The Lyra Ensemble
Deborah Davis, John Schwartz, Michael Toth, Stephan Xhori
The Quartet for the End of Time
By Olivier Messiaen
Also Piano Trio in G Major K.496 by Mozart and
Clarinet Trio in B-flat Major Op. 11 by Beethoven
Special Artwork inspired by the quartet created by Abie Harris
Note from Michael:
This is a very special concert. It was voted one of the best 10
concerts of 2011 in the Allentown Morning Call newspaper.
Local talent Ń the Lehigh Valley certainly has it, and in abundance. That was clear in a performance at Bethlehem's Unitarian Church, in which pianist Michael Toth, violinist Stephan Xhori, clarinetist John Schwartz and cellist Deborah Davis came together as the Lyra Ensemble to perform one of the 20th century's most important chamber works: Olivier Messiaen's mystical Quartet for the End of Time, written while the composer was a prisoner-of-war of the Germans in World War II. The work certainly has stood the test of time, and the Lyra members played it with musical insight and technical perfection. The program was filled out with trios by Mozart and Beethoven, played with equal musicianship.
The piece is so amazing it leaves our audiences breathless at the end.
You can listen to the music below but a live performance is even more effective.
The quartet is a 20th century piece and has a lot of dissonance so I
honestly was surprised to find how many people loved it. Personally
I know of no other piece of chamber music as impressive as this one.
Piano Trio in G Major, K. 496 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Clarinet Trio Op. 11 Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Allegro con brio
Quatuor pour la Fin du Temps Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992)
I. Liturgie de cristal
II. Vocalise, pour lŐAnge qui annonce la fin du Temps
III. Abme des oiseaux
V. Louange lŐternit de Jsus
VI. Danse de la fureur, pour les sept trompettes
VII. Fouillis dŐarcs-en-ciel, pour lŐAnge qui annonce la fin du Temps
VIII. Louange lŐImmortalit de Jsus
Piano Trio K. 496 in G Major - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791)
This piano trio is a charming and cheerful work. Due to the severity of the Messiaen, I wanted to have something to balance it in the first half of the program. Finished in July in 1786, the trio was written for Franzisca, the daughter of MozartŐs friend, Nikolaus Joseph von Jacquin. Nikolaus was a distinguished botanist and professor of chemistry at Vienna University and a fellow Mason. Franzisca was reportedly one of MozartŐs more talented students.
Mozart perhaps wanted to give his student Franzisca a chance to be in the spotlight because the piece begins with a long piano solo before the cello and violin join in. Although the piano is showcased in the exposition of the first movement, the development treats the three instruments more equally. ItŐs particularly pleasant how Mozart throws the theme between the violin and piano as if in a conversation during the recapitulation.
The second movement is a peaceful ¾ meter with flowing melodies echoing between the three instruments. The harmonic progressions in this movement are at times remarkable. Mozart takes the listener in many directions in a long developmental section which is almost entirely based on a single theme fragment. A brief visit to a darker mood is not very long lasting and the movement ends as it begins, peaceful and content, but with an exclamation mark in final forte chords.
The third movement, a set of theme and variations, shows MozartŐs almost unlimited imagination when presenting the most simple of musical ideas. Some of it almost etude-like, some somber and dark, contrapuntal sections, and a very rhapsodic penultimate variation which makes you wonder what Mozart was thinking. ItŐs as though he decided to day dream for a while. He wakes up in the final variation and comes back to his senses with a cheery goodbye but then, just when you think itŐs ready to close normally, Mozart throws in some more counterpoint to tease you.
Clarinet Trio in B-flat major Đ Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 Đ 1827)
The Opus 11 was written in 1798 and is a well known classic of the clarinet chamber repertoire. It was written for Maria Wilhelmine von Thun und Hohenstein, a Viennese aristocrat who sponsored a salon and commissioned works from both Beethoven and Mozart and evidently also an accomplished performer herself.
The forcefulness of the beginning of the first movement is in sharp contrast to the gentle flowing beginning of the Mozart. The three rising notes do nothing but increase tension as they ascend. The personality of composers is somewhat communicated by their music of course and itŐs an interesting comparison here between the two giants.
The second movement is an excellent example of how simplicity and beauty often travel together.
It was not uncommon for composers to take popular melodies and create a set of theme and variations based on them. In this case, Beethoven takes a theme from an opera composed a year earlier in 1797 by J. Weigl called ŇLŐamor marinaroÓ or the ŇSailorsŐ LovesÓ. The song contains the lyrics ŇBefore I begin work, I must have something to eat.Ó
The third movement is bright and cheerful and full of fireworks and dramatic changes in mood. Beethoven was a master of the theme and variations even in this early stage of his composition. In his later works he goes farther afield, but these variations foreshadow the growth of this form in Beethoven that you see later.
Quartet for the End of Time Đ Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992)
In 1940, Olivier Messiaen (1908-92) was interned in a German prison camp, where he discovered among his fellow prisoners the clarinetist, Henri Akoka, violinist, Jean le Boulaire, and the violoncellist, tienne Pasquier. He wrote a trio for the three musicians and from that evolved the quartet which added 7 more movements and a piano. The first performance of the quartet was on January 15, 1941 by some accounts to 5000 prisoners although the actual number attending has different estimates depending on the source.
Messiaen reflects his interpretation of the book of Revelation, chapter 10 in this work which is about the descent of the seventh angel, at the sound of whose trumpet the mystery of God will be consummated, and who announces Ňthat there should be time no longerÓ.
According to Messiaen, the Quartet was intended not to be a commentary on the Apocalypse, nor to refer to his own captivity, but to be a kind of musical extension of the Biblical account, and of the concept of the end of Time as the end of past and future and the beginning of eternity. For Messiaen there was also a musical sense to the angel's announcement. His development of a varied and flexible rhythmic system, based in part on ancient Hindu rhythms, came to fruition in the Quartet, where more or less literally Messiaen put an end to the equally measured "time" of western classical music.
The architecture of the Quartet is both musical and mystical. There are eight movements because God rested on the seventh day after creation, a day which extended into the eighth day of timeless eternity. There are intricate thematic relationships, as for example between movements two and seven, both of which are about the angel; and stylistic and theological relationships, as between movements five and eight.
In a preface to the score, Messiaen commented on each of the movements:
1. Liturgy of crystal. Between three and four o'clock in the morning, the awakening of the birds: a blackbird or a solo nightingale improvises, surrounded by efflorescent sound, by a halo of trills lost high in the trees...
2. Vocalise, for the Angel who announces the end of Time. The first and third parts (very short) evoke the power of this mighty angel, a rainbow upon his head and clothed with a cloud, who sets one foot on the sea and one foot on the earth. In the middle section are the impalpable harmonies of heaven. In the piano, sweet cascades of blue-orange chords, enclosing in their distant chimes the almost plainchant song of the violin and violoncello.
3. Abyss of the birds. Clarinet alone. The abyss is Time with its sadness, its weariness. The birds are the opposite to Time; they are our desire for light, for stars, for rainbows, and for jubilant songs.
4. Interlude. Scherzo, of a more individual character than the other movements, but linked to them nevertheless by certain melodic recollections.
5. Praise to the Eternity of Jesus. Jesus is considered here as the Word. A broad phrase, infinitely slow, on the violoncello, magnifies with love and reverence the eternity of the Word, powerful and gentle, ... "In the beginning was the Word, and Word was with God, and the Word was God."
6. Dance of fury, for the seven trumpets. Rhythmically, the most characteristic piece in the series. The four instruments in unison take on the aspect of gongs and trumpets (the first six trumpets of the Apocalypse were followed by various catastrophes, the trumpet of the seventh angel announced the consummation of the mystery of God). Use of added [rhythmic] values, rhythms augmented or diminished... Music of stone, of formidable, sonorous granite...
7. A mingling of rainbows for the Angel who announces the end of Time. Certain passages from the second movement recur here. The powerful angel appears, above all the rainbow that covers him... In my dreams I hear and see a catalogue of chords and melodies, familiar colours and forms... The swords of fire, these outpourings of blue-orange lava, these turbulent stars...
8. Praise to the Immortality of Jesus. Expansive solo violin, counterpart to the violoncello solo of the fifth movement. It addresses more specifically the second aspect of Jesus, Jesus the Man, the Word made flesh... Its slow ascent toward the most extreme point of tension is the ascension of man toward his God, of the child of God toward his Father, of the being made divine toward Paradise.
Art work by Abie Harris Photography by Karen Tam
Art work by Abie Harris Photography by Karen Tam
After graduating from NC StateŐs School of Design, I won the Paris Prize in Architecture, a national award which enabled me to travel in Europe and study at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. I taught in the College of Design, co-founded the architectural firm Envirotek, and for thirty-two years helped plan the NC State University main and Centennial campuses. I retired as University Architect Emeritus in 1998. I was named a fellow in the American Institute of Architects for my work in campus planning and my architectural drawings were donated to the D.H. Hill LibraryŐs Special Collections.
My drawings have been widely published, and are in private and corporate collections, and have been exhibited at NC State, Duke, Columbia, Miami universities and at the Raleigh Municipal Building, Zely & Ritz Restaurant, Cameron Village Library, Penland School of Crafts, Sunflowers Gallery, DavidŐs Dumpling and Noodle House, Green Hill Center, Meymandi Hall, NC Museum of Natural History, Home & Planet Gallery, and at Rebus Works Gallery.
My good friend David Marschall, a violist with the NC Symphony, suggested two summers ago that I draw J.S. BachŐs Goldberg Variations. Accepting the challenge I produced forty compositions (over 1200 individual drawings) that were displayed and some drawn during five performances of his string trio, Quercus (Bonnie Thron, Carol Chung, and David) this last spring. Recently I performed live with the Pennsylvania Sinfonia Orchestra in Allentown as a result of Debbie Davis being at a performance of the Goldbergs in North Carolina.
In May Debbie asked if I would draw Olivier MessiaenŐs Quartet for the End of Time. And I am immersed in this project. The drawings, executed in pastels and other media, are drawn simultaneously with the music reflecting its structure, tempo and mood.
Deborah Davis Đ Cello
Deborah Davis received her MasterŐs in Music and a PerformerŐs Certificate in Cello from Indiana University School of Music in Bloomington, Indiana. She graduated from the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and studied at the Paris Conservatory in Paris, France. Her teachers include Bernard Greenhouse, Raya Garbousova and Fritz Magg. Deborah taught at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana and at the Reykjavik Conservatory in Iceland. She was a member of the Houston Symphony Orchestra for five years prior to moving to the Lehigh Valley and becoming involved in the musical life here. Deborah is Principal Cellist of the Pennsylvania Sinfonia Orchestra and, for the last 14 years, the founder and director of MADCAP Music Camps. She has two grown daughters, 25 and 28.
John Schwartz Đ Clarinet
John Schwartz received his bachelorŐs degree in music from West Chester State University and his masterŐs degree from Temple University. His principal clarinet teacher was Anthony Liberio, a protg of Gino Cioffi, former principal clarinetist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
John serves as principal clarinet in the Allentown Symphony Orchestra. He has also appeared with the Reading Symphony, Pottstown Symphony, the Pennsylvania Sinfonia, and the Allentown Band.
He organized and performed in the following chamber ensembles: Leval Woodwind Quintet, Allentown Symphony Woodwind Quintet, and the Chaleureux Trio. He most recently appeared with the Copeland String Quartet in a performance of the Mozart Clarinet Quintet. In addition to frequent recitals and chamber music performances, he has also played for many musicals and for several dance bands.
Presently, Schwartz teaches clarinet at Lafayette College and at the Community Music School in Allentown.
Michael Toth - Piano
Michael began studying piano at the age of 7 with Marjorie Haimbach in Langhorne Pennsylvania. Under Marjorie's expert guidance, he was able to perform with local symphonies and win a number of competitions before he performed a recital debut at Weil Recital Hall when he was 14. Continuing on with his studies in school, he went to Eastman School of Music and the University of Notre Dame where he received his Bachelor's and Master's degrees in music specializing in piano performance.
Michael performs frequently both as an accompanist and soloist and has an extensive chamber music background as well. He has had experience in the theater as well, as the pianist in "Master Class", and musical director for "The Dead" and "Jesus Christ Superstar" at the 19th Street Theater in Allentown. Today Michael is the pianist for the Allentown Symphony Orchestra and a member of a musical trio called "Crosswinds Trio" which consists of the unusual combination of French Horn, Trumpet, and Piano and has played throughout the country with the trio. Michael also teaches piano at Muhlenberg College.
Always interested in combining the two disciplines of engineering and music, Michael has written a number of software programs related to music. There is a rich environment for computer use in music and Michael plans to continue exploring this synergy. His web site, www.virtualpianist.com was created with this in mind.
Stephan Xhori Đ Violin
Stefan Xhori, violinist, is a graduate of the conservatory of music in Tirana, Albania where he has performed with the conservatory orchestra as concertmaster and soloist. In USA he performs with Reading, Delaware, Kennett Symphony orchestras and is the assistant concertmaster of Allentown Symphony. He has given recitals in the area and also perform as first violinist with Illyria string quartet.
Art work by Abie Harris Photography by Karen Tam