Messiaen, Gruenberg, Depeyer, Pleeth, Beroff - Quatuor Pour La Fin Du Temps

Thursday 1st April 1993
Messiaen, Gruenberg, Depeyer, Pleeth, Beroff - Quatuor Pour La Fin Du Temps

STYLE: Orchestral
RATING 6 6 6 6 6 6
OUR PRODUCT CODE: 14336-
LABEL: L'Espirit Francais 7639472
FORMAT: CD Album
ITEMS: 1

Reviewed by John Irvine

The Quartet For The End Of Time is probably Messiaen's most popular and accessible piece: it is certainly the most commercial with five versions being released or re-released in the months since Messiaen died. This recording was originally released in 1969 and is as good a version as any to obtain in order to listen to this work. Without bearing in mind the circumstances of composition and Messiaen's own perspective on life, we will not understand what he was trying to achieve. At the outbreak of WW2 Messiaen, already a composer of some note, joined the French army as medical orderly and was subsequently captured by the Germans and spent the rest of the war in Stalag 8 in Silesia. It was here that Messiaen wrote the Quartet for himself and three other inmates in 1940. On one hand, then, the Quartet reflects the end of time in the sense of a commentary on the effects of the war and the horrors that were unleashed. On the other hand, Messiaen's inspiration is also Biblical: his Roman Catholic faith was more than nominal and found expression in his music and not just in the titles he gave them. So much for the background: what about the music? In common with much mid-20th century music it is 'difficult' music, i.e. no hummable tunes, odd harmonies and a development of thought which is apparently private to the composer himself!! Having said this, the Quartet repays close study and reflection as one considers both the circumstances of composition and Messiaen's faith. One hears the "angel announcing the end of time", and joins in "praise to the everlasting Jesus" and to the "immortal Jesus" (movements 2, 5 and 8 respectively). This may be difficult music but it is probably the most poignant chamber work written this century. I would consider the Quartet essential listening for anyone who wants to explore the works of one of the 20th century greats.

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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