Open Completeness: Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time”

in Religion and the Arts
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Several of Messiaen’s compositional techniques are designed, he says, to “eliminate temporality.” They succeed. Still, in a variety of highly original and interesting ways, the piece also sustains temporality. Joining the elimination of temporality with its opposite in each movement puts listeners onto the infinitesimal interface of the temporal and the eternal. The undoing and the redoing of temporality happen so differently in the various movements, however, that no procession from one movement to the next takes place. This absence of temporal coherence in the Quartet as a whole is an additional mode of eliminating temporality, but one that is, in Messiaen’s hands, joined to a strange and new kind of completeness. The salient characteristic of the latter is that while the completeness is authentic, and brings the satisfaction that is a quality of completions, it is radically open to further, though not necessarily surpassing, completions.

Open Completeness: Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time”

in Religion and the Arts



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  • View in gallery
    A sketch of the palindromic shape of the Quartet as a whole.

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