March 27, 2014
At the beginning of WWII, Olivier Messiaen was in the French army, and was taken prisoner of war. People less philistine than I consider it one of the premier pieces of 20th century music, and it premiered in Stalag 8-A on Jan 15, 1941 with Messiaen on piano, and three other musicians—one of them a Jewish clarinetist, Henri Akoka. There is a stunning description of the circumstances under which the piece was written and premiered in a new novel, Orfeo by one of my favorite authors, Richard Price. It may be the best section, and one that best illuminates what Powers is trying to say with the novel. (The one Jewish music connection to this piece, perhaps? Partly as a result of being part of that quartet of musicians, with missteps and near-transports along the way, Henri Akoka survived the war.)
I have been listing to an old RCA recording of “The Quartet for the End of Time” for the last couple of months, ever since reading about it in the novel. I had purchased the recording after reading Alex Ross’ incredible book on 20th century music, All the rest is noise,” a few years ago, and quite frankly, hadn’t gotten into it. That has changed.
Now, things have changed again. David Krakauer has released a new recording of the quartet, framed by short pieces composed by himself (“Akoka”) and digital re-mix wizard, SoCalled (“Meanwhile….”). It includes Krakauer on clarinet, SoCalled on electronics, Matt Haimovitz on cello, Jonathan Crow on violin, and Geoffrey Burleson on piano. It is stunning. It will officially release on April 1, and if you are at all interested in amazing once-avant garde music, this is a must-purchase. It has replaced (mostly) my older recording. As intended, this is the “Quartet for the end of time” for our time.
Read at: The KlezmerShack
By: Ari Davidow