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For the End of Time: The Story of the Messiaen Quartet Paperback – 24 Mar 2006


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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press; updated edition with new material edition (24 Mar. 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801472970
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801472978
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 15.2 x 22.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 50,171 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Synopsis

Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) was one of the great composers of the 20th 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 20th-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 colours, associating specific shades with certain modes and chords. This book is a 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, the book 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. The volume 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 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. Rebecca Rischin is Associate Professor of Music at Ohio University in Athens. Her research for this book was aided by a Harriet Hale Woolley Scholarship for study in Paris, awarded in 1993 to only two other American artists and musicians. Rischin is an award-winning clarinetist who performs regularly throughout the United States and Europe. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Stephanie De Pue TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 9 Feb. 2012
Format: Paperback
It was January 15, 1941, in the midst of a very bloody World War, and a very cold winter. In Gorlitz, Silesia, Germany, the temperature routinely dipped below -22 degrees Fahrenheit. In Stalag VIII A, something without precedent was happening: Olivier Messiaen, a renowned French composer and prisoner of war, was premiering his newest work, a chamber piece destined to be considered one of the greatest works of the twentieth century, Olivier Messiaen: Quartet for the End of Time, written - of course with the help of a couple of sympathetic German officers, the composer had even to be given pencil and paper, after all -- while he was a prisoner of war at that stalag.

I must first issue a disclaimer. I own this quartet,Messiaen: Quartet for the End of Time. I also own Messiaen's "Catalog d'oiseaux," ("Catalog of Birds," the composer loved birds) and [ASIN:B0007RA7BS Messiaen: Turangalila Symphony - Quatour pour la fin du temps (GEMINI)]]. I listen to them, and I love them. They are modernist, and I don't understand them. In fact, though I own, listen to, and love quite a bit of recorded classical music, I don't understand much of it. The piano teacher of my teenage years, Roz Strumpf, made Herculean efforts to teach me music theory: I clearly remember poring over the score of Mozart's "Jupiter" Symphony with her. But I found it so much easier and more fun to understand rock and roll at that time. SO: don't expect a technical discussion of this work of art, in eight movements, lasting nearly an hour, from me.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Edwards on 10 Jun. 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is a fine, enjoyable and thought-provoking piece of musical investigative journalism.

In 1941, inside a Nazi prison camp, the French composer Olivier Messiaen premiered his quartet "For the End of Time", playing it with three fellow French prisoners of war. It is one of the incredible stories of 20th century music.

But it seems that until the writing of this book (expanded from a doctoral thesis) little serious historical enquiry had been made into the circumstances of the quartet's composition and performance. Unbelievably, over 50 years after that famous premiere, Rebecca Rischin was still apparently the first person to seek an interview with the two surviving members of the prison camp quartet.

The book is not so much an analysis of the music as a telling of its composition, the background to the premiere, and what happened to the four participants afterwards. We hear of how they variously managed to get out of prison, survived life in occupied France, and rebuilt their lives after the war was over. It includes 24 black and white plates of photos.

In telling the story Rebecca Rischin manages to distill fact from the various myths which have sprung up over the years (some of them instigated by Messiaen himself). We're left with a moving portrait of four musicians brought together by force of circumstances; of a harrowing existence in wartime France and in a Nazi prison; and of a seminal, deeply religious, musical work which, in the midst of all this, speaks of eternity. Apocalyptic music written in apocalyptic times.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 7 reviews
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
"It's a detective novel. Only, it's a true story" 19 July 2008
By Stephanie De Pue - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
It was January 15, 1941, in the midst of a very bloody World War, and a very cold winter. In Gorlitz, Silesia, Germany, the temperature routinely dipped below -22 degrees Fahrenheit. In Stalag VIII A, something without precedent was happening: Olivier Messiaen, a renowned French composer and prisoner of war, was premiering his newest work, a chamber piece destined to be considered one of the greatest works of the twentieth century, Olivier Messiaen: Quartet for the End of Time, written - of course with the help of a couple of sympathetic German officers, the composer had even to be given pencil and paper, after all -- while he was a prisoner of war at that stalag.

I must first issue a disclaimer. I own this quartet. I also own Messiaen's "Catalog d'oiseaux," ("Catalog of Birds," the composer loved birds) and Olivier Messiaen: Turangalîla Symphony; L'ascension. I listen to them, and I love them. They are modernist, and I don't understand them. In fact, though I own, listen to, and love quite a bit of recorded classical music, I don't understand much of it. The piano teacher of my teenage years, Roz Strumpf, made Herculean efforts to teach me music theory: I clearly remember poring over the score of Mozart's "Jupiter" Symphony with her. But I found it so much easier and more fun to understand rock and roll at that time. SO: don't expect a technical discussion of this work of art, in eight movements, lasting nearly an hour, from me. Rebecca Rischin, a professor of music at Ohio university, and a talented musician herself,has done a great deal of research, and interviewed many people, to make this story available, largely for the first time, in this book. Thanks to her efforts, I am equipped to discuss the music's remarkable, too-little known history, as she conveys it: and only that.

The Quartet's composition and debut must rank as one of the great uplifting World War II stories: a triumph of human faith --Messiaen seems to have been born a religious Roman Catholic---and endurance in the worst of circumstances. However, before we embark on this, we must recognize that, desperate as stalag conditions were, even granting fully the multitudes of unfortunate prisoners of war that died in them; they were not the Nazi death camps. You cannot equate a stalag to Auschwitz. That being said, it's time to quote Messiaen himself:

"Conceived and composed during my captivity, the `Quartet for the End of Time'was premiered in Stalag VIIIA, on 15 January 1941. It took place in Gorlitz, in Silesia, in a dreadful cold. Stalag was buried in snow. We were 30,000 prisoners (French for the most part, with a few Poles and Belgians). The four musicians played on broken instruments: Etienne Pasquier's cello had only 3 strings; the keys of my upright piano remained lowered when depressed.... It's on this piano, with my three fellow musicians, dressed in the oddest way - I myself wearing a bottle-green suit of a Czech soldier - completely tattered, and wooden clogs large enough for the blood to circulate despite the snow underfoot... that I played my `Quartet for the End of Time,' before an audience of 5,000 people. The most diverse classes of society were mingled: farmers, factory workers, intellectuals, professional servicemen, doctors [and] priests. Never before have I been listened to with such attention and understanding."

To quote the author Rischin,"This was a special occasion indeed, and the camp commandant ensured that it would be remembered as such. He ordered programs to be printed listing the name of the camp, the title of the composition, the name of the composer, the date of the premiere, the names of the performers, and the camp's official stamp,'Stalag VIIIA gepruft'[Stalag VIIIA approved]....these programs also served as invitations to the historic event."

Rischin's researches make clear that the composer began work on this quartet before his imprisonment, and that 5,000 men could not have squeezed into Barrack 27, used as the theater. Etienne Pasquier, when interviewed, insisted that his cello had the requisite four strings - he couldn't have played it otherwise, and that Messiaen had exaggerated a bit in that regard, as well. Rischin continues," Recounting the war..., the actions of a kind German officer, the miraculous premier,...Messiaen's subsequent fame, and the heavenly music that united them all in a time notorious for unimaginable barbarism, Pasquier, then 90 years old, remarked: `C'est un roman policier. Mais, c'est vrai, cette histoire.'[It's a detective novel. Only, it's a true story.]" Who could say it better?
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Worthwhile Research and Enjoyable! 3 Feb. 2008
By Gray Cat - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
In my last performance of the "Abyss of the Birds" from the quartet, I used what I learned from reading this book, both in my performance of the piece and in my introduction to the audience. It really changed the way I approach and think of this piece. (I have studied the piece extensively in the past, when I performed the whole quartet.) The author includes information from her research that you can't find elsewhere. You really get to know the original performers and their experience at Stalag 8A. Highly recommended.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Essential "biography" of the Messiaen quartet 14 July 2008
By A curious reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Rischin's book is not mainly a musical analysis of Messiaen's masterpiece and was not intended to be one. As other reviewers here have pointed out, there are excellent books devoted to that subject.

Her study instead is a "biography" of the quartet and the musicians who made it happen, not just Messiaen himself, but the other three original performers as well. All four were remarkable people and survived a horrible period of history, midwifing this musical gem almost by accident.

Rischin is a distinguished clarinetist herself and has performed the quartet multiple times. (I've never heard her performances.) There are several outstanding ones available here on Amazon as recordings. My personal favorite is that of the Tashi Quartet.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Remarkable reearch on an overlooked subject 31 May 2014
By Larry Benjamin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
By illuminating the personalities and circumstances of the Quartet's composition, first performance, and eventual place as a seminal 20th Century work, the author increased my appreciation of it as no amount of musical analysis could have. This story needed to be told, and perhaps what is most surprising is that no one had conducted research on this level or interviewed the participants before. In the end, the Quartet is about the incredible richness and beauty of life. This book is indispensable for anyone interested in Messiaen or the Quartet.
14 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Rather insubstantial and repetitive, but may be of interest 15 Oct. 2005
By Christopher Culver - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
FOR THE END OF TIME is Rebecca Rischin's story of Olivier Messiaen's piece "Quatuor pour fin du Temps", written mainly when the great French composer was imprisoned in Stalag VIII A as a prisoner of war in 1940-1941. While many people connected to the quartet are now deceased, Rischin was fortunate to interview Etienne Pasquier, the cellist, and Jean Le Boulaire, violinist. Since Henri Akoka, who performed clarinet, passed away in the early 1970s, she interviewed his family.

There is little analysis of the music, and nary a score sample can be seen. For those wishing to know more about the actual music, I'd recommend Anthony Poole's work (Cambridge University Press, 1998) in the Cambridge Music Handbook series. Rischin is concerned with the environment in which the piece was written. She begins with the composer's meeting Pasquier and Henri Akoka on military service in early 1940. It is there, Rischin shows, that the quartet began. Messiaen had already begun to compose the "Abyss of the Birds" movement, and Akoka performed it for him in the middle of a field after the trio had been captured by the Germans and were awaiting transport to the camp.

The description of Stalag VIII A and the various characters and events there makes up the middle portion of the book. Rischin tracks the writing of the quartet, but notes again that not all of it was written on the spot, as two movements are based on earlier compositions. The story of the work's premier is generally in line with what Messiaen has stated: a freezing makeshift concert hall, an out-of-tune piano whose keys stuck, and an audience of all walks of life who, because of their shared suffering, understood him perfectly. She doesn't stop there, however, but tells of how the four musicians left the camp (Akoka daringly escaped) and what they did after the war. The final chapter, "Into Eternity" attempts to describe how the piece continues to touch the hearts of listeners when the generation in which it was composed passes away. Two appendices are provided, one begin Messiaen's own preface to the work, and the second a discography.

The book attempts to correct some of the distortions spread by Messiaen himself about the piece's origins, including that it was played "before thousands" (the barracks serving as concert hall held only around 400 people). However, I find it strange that she relied so much on the testimony of the composer's widow Yvonne Loriod, for Mrs. Loriod did not meet the composer until after his liberation and wouldn't know anything about the writing of the piece beyond what the untrustworthy Messiaen had told her. Beyond that, I found that Rischin's book contained enormous amounts of repetition, which is very noticiable in a work of hardly more than 100 pages. It could have used tighter editing and review by other scholars; there are some mispellings and a non-standard transliteration scheme for Sanskrit which could have easily been ironed out. There is also a hero-worship which is inappropriate in an academic work.

If you love Messiaen's quartet, a great work which served as a basis for the much greater works which were to come over the following fifty years, I'd recommend first the book by Poole, which will expand one's appreciation of the piece greatly. Rischin's history can be left to those who want to read everything possible about the quartet.
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