New York Philomusica

For May 7 & 12, 2005

New York Philomusica Presents:
Quartet for The End of Time and the Archduke

Paquito D'Rivera, clarinet
Rieko Aizawa, piano
Jesse Mills, violin
Gregory Hesselink, ’cello

Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992)
Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet For the End of Time; 1940-41)

“I saw a mighty angel come down from Heaven clothed with a cloud: a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire; and he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot on the earth and standing upon the sea and upon the earth he lifted up his hand to Heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever and ever that there should be time no longer but in the days of the trumpet of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God shall be finished.”

(Revelation X)

One hot summer day in 1940, the Germans captured the young French composer-turned-infantryman as his company marched on the road from Verdun to Nancy. They threw him into Stalag VIII along with his knapsack full of scores of Bach and Berg. There Messiaen miraculously wrote his Quartet for the End of Time, one of the most profoundly moving works to emerge from World War II. “Only Music,” he wrote, “made me survive the cruelty and horrors.” The Quartet for the End of Time was performed for the first time in the prison camp, with the composer at a battered keyboard—and the temperature at 22 degrees below. By incredible happenstance, a celebrated violinist, clarinetist, and cellist were prisoners in the same camp (the first two had kept their instruments and the cellist found a cello, with a missing string). Five thousand fellow sufferers sat through the quartet’s “world premiere.” “Never was I listened to with such rapt attention and comprehension,” the composer remarked of his audience.

The source of inspiration for the whole work is found in the first seven verses of the tenth chapter of the Revelation of St. John the Divine. The quartet bears the distinctive markings of this Frenchman’s work: it is taut, astringent, rhythmic, atonal, fantastic, other-worldly. The instrumentation is marvelous. The clarinet solo in the third movement exploits the instrument’s wondrous range of tone. The ’cello in the fifth movement haunts one to the quick.

The eighth and final movement in the words of Messiaen, “is a slow mounting towards a supreme point,” the ascension of man and woman to God. Only the silence that engulfs the last filament of sound from the violin resolves the excruciating tension of the ascension. Strangely, this silence is more profound than the sound which precedes it: here one has a glimpse of the eternal.

(Note by Gary H. Fry)

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Piano Trio No. 6 in B-flat, Op. 97, “Archduke” (1810-11)

There are six trios published during Beethoven’s lifetime for the instrumentation of piano, violin and ’cello, which is known collectively as the piano trio. Beethoven re-orchestrated several of his other compositions into this combination as well.

The Archduke Trio was dedicated to the Emperor’s younger brother Rudolph. It was written in 1810-11 and published in 1816 in both London and Vienna. Rudolph was a capable pianist who studied with Beethoven from 1803 to 1806. In 1809 he organized a trio of patrons, including himself, to provide Beethoven with an annual annuity. The effort was suspended when Napoleon engaged the Austro-Hungarian Empire in war.

This work ranks at the top of Beethoven’s chamber music oeuvre in popularity. Its breadth is sweeping. The respected British reviewer Donald Francis Tovey cites the opening as an example of Beethoven’s ability to begin a highly developed movement “with a dangerously broad and symmetrical melody. Nothing can be more quiet than the way in which such a melody will disengage itself from symmetry and broaden into something evidently part of a large whole; and the process is as dramatic as it is quiet.”

Biographers and historians have meticulously examined every scrap of known evidence in the effort to definitively identify the subject of his most passionate love letter, addressed simply to “Immortal Beloved.” The Andante movement of this trio was supposed to have been written for her. This mystery, as with so many others about Beethoven, remains unsolved, but the public’s knowledge that it was probably written with such a woman in mind has surely enhanced its popularity.

The Archduke Trio treats us to the full range of the mature Beethoven’s mastery of all his elemental forces. They become the vehicle for his originality, calling forth an incredible array of registration, instrumental virtuosity, and melodic inspiration. All in the service of profound feeling, alternating with spiked humor and the pure pleasure of music that sounds “right” now, no doubt in his own time and most probably forever. It is an unselfconscious display of his own virtuosity, which is challenging to perform and as rewarding to hear as any the great man was to write.

© 2005 A. Robert Johnson

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