A kind reader recently asked me in a comment to cover some titles of Olivier Messiaen pieces. Of course, I had to start with the Quatuor pour la fin du temps…
Premiered in Stalag VIII-A in Görlitz, Germany (currently Zgorzelec, Poland) on January 15, 1941, in front of an audience of 400 other prisoners, the Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time) is one of the most iconic pieces of the 20th century repertoire.
A few tricky spots here:
- pronounce the two Us in Quatuor: the first will give a [kwa] sound (an exception in French—Quatre, 4, is pronounced [katr]), while the second is a regular [ü] with protruding lips,
- fin is a [i] nasal, as in vin or pain, resonating in one’s nose,
- temps is a [a] nasal, as in blanc, or chant, resonating lower in one’s throat.
Over the years lots of myths have been spread about the writing and the premiere of this piece (apparently even by the composer?). I strongly recommend For the End of Time: The Story of the Messiaen Quartet by Rebecca Rischin that features interviews of some of the creators of the piece, Messiaen’s wife, etc.