Cuarteto para el Fin de los Tiempos at the Iglesia de los Jesuitas

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27th May, 2017, 19:30H. The space is packed. Under the great dome of the wooden ceiling there’s restlessness and anticipation from the audience. Everyone has been waiting for this performance. Director of the festival, Daniel Broncano, has played his cards close to his chest. I haven’t seen the projections of my paintings on these rough stone walls. I don’t know how he’s fitted the images to the music or what the scale of them will be. The musicians of Trio Rodin walk out onto the stage. Jorge Menotti on piano, Carles Puig on violin and Esther Garcia on cello. Daniel joins them with his clarinet. They begin.

I’ve grown to know the music well during the weeks spent making the paintings, yet in this space, it springs surprise after surprise on me. There are things I’d missed completely in the recording I’d used. Here in the Iglesia de los Jesuitas the players are transformed. Jorge at the piano is ablaze. He’s at the back of the platform and when his head darts round to watch his companions, the speed is almost shocking, less a man than a predatory bird. Esther’s face, thrown back into the light becomes the pale mask of a seer. She curves into her instrument, embracing and becoming one with it. Carles is as ramrod straight as a Renaissance prince, fierce and commanding. The dramatic spectacle of the playing is mesmerising. There’s a moment when Daniel wrings a passage from his clarinet that has me trying to align my breathing to his. I can’t. I don’t know what his lungs are made, from but mine are not made from the same stuff! The experience of both the music and the musicians playing it, is visceral, exhausting, exhilarating.

The images of my paintings above, are huge and vivid in the darkness, their surfaces textured by the rough stone. All is well. Everything works. The paintings become meditations between the black and white photographs of the Stalag VIII-A prisoner of war camp. Gaunt musicians from the the first performance of Quartet for the End of Time, stare out from the graininess of another world: barbed wire, snow and rows of dark huts. I glance around to see an audience transfixed and transformed by a performance both eerie and life-affirming. I think about my parents and how they would have loved this moment. I imagine them siting here, a few rows away in front, their backs to me, heads inclined together. Younger than I am now, so that the grey-haired son gazes on his youthful progenitors-to-be. I wish they would sense my presence and turn around so that I could see their faces. But onstage the movement draws to a close, the audience stir and settle again and the couple are no longer there. Time, having for a moment folded so that the past pressed against the present, reverts to its more usual, linear trajectory. I am in the moment again, and the long-time-dead have gone.

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The players are done. There’s a frozen moment of completion, the held breath of a conclusion. Then the long exhalation and the applause. The audience are on their feet. The musicians return from the mountain top. Here at Segura the demand for an encore sometimes comes in the form of a rhythmic ‘Flamenco’ clap that grows out of the applause. But not for this. There is nothing that can extend or follow this performance, and we all know it.

 

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‘l’Ange qui annonce la fin du Temps’

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Sequential images of a drawing in progress, one of three that will accompany a concert of Oliver Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time at the 2017 Música en Segura festival in Andalusia. In this one an angel with a trumpet is carried by a winged lion.

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“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.”

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My thanks to festival director, Daniel Broncano Aguilera, for this fascinating and challenging commission.

Drawing the Music: preparing for Messiaen’s ‘Quatuor de la Fin du Temps’

 

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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”.

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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 ….”

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The eight movements are:

i) Liturgie de cristal

ii) Vocalise pour l’Ange qui annonce la fin du Temps

iii) Abîme des oiseaux

iv) Interméde

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.

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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.”

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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.

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