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Marc Ren Velazco

Ryan Kramer
Intro to Composition
Dr. de Murga
The abyss is Time with its sadness, its weariness. The birds are the opposite to Time; they are our desire for
light, for stars, for rainbows, and for jubilant songs.
-Olivier Messiaen

Abime des oiseaux the third movement of Messiaens pivotal work Quatour pour la
fin du temps (String Quartet for the End of Time) features Messiaens introduction to his Bird
call motive, used very frequently as the thread of this movement.
The introductory statement of the piece (meas. 1-12) serves as an A section, for
Messiaen to unfold throughout. The dominant pitch within these measures is F# which acts as
a home or tonic. This opening section is titled Lent, expressif et triste and dsol signifying the
theme of the phrase to come. A C# octatonic scale is used throughout this first section, with use
of tritone and third leaps within the scale to further color the atmosphere. Messiaen would
somewhat imply a separation between sections with the reoccurring use of an F# whole note
measure, throughout the piece.
Presque vif, gai, capricieux is the title of the next section. Measures 14-21 can serve as a
B section as the birdsong material presented greatly contrasts the A. As stated before,
Messiean employs the use of his transcription of birdsong into this section of the work. The
upbeat quality of these meanderings offer a more lighthearted tone in comparison to the heavy
and gloomy nature of the opening statement, just as its subtitle suggests: capricious. The
birdsongs alone do not seem to derive from any scale, but rather the contour of the calls
themselves as Messiaen studied.

The next section, (meas.22-27) this time only Presque vif, certainly serves as a B as it
briefly features material related from the preceding section, however to be met directly with a
C phrase in the form in (meas.28-32). The C section seems to be quite brief, using very wide
arpeggios from the octatonic scale (although it looks as if he is using 10 notes out of 12). This
section is topped off with what looks like a very small birdcall through the use of trills.
The next section (meas.33-44) titled exactly as the opening statement, is to be treated as
an A as the opening line is transposed down an octave and the rest of the content is related to
the initial A. The end of this section is met with one of many F# whole note measures as
transition material into a very short-lived C, leading into an even smaller B, with an
ending group of notes finally encircling the established tonic of the piece, F#. This somewhat
montage of the sectional material in the last few measures unifies the work and fulfills a sense of
closure to the piece.