about the show
More intimate than a front-row seat, watch the 16th century triptych and spiral staircase come to life as the music unfolds. In the Colnaghi Gallery in London. 38 mins.
When Jonathan Berman (director) and Emily Ingram (executive producer) first saw the triptych, they were both immediately drawn to the details. The intricate architectural scenes in the background. The owl. The delicate and ornate headwear.
A few questions revealed that it came from the Antwerp School, post-1519. The central panel shows the Lamentation with the Entombment in the background, while the wings show Joseph of Arimathiea and Longinus, and Saints Mary Magdalene and Mary of Egypt. It is oil on panel in an engaged frame.
Even though the grief in the central scene is well-known, the details made it even more human, timeless, complicated. But you might not notice these things if you walked past the triptych in a gallery. Or perhaps if you were non-religious, you might feel it was irrelevant to you. Was there a way to bring these stories to life with music?
In his thirties, Bach composed the Partita in D Minor for solo violin (BMV 1004). It is written in five movements: Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, Gigue and Chaconne (or Ciaccona). All five were types of dances. There's a controlled emotional thread that runs through them all as they build up to the Chaconne.
A chaconne was a swirling, sexy dance that spread to Europe from South America. But there's a heaviness in this chaconne. Perhaps this was a man who knew the raw emotion of grief, and the complexity and layers of emotion that do not play by the rules of time. Perhaps he also understood the universality of this kind of grief.
Olivier Messiaen's Quartet For The End Of Time (Quatuor pour la fin du temps) was composed when Messiaen was a prisoner of war at Stalag VIII A in Görlitz, Germany. Famously, the work was first performed inside the camp, in the freezing rain. The instruments were in poor condition, including (apparently) a cello with only three strings. Messiaen himself was at the piano. They performed to an audience of about 300 German guards and prisoners. The year was 1941.
The work is often described as "otherworldly" as it abandons the reality of time and, presumably, the reality of Messiaen's surroundings at the time it was written. It is a deeply human work that was created during an unprecedented period of large-scale inhumanity and destruction. Against this backdrop, the music takes a leap to an endless, unchanging scene of divinity.
Messiaen wrote in the preface to the score that he had been inspired by the following quotation from the Book of Revelation:
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.
In this concert, we see the Louange from The Quartet For The End Of Time. A Louange is a song of praise. The tempo marking is infinimentlent (infinitely slow), building to a climax and then fading into nothingness.
We see Max playing in a sleek, modern spiral staircase in a different part of the Colnaghi Gallery. It's a non-sacred setting, and it feels dislocated from the triptych and more traditional gallery setting. We hear Diana Ketler on the piano.