Reflections on the Neisse
Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time)
In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Olivier Messiaen's death
The great French composer came to Geneva in 1981 to attend the rehearsals of his Turangalîla-Symphonie with the OSR conducted by Horst Stein. His famous Quatuor pour la fin du temps is a war work composed for his fellow prisoners and their instruments of chance while they were prisoners in Görlitz, Silesia, on the banks of the Neisse River.
The time in question here is that of theology, the beginning of eternity proclaimed by the angel of the Apocalypse according to the Gospel of John. Conceived in incredible circumstances, composed between two labour shifts and played on patched-up instruments, this astonishing work transcends cold and hunger in a search for peace and colours close to hallucination. For the first time in Messiaen's work, we hear birdsong, as if to help him escape from this prison world. The surreal première took place in the middle of the stalag on 15 January 1941 in the biting cold before thousands of prisoners of all classes and conditions. Messiaen's language was now in place, ready for all the masterpieces to come.