Before the end of time

Writing a new work to go alongside Messiaen’s Quartet for the end of time, I went back to the scene from which he drew inspiration, in the book of Revelation: an angel clothed in clouds, rainbows and fire stands astride land and sea and announces the end of time.  This hallucinatory vision evokes a landscape where the troubles and chaos of the world have risen to apocalyptic extremes which bring about a wholesale reconfiguration of the world, its processes, and our place in it.  To Messiaen, in a freezing and overcrowded POW camp in the winter of 1940-41 with the world in flames around him, this resonated powerfully.  Those circumstances are not ours, thankfully, but our own fears are also well-founded and the Revelation vision is no less resonant for us today.

Before the angel speaks there are seven thunders, so my title – After seven thundersevokes this moment of global watershed, but I have not sought to depict the vision’s specific images: there are no trumpets, clouds, rainbows, angels, not even thunders…  The piece opens with a series of bold, simple gestures which feel a little like those striking shapes carved by wind and weather that stand out starkly in certain rocky landscapes.  These gestures recur at various points throughout the piece, in different lights and perspectives. 

It’s been a pleasure rehearsing the piece with three excellent players, Poppy Beddoes, Henry Chandler and Tim Lowe, and also a interesting experience playing the piano in one of my own chamber works. I’ve done this a few times, but in between I always forget, and am surprised again, how complicated and intense it feels during the rehearsals, being inside things as a player but at the same time trying to listen to and survey the whole as if from outside, as a composer.


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