In July 1940, Olivier Messiaen was among the thousands of French soldiers rounded up by the Germans and transported to Stalag VIII-A. In this prisoner camp, he composed one of the most remarkable works to have come out of World War II, Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time). Only a clarinet, a violin, a cello missing a string, and an upright piano of which the keys stuck at random were available to play the work.
With snow on the ground and rooftops, the première of the Quatuor took place on January 15, 1941 at 6 pm, in front of an audience of approximately 5,000 prisoners—farm workers, laborers, intellectuals, career soldiers, doctors, and priests.
Still picture from the documentary film “Quartet for the End of Time”
Earlier in Phillips Music’s 75th season, musicians from “The President’s Own” US Marine Corps Band offered a chilling rendition of the Messiaen’s Quatuor. Excerpted here are the final moments, performed by SSgt Karen Johnson and SSgt Christopher Schmitt, captured on film by H. Paul Moon of Zen Violence Films. Echoing a documented account of the audience’s reaction to the 1941 première, a moment of silence followed the final notes, establishing the profundity of the work, both then and now.
Composer and pianist Timo Andres performed the Impromptu in F minor, Op. 142, No. 1a of Franz Schubert at a Sunday Concerts performance in January. Mr. Andres paired several of these Impromptus with new Etudes by Philip Glass, proposing that the composers share more in common than just their birthdays (January 31st), generations apart.
Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks. Photo: Santa Savisko-Jekabsone
Pleasing notes and lively melodies will soon be reverberating through the decorated halls of our museum. As part of the Leading European Composers series, the great Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks will lead the RIX Piano Quartet and flutist Dita Krenberga on February 12th at 6:30 pm. Trained as a violinist, the composer grew up during Soviet regime and was able to quickly catapult himself into the greats of European composers after receiving countless Latvian music awards and the Cannes Classical Awards in 2004.
Just as many of Georgia O’Keeffe’s works were, Vasks’s compositions are inspired by the complex relationship between man and nature. His music speaks to the world’s beauty, but also to imminent ecological and moral destruction. In conveying his message, Vasks incorporates animated folk elements from Latvian music with a contemporary angle. This stellar musical performance, in collaboration with the Embassy of Latvia and The George Washington University, will surely be one for the books.