise to the immortality of Jesus) - for violin and piano

A typical performance of the work lasts about fifty minutes.

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