Twilight Concert: Quartet for the End of Time

The Orchestra of Opera North

Saturday 15 January 2022

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The unusual instrumentation of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time – clarinet, cello, violin and piano – betrays its famously unusual origin, written in a German prisoner of war camp in Silesia in the winter of 1940-41.

With paper and a pencil obtained from a sympathetic guard, Messiaen composed the work for the professional musicians among his fellow prisoners, and it was premiered in a hut at the camp on a freezing evening on this very date in 1941.

Partly playing on the Quartet’s complex rhythms, Messiaen takes the title from the Book of Revelation in which the Angel of the Apocalypse declares “There shall be time no longer”. “My music depends on uneven beats, as in nature”, said the composer. “In nature rippling water is uneven, waving tree branches are uneven, the movement of clouds is uneven.”

Its strident rhythms and fluttering clarinet, inspired by birdsong – a Messiaen fixation – retain their spikiness. But in its passages of spare, haunting beauty and ecstatic resolution on an E major chord, there is space for the contemplation that we find ourselves in need of, eighty years on.


Start time

Approx 50 mins

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Twilight Concert: Quartet for the End of Time

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