Saint Louis Symphony, WUSTL celebrate music of Messiaen

Musicians from Washington University and the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra will join forces to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of French composer Olivier Messiaen.

The concert — sponsored by the Department of Music in Arts & Sciences, the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra’s Community Partnership Program and KWUR 90.3 FM — is free and open to the public and begins at 8 p.m. Monday, March 3, in the 560 Music Center’s E. Desmond Lee Concert Hall.

Seth Carlin

Messiaen (1908-1992), one of the 20th century’s most influential composers, was known for his use of nontraditional modal scales and for his interest in non-Western traditions, such as the Indian raga system. His thematic material was inspired primarily by his Catholic faith and by the natural world, especially bird song.

Messiaen began composing at age 7 and, at 11, enrolled at the Paris Conservatoire. After completing his studies in 1931, Messiaen was appointed organist at the Sainte Trinite Cathedral, a position he would maintain the rest of his life.

However, with the outbreak of World War II, Messiaen was drafted into the French army and, in June 1940, was captured by the Nazis and interned as a prisoner of war in Gorlitz, Poland.

It was during this time that Messiaen composed what would become his signature work: “Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time).”

Discovering that his fellow prisoners included a clarinetist, a violinist and a violoncellist, Messiaen wrote a short trio, the success of which led him to add a piano and seven additional movements. The completed quartet debuted Jan. 15, 1941, for an audience of Messiaen’s fellow prisoners.

The March 3 program will highlight “Quartet for the End of Time.” Performers are pianist Seth Carlin, professor of music in Arts & Sciences; Jooyeon Kong, violinist for the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra; St. Louis cellist Ken Kulosa; and clarinetist Paul Garritson, teacher of applied music in Arts & Sciences.

Also on the program is “Thème et variations” for violin and piano, which Messiaen composed in 1932 as a wedding present for his first wife.

Performers are Carlin and Silvian Iticovici, violinist for the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra as well as a teacher of applied music.

Rounding out the program is Aaron Copland’s “Vitebsk” (1928), a trio for piano, violin and cello that captures the drama of Jewish life in a White Russian village.

The 560 Music Center is located at 560 Trinity Ave., at the intersection with Delmar Boulevard. For more information, call 935-5566 or e-mail