April 7, 2007

WHY DO YOU THINK THEY CALL IT AURAL?:

Messiaen's Mystical Marvel: Left Bank Quartet's Intense Exploration of the 'End of Time' (Tim Page, March 5, 2007, Washington Post)

The French composer Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) was an extraordinary figure -- a Catholic mystic who found inspiration in the cries of birds and saw multicolored auras whenever he heard music. Few screenwriters would dare to invent the circumstances under which his best-known work was created.

The "Quatuor pour la Fin du Temps" ("Quartet for the End of Time") -- which the Left Bank Quartet played Saturday night at the Clarice Smith Center at the University of Maryland -- is a 50-minute composition for piano, violin, cello and clarinet written while Messiaen was a prisoner of war in 1941. The four instruments were chosen because they were the only ones available to him; the piano was missing some notes and Messiaen took this into consideration while fashioning his piece. It was first performed in Stalag 8a, for what was a genuinely "captive audience" of 5,000 prisoners -- an apocalyptic time and setting for an apocalyptic piece.

Like most of Messiaen's works, the quartet combines disjunct melodies, complicated rhythms, an idiosyncratic sense of harmony and a dense formal structure in a manner that is subjective, passionate, extravagantly colorful and often swooningly romantic.


Posted by Orrin Judd at April 7, 2007 12:01 AM
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