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WWII Avant, Part 5/5: Olivier Messiaen excerpt MP3s (1941)

These are only excerpts, not full pieces, but any survey of the experimental music of World War II (the subject of all five Disquiet Downstream entries this week) would not be complete without mention of Olivier Messiaen‘s Quatuor pour la fin du temps, or Quartet for the End of Time. Messiaen composed the eight-movement work while held as a prisoner of war by the Germans. The instrumentation was determined by the musicians among his fellow prisoners and the piece debuted for its captive audience on January 15, 1941, at Stalag VIII/A. MP3 excerpts of each of the eight movements of the Quartet are available at atoposmusic.com.

Messiaen is a hero to electronic musicians for a variety of reasons, including his emphasis on tonality and his support of the ondes Martenot (an early electronic instrument). His intensive study of birdsong served as a kind of parallel to the musique concrete work of his contemporary, Pierre Henry; both men brought the sounds of the world into their music, one via transcription and one via tape manipulation.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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