“Quatuor pour la fin du temps" taken from the CD "Quatuor pour le fin du temps", By courtesy of EMI Classics (www.emiclassics.com).
Olivier Messiaen's Quatuor Pour la Fin du Temps (Quartet For the End of Time) for cello, piano, clarinet, and violin was composed in a POW camp in Nazi-controlled Silesia. This is how the composer recalled its premiere in early 1941: 'The Stalag was buried in snow. We were 30,000 prisoners (French for the most part, with a few Poles and Belgians). The four musicians played on broken instruments … the keys on my upright piano remained lowered when depressed … it’s on this piano, with my three fellow musicians, dressed in the oddest way … completely tattered, and wooden clogs large enough for the blood to circulate despite the snow underfoot … that I played my quartet.' This recollection has been challenged by many, including the other members of the quartet: while Messiaen remembers thousands in the audience, the camp hall could hold at most 500; his piano was not as imperfect as he describes; and his insistence that the cellist only performed with three strings has been repeatedly denied by the cellist himself. Nonetheless, few dispute the significance of the work itself, one of the most important to be produced in the 20th century.