This Summer at Música en Segura in Andalusia, a performance of Oliver Messiaen’s Quatuor de la Fin du Temps (Quartet for the End of Time) will be given, accompanied by some projected images that festival director, Daniel Broncano, has commissioned me to make.
In June 1940 Messiaen was captured by the German army and imprisoned in the prisoner of war camp, Stalag VIII-A. Some sketches for Quartet for the End of Time had been begun before the composer was incarcerated, but the work was completed during his captivity, and rehearsed and performed in front of an audience of about 400 inmates and guards on 15 January 1941. The instruments were poor and rain fell on the musicians and the audience. The composer later recalled: “Never was I listened to with such rapt attention and comprehension”.
Messiaen wrote in the Preface to the score that the work was inspired by a text from The Book of Revelation (Rev 10:1–2, 5–7, King James Version):
“And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire … and he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot on the earth …. And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever and ever … that there should be time no longer: But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished ….”
The eight movements are:
i) Liturgie de cristal
ii) Vocalise pour l’Ange qui annonce la fin du Temps
iii) Abîme des oiseaux
v) Louange à l’Éternité de Jésus
vi) Danse de la fureur pour les sept trompettes
vii) Fouillis d’arcs-en-ciel pour l’Ange qui annonce la fin du Temps
viii) Louange à l’Immortalité de Jésus
Daniel and I first had conversations about the use of some of my existing work from the Mari Lwyd series. But as the conversations went on it became apparent that he favoured the idea of me producing new paintings, using Messiaen’s notes on the work as a guide.
Daniel wrote in an e-mail to me:
“Messiaen was a notable synesthetic composer. Sound triggered colour in his mind. He often mentions colours on his scores and was an admirer of stained glass church windows.
In the preface of the work he lists the birds, angels, rainbows, Jesus, trumpets, and also blue-orange chords in the 2nd movement.”
Daniel requested four artworks, images of which will be projected alongside four photographs of the Stalag VIII camp. My iconography for the compositions draws on the traditions of Romanesque art and has been boiled down to images of birds, foliate scrolling, a fight between mythic animals, the Angel who announces The End of Time and a portrait of Jesus Christ. The latter, a traditional representation, is a first for me. I’ve only painted Christ once before, and then the image was contemporary. Here I’ve immersed myself in something I would usually balk at: marks of the scourge, crucifixion and spear wounds, thorn perforations and death’s lividity.
The images are formal, densely patterned, intended to be contemplative. I’m at the drawing stage as I wanted to complete the four compositions before beginning to paint, the better to work quickly with my brushes. Time is short.