The End of Time

I believe that we each have a musical soundtrack that accompanies us throughout our lives–highlighting particular events, relationships, passions and projects. My personal soundtrack has paralleled my own growth and life changes. Many pieces and songs come and go–including those that I’ve studied, performed and written.

There are, however, those works that I continue to have a relationship with and that have grown within me as I’ve continued on my life’s journey.

Olivier Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time” is one such work. For me, it is perhaps the most important chamber work of the 20th Century. Written during Messiaen’s internment in a German concentration camp during WWII, it is an exploration of the nature of time and our relationship to its passage.

After having performed this quartet over twenty times (and counting!), I find myself often reflecting on many of the messages contained within it–almost as a code of sorts which operates on multiple levels simultaneously: Rhythmic, harmonic and melodic cycles at play–revealing Messiaen’s ability to view profound experiences through a fascinating religious/spiritual lens (with a good portion of ornithology to boot).

Without exception, every performance of this quartet has been an event–a moving experience for players and audience alike. It’s just one of those transformative pieces that both invites and demands committed listening and presence. The course of this music, from movement to movement, opens a space for contemplation and, indeed, moves us beyond the constraints of our temporal world. By gradually stripping away our sense of time’s passage, Messiaen brings us to a place where we can connect to our shared humanity.

This is a work of unity, of hope–a celebration of the human spirit. As such, it is a timeless piece–in all ways.

This is not a piece for casual listening. I invite you to set aside an hour and simply commune with Messiaen’s vision–and see what message it has for you.

Rick Ferguson