Oliver Messiaen: Quatour pour la fin du temps: Quartet for the End of Time. 1941: an imagined reminiscence between violinist Jean le Boulaire and Messiaen.
Do you remember how the dream begins? The measured tread of many boots in intervals and rhythms Sentenced to a prison camp, steeped in dissonance Processed, clutching music scores, garments at my feet Through the gloom a nightingale sings its evening hymn I breath the fragile nuances― eggshell delicate You listen― let it warble for a while in your mind The mystery of an aria from a lifted throat Pouring out its arabesques of tinselled twittering In graceful radiance escaping through the boundary wires You recreate the melodies from airborne carolling Wishing to extol the Holy Infant's purity And offer them to humankind― the crystal liturgy That takes me on a blackbird's back to the end of time
Contextual Essay: After being given manuscript and pen from a warder, Oliver Messiaen wrote the Quartet while interred in a prison camp during World War 2. He set it for musicians in the camp and available instruments, using transcriptions of birdsong in several movements. The Quartet was performed in the camp on 15 January 1941 to prisoners and guards. It must have lifted the spirits of everyone present. It lifts mine in these dark times― eighty years later.
Hazel Hall is a widely published Canberra poet and musicologist. Recent collections include Step By Step: Tai Chi Meditations (Picaro Poets 2018), Moonlight over the Siding (Interactive Press 2019), Severed Web (Picaro Poets 2020) and a verse play for radio Please Add Your Signature and Date it Here (Litoria Press 2021). Hazel’s sonnet collection A Hint of Rosemary is forthcoming. When Covid safe she coordinates Poetry at Manning Clark House in Canberra, A.C.T.