Première at the Camp: 75 Years Ago Today

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.

HPMoon provided photo archival

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.

Sitka: A Piano Documentary

I’m so excited about yesterday’s launch of H. Paul Moon’s exquisitely designed Sitka: A Piano Documentary! It’s about the rebuilding of The Phillips Collection’s piano, now lovingly called “Sitka,” after the 600–800 year-old Sitka spruce tree native to Alaska from which the new soundboard was made. This film offers a fascinating and beautiful look into what exactly happens at PianoCraft, what I call a ‘hot-rod shops for pianos,’ and how they masterfully dealt with our piano from the inside out. Hearty congratulations, Paul!

Caroline Mousset, Director of Music

Up Close with Timo Andres in the Music Room

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.