Messiaen: Quatuor pour la Fin du Temps – Luben Yordanoff (v); Albert Tetard (vc); Claude Desurmont (cl); Daniel Barenboim (p, cond)
The title alone “Quartet for the end of time” and the fact that it was composed in 1940, when war was raging, give one an inkling of the ominous background to the writing of this piece of music. Messiaen had been captured by the German army during the occupation of France and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp near Görlitz, where he was held for a long, hard year. He was permitted to have manuscript paper, and was able to compose the quartet. On 15 January he and three fellow prisoners were given the opportunity to perform the piece before an audience of about 400 prisoners.
Messiaen’s Quartet is not written in the classical four-movement form but as an eight-movement suite. Each section is a musical expression of programmatic meditation on the Creation and the Gospel according to St. John. The melodic writing is such that the listener is given a feeling of timelessness and endless space. Here, specific rhythms, which in contrast to ‘classical’ music have no set musical pulse, enhance the feeling that time is expanded and takes on a spiritual dimension. Messiaen thus creates a thoroughly new concept, which is in direct opposition to traditional compositional ideas of precise and regular metrics and structures, development and the genesis of forward-moving music.
There is certainly no more convincing performance of this exceptional composition, which was recorded in the presence of the composer and authorised by him.
Recording: April 1978 in Masion de la Mutualité, Paris, by Klaus Scheibe
Production: Günther Breest