For the End of Time by Rebecca Rischin
The Story of the Messiaen Quartet

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Synopsis

Olivier Messiaen (1908–1992) was one of the great composers of the twentieth century. The premiere of the French composer’s Quartet for the End of Time on January 15, 1941 at -4 degrees Fahrenheit in Stalag VIIIA, a Nazi prison camp, has been called one of the great stories of twentieth century music. A devout Catholic with an interest in mysticism and the supernatural, Messiaen was also a poet and an accomplished amateur ornithologist. He mixed sounds as a painter mixes colors, associating specific shades with certain modes and chords.

This book is the first comprehensive history of the composition and premiere of Quartet for the End of Time. Based on testimonies by the musicians and their families, witnesses to the premiere, former prisoners, and documents from Stalag VIIIA, For the End of Time examines the events that led to the Quartet’s composition, the experiences of the musicians in the camp, the contradictory accounts, the composer’s interpretive preferences, and the musicians’ problems in execution and how they affected the premiere and subsequent performances. Rebecca Rischin explores the musicians’ life in the prison camp, their relationships with each other and with the German camp officials, and their intriguing fortunes before and after the momentous premiere.

For the End of Time is distinguished by Rischin’s extensive interviews and intimate correspondence with survivors of the Quartet’s premiere and members of the Messiaen circle, including the cellist Etienne Pasquier and the violinist Jean Le Boulaire, relatives of the clarinetist Henri Akoka, and Messiaen’s widow, Yvonne Loriod. The book is generously illustrated with photographs of the musicians, press releases from the premiere, autographs, letters, and pen-and-ink drawings of the camp’s layout. Included are wartime photos of the camp and its prisoners along with present-day views of the camp site, which Rischin visited in 1995.

 

About Rebecca Rischin

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Rebecca Rischin is Associate Professor of Music at Ohio University in Athens.
 
Published December 1, 2003 by Cornell University Press. 192 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Humor & Entertainment, Arts & Photography, Education & Reference. Non-fiction

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Pasquier's stories about listening to the birds at dawn with Messiaen during early-morning watches, and Messiaen's decision to imitate the birds in a short piece for Akoka to play on his clarinet, support her contention: this sketch was to become "Abîme des oiseaux," the third movement of the Qua...

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