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10.12.08

Messiaen at the End of Time

Beatrice and Dante in Paradiso, engraving by Gustave Doré
Beatrice and Dante in Paradiso, engraving by Gustave Doré


"In His eternity, beyond time, beyond
any other limit, as it pleased Him,
in these new loves, Eternal Love unfolded.
Nor, before then, did He rest in torpor,
for until God moved upon these waters
there existed no 'before', there was no 'after'.
Form and matter, conjoined and separate,
came into being without defect,
shot like three arrows from a three-stringed bow.
And, as a ray shines right through glass, amber,
or crystal, so that between its presence
and its shining there is no lapse of time,
just so did the threefold creation flash --
with no intervals in its beginning --
from its Lord into being, all at once."

-- Beatrice tries to explain God's creation of the angels, before time began (Dante, Paradiso, Canto 29, trans. Robert Hollander)
available at Amazon
Trio Wanderer, P. Moraguès


available at Amazon
Gould Piano Trio, R. Plane
Times means nothing to the immortal soul of Olivier Messiaen now, but the celebrated French composer was born 100 years ago today. Anyone in Washington who wants to celebrate the event by passing out of time should join me at La Maison Française this evening, when cellist Alexis Descharmes and other musicians from the orchestra of the Opéra national de Paris will perform Messiaen's early work, the Quatuor pour la fin du temps. (Marvelously, the concert has already sold out.) Earlier this fall, I reviewed a couple of new recordings of the work, one of the most moving ever composed, and Jens has surveyed the discography more thoroughly for WETA.

Available at Amazon
R. Rischin, For the End of Time: The Story of the Messiaen Quartet
To learn more about Olivier Messiaen and the various perspectives from which to approach his music -- Catholic, mystical, ethnomusicological, liturgical, ornithological -- we have already recommended the documentary by Olivier Mille, Olivier Messiaen: La liturgie de cristal, which is available now on DVD. For more information on the Quatuor, it is essential to read the ground-breaking study of the work's history by Rebecca Rischin, For the End of Time: The Story of the Messiaen Quartet, published in 2003 (with the caveat to see also Nigel Simeone's review in the Musical Times, which includes a meticulous fact-checking of the book). Nothing from the BSO or the NSO, which are too busy with performances of Messiah and holiday craptaculars, so no Turangalîla-Symphonie for us. If anyone knows of any other performances of Messiaen's music in Washington this week, please note them in the comments section.

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