MESSIAEN and Eternity
“The work,” as Messiaen writes, “is directly inspired by the Revelation of St. John. Its musical language is essentially transcendental, spiritual, catholic. Certain modes, realizing a kind of tonal ubiquity in terms of harmony and melody, draw the listener into a sense of the eternity of space or time. Special rhythms, lying outside any sort of measure, contribute significantly toward the banishment of the concept of time.
(However, all this is mere striving and childish stammering if one compares it to the overwhelming greatness of the subject!)
“This quartet contains eight movements. Why? Seven is the perfect number, the creation of six days made holy by the divine Sabbath: the seventh in its repose prolongs itself into eternity and becomes the eighth, of unfailing light, of immutable piece.
“The four performers played on broken-down instruments: Etienne Pasquier’s cello had only three strings, the keys of my upright piano went down but did not always come up again. Our costumes were unbelievable: they rigged me out in a green jacket completely in shreds, and I wore wooden clogs.………….“ (Excerpt from the booklet notes by Ib Hausmann)
The music by Olivier Messiaen is a combination of devout catholicism, extravagant imagination and love for nature. Initially, he made a name for himself by composing large-scale cycles and verbose titles. At several occasions, Messiaen explicated his intentions, which often included theology, symbology, and extensive considerations of colour, church modes and rhythm. Perhaps ironically, this colour composer was able to leave his mark on the less colourful avant-garde of the 1950s as well. With his 'Mode de valeurs et d'intensités', part 4 of his Quatre études de rythme, pointed the way for his students Stockhausen and Boulez, who developed serialism further. Messiaen's own development is characterised by the integration of birg song, which he recorded in the wild with his sketchbook and tape recorder. The pinnacle of his work is his opera Saint François d'Assise. This colossol work is over four hours long. Its longest scene contains a giant bird choir, with bird species from Umbria (the home country of Saint François) to new Caledonia.