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To what extent does the 'quatuor pour la fin du temps' reflect Messiaen's desire for an end to musical time, in the sense of eliminating a regular beat in the music?

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Introduction

To what extent does the 'quatuor pour la fin du temps' reflect Messiaen's desire for an end to musical time, in the sense of eliminating a regular beat in the music? The translation of the title of the piece means: The quartet for the end of time. It was written by Messiaen whilst he was in a prisoner of war camp during the Second World War. His main influence as a composer was Debussy, but as a prisoner he had many other influences, for instance, he was suffering from severe hunger to the extent that he was hallucinating. And of course all the horrors of the war would serve in the way he composed. His hallucinations would have been vivid because his synesthesia would have created a colour to them. Synesthesia is a symptom caused by a malfunction in the senses. Messiaen only had a handful of musicians to write for, this means that the quartet was written for the strange combination of piano, clarinet, violoncello and violin. ...read more.

Middle

This idea suggests why certain movements like movement six have no time signature or key; music exists as sounds unfolding through time. This idea would not happen in a piece written by Mozart as he defines the key and uses fairly predictable cadences. Messiaen used this to his advantage; he made use of eliminating time signatures and regular pulses. We see this in movements III, V and VI as none of them have time signatures and the bars are not of equal length. He also started using scales of limited transposition like the octatonic scale or the whole tone scale. Messiaen did not base his composition on the typical western 12 note scale; instead he used a set of scales based on a pattern of different tones and semi-tones. The octatonic scale is made up of a semi-tone, tone, semi-tone, tone... this creates an 8 note scale. He also uses a number of modes one of which is mode 3 this is created by 3 tri-chords (each note being a semi-tone apart) ...read more.

Conclusion

There are many examples of these in movement III from bars 25 to 27. He uses non-retrograde rhythms to create the effect of timelessness; these when read either right to left or left to right have the same order of note value. There are many examples of this between [F] and [G] in movement VI. Messiaen uses a pedal note and scribes it as being 'an independent rhythm, which continues tirelessly, with no regard for the rhythms that surround it. This happens throughout the 17 chord ostinato of the first movement. The idea of the end of time is portrayed through out the piece the movements that show the eternity and timelessness more than the others are I, V, VIII, Messiaen wrote eight movements, this represents the days of the week, six days created the world and Sunday for rest, the eighth movement represents judgement day and the everlasting light and eternal peace. This idea was taken from Messiaens preference. How does the device create it?! Explain what each thing does... J.P.Younghusband ...read more.

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