- Paperback: 224 pages
- Publisher: Cornell University Press; 1 edition (March 24, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0801472970
- ISBN-13: 978-0801472978
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #898,188 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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For the End of Time: The Story of the Messiaen Quartet Paperback – March 24, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
The writing and first performance of French composer Olivier Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time, in a German POW camp in the bitter winter of 1941, is one of the great stories of 20th century music. Ohio University music professor Rischin has gone to heroic lengths to separate the facts from the legends that have grown up about it. Some of these legends, as she demonstrates, were encouraged by the composer himself, who would tell interviewers the whole work was composed at Stalag VIIIA in Silesia, that its form was dictated by the instrumentalists available there (piano, cello, violin and clarinet), that the cellist played with only three strings and that there was a rapt audience of thousands. In fact, Messiaen (1908-1992) had written the work's celebrated clarinet solo, "Abyss of the Birds," some time before with clarinetist Henri Akoka's participation; cellist Etienne Pasquier had his full quota of strings; and the camp building could hold at most 400 or so. Rischin tracked down the elderly Pasquier and violinist Jean La Boulaire (who lived his postwar life as an actor) and also talked to Messiaen's widow and Akoka's surviving family. Oddly, none of them had been interviewed about the occasion, which made the work Messiaen's most celebrated. These interviews show a remarkable picture of life at a desperate time-and of how the German authorities were anxious to show their civilized side to the French. The players come off better than the deeply religious, aloof, rather ethereal Messiaen, who seems to have been so otherworldly as to recoil from life's messiness. This is a fascinating, and finally believable, account of a remarkable occasion. Pictures not seen by PW.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Olivier Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time premiered on January 15, 1941, in Stalag VIII A, outside of Gorlitz in Silesia. Inmate Messiaen (1908-92), a devout Catholic who chose the prediction of the Apocalypse in the Revelation of St. John to guide his composition, based three movements on earlier-composed material and wrote five in the camp. A friendly German guard provided Messiaen with paper, pen, and rehearsal time with the other inmate musicians. Rischin carefully describes conditions in the camp, how Messiaen was able to compose, the eventual release or escape of the four musicians, and the musical ideas expressed in the quartet's rhythms, tempi, and sonorities. Cellist Etienne Pasquier, principal informant on the quartet's creation, played in orchestras and the Pasquier Trio after the war; violinist Jean Le Boulaire turned to acting; and clarinetist Henri Akoka, who had escaped, played in French orchestras. Pianist Messiaen taught at the Paris Conservatory and resumed playing the organ. A concise book full of insight into a chamber music classic and its first performers. Alan Hirsch
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Her study instead is a "biography" of the quartet and the musicians who made it happen, not just Messiaen himself, but the other three original performers as well. All four were remarkable people and survived a horrible period of history, midwifing this musical gem almost by accident.
Rischin is a distinguished clarinetist herself and has performed the quartet multiple times. (I've never heard her performances.) There are several outstanding ones available here on Amazon as recordings. My personal favorite is that of the Tashi Quartet.
I must first issue a disclaimer. I own this quartet. I also own Messiaen's "Catalog d'oiseaux," ("Catalog of Birds," the composer loved birds) and Olivier Messiaen: Turangalîla Symphony; L'ascension. I listen to them, and I love them. They are modernist, and I don't understand them. In fact, though I own, listen to, and love quite a bit of recorded classical music, I don't understand much of it. The piano teacher of my teenage years, Roz Strumpf, made Herculean efforts to teach me music theory: I clearly remember poring over the score of Mozart's "Jupiter" Symphony with her. But I found it so much easier and more fun to understand rock and roll at that time. SO: don't expect a technical discussion of this work of art, in eight movements, lasting nearly an hour, from me. Rebecca Rischin, a professor of music at Ohio university, and a talented musician herself,has done a great deal of research, and interviewed many people, to make this story available, largely for the first time, in this book. Thanks to her efforts, I am equipped to discuss the music's remarkable, too-little known history, as she conveys it: and only that.
The Quartet's composition and debut must rank as one of the great uplifting World War II stories: a triumph of human faith --Messiaen seems to have been born a religious Roman Catholic---and endurance in the worst of circumstances. However, before we embark on this, we must recognize that, desperate as stalag conditions were, even granting fully the multitudes of unfortunate prisoners of war that died in them; they were not the Nazi death camps. You cannot equate a stalag to Auschwitz. That being said, it's time to quote Messiaen himself:
"Conceived and composed during my captivity, the `Quartet for the End of Time'was premiered in Stalag VIIIA, on 15 January 1941. It took place in Gorlitz, in Silesia, in a dreadful cold. Stalag was buried in snow. We were 30,000 prisoners (French for the most part, with a few Poles and Belgians). The four musicians played on broken instruments: Etienne Pasquier's cello had only 3 strings; the keys of my upright piano remained lowered when depressed.... It's on this piano, with my three fellow musicians, dressed in the oddest way - I myself wearing a bottle-green suit of a Czech soldier - completely tattered, and wooden clogs large enough for the blood to circulate despite the snow underfoot... that I played my `Quartet for the End of Time,' before an audience of 5,000 people. The most diverse classes of society were mingled: farmers, factory workers, intellectuals, professional servicemen, doctors [and] priests. Never before have I been listened to with such attention and understanding."
To quote the author Rischin,"This was a special occasion indeed, and the camp commandant ensured that it would be remembered as such. He ordered programs to be printed listing the name of the camp, the title of the composition, the name of the composer, the date of the premiere, the names of the performers, and the camp's official stamp,'Stalag VIIIA gepruft'[Stalag VIIIA approved]....these programs also served as invitations to the historic event."
Rischin's researches make clear that the composer began work on this quartet before his imprisonment, and that 5,000 men could not have squeezed into Barrack 27, used as the theater. Etienne Pasquier, when interviewed, insisted that his cello had the requisite four strings - he couldn't have played it otherwise, and that Messiaen had exaggerated a bit in that regard, as well. Rischin continues," Recounting the war..., the actions of a kind German officer, the miraculous premier,...Messiaen's subsequent fame, and the heavenly music that united them all in a time notorious for unimaginable barbarism, Pasquier, then 90 years old, remarked: `C'est un roman policier. Mais, c'est vrai, cette histoire.'[It's a detective novel. Only, it's a true story.]" Who could say it better?