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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Quatuor pour la fin du temps: Maybe the Best Music of the 20th Century

posted by on December 27 at 12:38 PM

In the talk show in my mind, five guests endlessly argue between Quartour and A Love Supreme. But whatever—I am terribly excited about this event, on January 10th.

In a genre-spanning program, Joshua Roman has chosen three innovative 20th century works. Beginning with the Quartet for the End of Time by French composer Olivier Messiaen. Featuring the same instrumentation as the Messiaen (clarinet, violin, cello, and piano), Dan Visconti’s Fractured Jams is an exploration of the thrill, confusion and driving power of rock and carefully-crafted lyrisicm of Tin Pan Alley. In the program’s second half, Roman along with clarinetist Bill Kalinkos, pianist Grace Fong, and violinist Amy Iwazumi, vocalist Sarah Rudinoff, “Awesome’s” John Osebold, and percussionist Doug Marrapodi perform a medley of works by the influential rock band Radiohead.

Not because of Joshua Roman, Sarah Rudinoff, or John Osebold, even though each one is demonstrably better than most things.

No, I’m excited just to hear the Quatuor pour la fin du temps, which was composed by a French soldier (and Catholic mystic) and was first performed in a Nazi prison camp and sounds like a soul leaving a body and floating up to heaven. Then it sounds like a portent of the apocalypse. Then a long clarinet solo that sounds exactly like its name: “the abyss of birds.” Then it sounds like floating again.


Hear more bits of it here.

And read Alex Ross’s very good story about it here

The essay includes solider-musicians: “He [the Quartet’s original clarinetist] was an Algerian-born Jew who survived the war through blind luck and mad courage. He tried several times to escape, and, in April, 1941, he succeeded: while being transferred from one camp to another by train, he jumped from the top of a fast-moving cattle car, with his clarinet under his arm.”

And an improbably kindly Nazi prison guard: “A German patriot with anti-Nazi tendencies, he kept a sympathetic watch over Jewish prisoners, repeatedly advising them not to try to escape, because they would be safer in Stalag VIIIA than in Vichy France.”

And the weird, and weirdly attractive, composer: “He loved God in terms that were sensual, almost sexual.” (He also had synesthesia and said he could, literally, see the music.)


January 10, ladies and gentlemen. I can’t wait.

(Previously posted on Line Out, but copied here because everybody should know.)

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