Quartet for the End of Time ~ Olivier Messiaen
“The most ethereally beautiful music of the twentieth century was first heard on a brutally cold January night in 1941, at the Stalag VIIIA prisoner-of-war camp, in Görlitz, Germany,” wrote Alex Ross, music critic for The New Yorker, in 2004.
Imprisoned by the Nazis, four musicians, clarinetist Henri Akoka, violinist Jean Le Boulaire, cellist Étienne Pasquier, and pianist and composer Olivier Messiaen found themselves together at Stalag VIIIA. With the help of a sympathetic German guard, Messiaen acquired some paper and pencil, an old upright piano, a cello, and a violin. Henri, who had never let go of his clarinet during his long march to the prison camp, still had his instrument.
Olivier Messiaen composed the Quartet for the End of Time and the four musicians premiered the quartet at the prison camp on January 15, 1941.
Representing the end of time, or eternity, are the birds that we hear throughout this eight-movement piece. Despite the difficult conditions they were living in, Messiaen’s composition brings a message of hope even today.