Thursday, September 24, 2015

Music Written in a POW Camp

Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time was conceived in a fascinating way and is the perfect piece to end this month’s discussion on “Music and War.”

Did you know that after called upon for military service at the beginning of WWII, Messiaen was captured and taken as prisoner of war? During his time at the POW camp, he certainly did not waste any time! He wrote the Quartet for the End of Time on paper supplied by a German officer who made sure no one bothered the composer while he worked!

Messiaen only had a tattered violin, clarinet, cello, and piano at his disposal so it was for these instruments that he wrote. The work is eight movements in length and inspired by passages found in Revelation. Messiaen uses irregular meter, palindromes, and his token bird calls throughout the work. The title reflects the work’s purpose, to depict the end of time and beginning of eternity.

The Quartet for the End of Time was originally premiered at the POW camp for fellow prisoners on a cold January night in 1941. You can hear a performance of this work below:

We’ve talked about music inspired by war throughout the month. Do you have a particular favorite that moves you personally?

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