When I first started this blog, I mentioned that music has meant so much to me and I believe others as well because music is, for all intents and purposes the “ultimate story teller.” Think about it for a second. When you watch a movie, the score plays a significant amount of influence on them movie going experience. Could you imagine Star Wars without that opening musical entrance? Could you imagine Jurassic Park without the background music as well?
That being said, we will continue our journey of musical exploration with a discussion of the ability of music to tell a story with reference to social undertones. Let’s hop on the time machine and dive right into World War II. It is 1940 and Europe was engulfed major battles throughout most of the continent. Thousands of prisoners were taken by both sides. A 31 year old French prisoner by the name of Olivier Messiaen was captured by German forces in northern France. Prior to the war, Messiaen was an organist for a Paris church for 8 years. But during his time in the prison camp, he created one of the most influential pieces of music entitled the Quartet for the End of Time. Messiaen himself that this piece was itself inspired by the Book of Revelation and it’s portrayal of the Apocalypse. But the significance of this piece was far more reaching. The piece created a melancholy undertone and appreciation of the somberness and tragedy of war. And as a prisoner of war, you could feel the passion and pain through the beautifully assembled composition. What a sight it must have been to have heard it for the first time being played by the quartet at the prison where Messiaen was held. Historical records indicated that it may have been played outdoor in the rain at the prison camp! Imagine the image of the somber piece being played to the backdrop of rain.
One concept we have touched upon is the ability of music to be more appreciated due to historical or biographical credence. This is clearly the case here in Messiaen’s piece. As a prisoner of war, he clearly could have been using his music as his “escape” from reality. As stated by Alex Ross in article for the New Yorker in 2004 (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2004/03/22/revelations-2), “for Messiaen, the end of time also meant an escape from history, a leap into an invisible paradise.”
When I hear the piece and knowing what Messiaen went through, it takes me to a another place. I feel the story rather than just hear it. And that is what makes music the ultimate story teller. It allows the listener to feel the story rather than just hear it.