Music at the end of time

Olivier Messiaen was one of the most prominent classical composers of the 20th century, and his most famous work – the Quartet for the End of Time – was first performed in a POW camp in Germany.

Quartet programme
Badinguet 42 [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Messiaen was captured and imprisoned in 1940. He was sent to Stalag VIII-A, in what is now part of Poland. A guard found him some paper and a pencil and Messiaen wrote the quartet for himself and three other prisoners.

It was first performed in 1941, in the rain, for the prisoners and the guards. Soon after, the same guard that supplied the paper arranged for Messiaen and the other musicians to be released. Both guard and composer survived World War II, and the guard tried to visit Messiaen after the war – but was turned away.

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