Yesterday, we had breakfast out on the patio – you’ll be impressed (I hope). For once, there were no strimmers strimming, no builders noisily building, but the birds were singing, particularly (I think), a blackbird. So I rushed inside and got my recorder and recorded about 5 minutes of birdsong. I hope you enjoy it – just press Play!
And it brought to mind a piece of music I’d like to share with you. Olivier Messiaen: Quartet for the end of time. It sounds a very pretentious title but don’t let that put you off. Messiaen (1908-1992) is best known to us organists but he wrote lots of piano music, the great Turangalila Symphony, this quartet and of course a lot of other stuff. He was fascinated by birdsong and spent lots of time recording it, slowing those recordings down and then trying to recreate some of them in his music, for example Catalogue d’oiseaux for Piano of 1958. The first movement of the Quartet for the end of time, entitled Liturgie de cristal, opens with a clarinet and a violin both marked ‘Comme un oiseau’. These duetting birds are accompanied by gentle chords on the piano and 5 high harmonics repeated over and over on the cello. I think it’s beautiful and atmospheric music. But please let me explain the title.
Messiaen was captured and put in a prisoner of war camp in 1940. Fortuitously three other professional musicians were in the same camp, so he wrote the Quartet for them with him playing piano. Hence the unusual combination of Violin, Clarinet, Cello and Piano. According to Wikipedia, they had to have whip round to buy a cello, and all the other instruments were pretty decrepit. Add to that, the 1st performance was on 15 January 1941 outdoors and it was raining. But Messiaen claimed his music was never listened to by a more receptive audience – of 400 prisoners. I guess the title Quartet for the end of time reflects Messiaen’s rather bleak outlook on the future at that time.
Sadly I don’t own a recording that I can share with you. I can buy the track for 79p on iTunes, but iTunes ‘songs’ are protected so that they can’t be shared. But please have a listen to this youtube track: Liturgie de cristal and suffer any adverts graciously.
I hope you are all well. There’s a downpour due in Eastbourne in under an hour, but then the weather looks to improve so it might be a nice weekend. Until next time.
p.s. You might be interested in this article which Robin found in the Guardian yesterday on how to identify common bird song. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/16/home-birds-how-to-spot-20-of-the-most-common-species-from-your-window-walk-or-garden