All of the proceeds from this release will be split equally between the UN Refugee Agency Covid-19 Appeal and The Grenfell Foundation.
Limited to 300 copies, pressed as a single-sided 10’’, and available as a digital download on Modern Love, Lucy Railton’s performance of Olivier Messiaen’s piece, ‘Louange à l’éternité de Jésus’, is at once a slow-burning meditation and a quietly moving piece that acts as an eternal flame and a piece of music for the ages, composed during what was one of the darkest periods in human history.
The fifth movement for cello and piano (here adapted for cello and organ) from Messiaen’s ‘Quatuorpour la fin du temps’, which translates into English as ‘Quartet for the End of Time’, was composed while Messiaen was a prisoner of war in Stalag VIII-A, in Görlitz, Germany. Indeed, its first performance was in January 1941, inside the Nazi camp itself, and was played by other detained musicians. Taking inspiration from the Book of Revelation, it signals Messiaen’s vision of ‘immutable peace’. This decade-old performance sees Lucy Railton on cello and Andrew Marx on organ, and perhaps one of the more striking aspects of this performance are the incidental sounds within the recording – a baby’s cry, a cough – which seem to embed themselves into the piece, enhancing it with an importance that can’t be understated, making it a unique recording, and one forever etched onto vinyl, no matter how many years may have since elapsed.
Amid 2020’s burning of heartache and destruction, it seems like an apt time to release this piece once again; a timely reflection on all things existential and transient. The music has the quality of reaching past itself. The slow and steady strings and the mesmeric movement of the organ suspends any notion of time, seeming to touch the beyond through its deep music. The piece was written in 1941, but it’s still permeating the air today. Performed at Buckfast Abbey in Devon, England, Lucy Railton describes the atmosphere of that day and that singular performance:
‘It was a normal Saturday concert, a half full audience, some friends and family were also there. It’s hard to explain why some performances stand out, but for some reason I still think about that day. It’s not only that this is great music; there was something else we felt, in the heavy silence before the first note, and as the chords rose higher and higher. There was a kind of communal acknowledgement of something bigger than that moment and place, of the immense beauty of music, and of the human capacity for resilience and transformation.”
Amazingly, the baby’s cries emphasise the music, creating meaningful and valid additions to its context, especially when one looks back on the music’s origins and the atmosphere in which the piece was created. Regarding the performance itself, there can be no repeat of that one special moment – the voice has stuck to the music, clinging to the cello’s wavering strings and a subtle organ – and there’s no doubt that this is an incredible performance on what was otherwise a typical Saturday. But nothing about this deeply-affecting performance feels normal. It does feel elevated in some strange and mystical way (and it shall remain unanswerable), accompanied by the unseen to push it even higher into rarefied air. Although the cries are in sync with the music, the Book of Revelation is one of future hope, and its eternal flame lights up the music just as it once lit up the darkness of the Nazi camp seventy-nine years ago. By purchasing and supporting this release, listeners will also be lighting their own candles of hope and kindness to those in need.