Opening Up Our Ears Replay

Music evokes many moods including beauty, delicacy, reverence, nostalgia, and joy. 

  • Best ages guideline: High school and adult
  • Prep: See YouTube videos below and listen to works

But music also portrays feelings that are difficult to absorb. This happens when composers express aspects of our human experience that are difficult, even life-shattering. Think, for example, how a composer might respond to the tragic events of September 11, 2001 (9/11). It certainly wouldn’t be with light melody and dancing rhythms. 

Today’s session will explore just this question: how do composers express that which is unthinkably difficult? The session is designed for high-schoolers and adults, and will feature two significant, aurally challenging works that have had enormous influence in the decades since they were composed.

Quartet for the End of Time (Quatour pour la fin du temps) was written in 1941 by the extraordinary French composer Oliver Messiaen while imprisoned in a concentration camp in Görlitz known as Stalag VIII-A

Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima by the master Polish Composer Krzysztof Penderecki reflects in an extraordinary way upon this shattering event at the end of World War II. Both of these pieces employ a modern, challenging musical vocabulary.  But they also deliver an important musical experience and teach us just how powerful music can be.

Participants are encouraged to listen to these works in advance if possible. But if you can not listen, still, do join us for the session! For the Messiaen I will address only the first three movements (c. 17 minutes): I. Liturgy of Crystal (c. [2:20] mins.), II. Vocalise (c. [6:45] mins.), and III. Abyss of the Birds (c [7:30] mins.).  

The Penderecki work I’ll consider in full.  You’ll find two performances below: one showing an orchestra playing it (fascinating to watch), and another giving you a look at the musical score to show how such non-traditional sounds can be notated (written down).  Please know that the opening of both pieces, but particularly the Penderecki, this piece challenge the ears! But stick with it, remembering, as you react, the subject matter and tiles of both. 

The following links will take you to good performances or you may choose to find your own. 

Quartet for the End of Time:

Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima 

Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra

Musical Score