Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) was one of the great composers of the 20th century. The premiere of the French composer's "Quartet for the End of Time" on January 15, 1941 at -4 degrees Fahrenheit in Stalag VIIIA, a Nazi prison camp, has been called one of the great stories of 20th-century music. A devout Catholic with an interest in mysticism and the supernatural, Messiaen was also a poet and an accomplished amateur ornithologist. He mixed sounds as a painter mixes colours, associating specific shades with certain modes and chords. This book is a comprehensive history of the composition and premiere of "Quartet for the End of Time". Based on testimonies by the musicians and their families, witnesses to the premiere, former prisoners, and documents from Stalag VIIIA, the book examines the events that led to the Quartet's composition, the experiences of the musicians in the camp, the contradictory accounts, the composer's interpretive preferences, and the musicians' problems in execution and how they affected the premiere and subsequent performances.
Rebecca Rischin explores the musicians' life in the prison camp, their relationships with each other and with the German camp officials, and their intriguing fortunes before and after the momentous premiere. The volume is distinguished by Rischin's extensive interviews and intimate correspondence with survivors of the Quartet's premiere and members of the Messiaen circle, including the cellist Etienne Pasquier and the violinist Jean Le Boulaire, relatives of the clarinetist Henri Akoka, and Messiaen's widow, Yvonne Loriod. The book is illustrated with photographs of the musicians, press releases from the premiere, autographs, letters, and pen-and-ink drawings of the camp's layout. Included are wartime photos of the camp and its prisoners along with present-day views of the camp site, which Rischin visited in 1995. Rebecca Rischin is Associate Professor of Music at Ohio University in Athens. Her research for this book was aided by a Harriet Hale Woolley Scholarship for study in Paris, awarded in 1993 to only two other American artists and musicians. Rischin is an award-winning clarinetist who performs regularly throughout the United States and Europe.