Your Swanky Playlist for the End of the World

Beethoven, Scriabin, Messiaen, R.E.M.

By , Columnist

As a connoisseur of snark as well as lovely music, Miss Music Nerd has been enjoying the fun being made of tomorrow's predicted end of the world. Post-Rapture parties, post-Rapture looting - I'm down! It's a form a comic relief for me, really; I'm a church musician who believes that religion could actually be a force for good in the world were it not for so many people being fruitcakes about it and mucking it up for the rest of us. (Though it's fun to ponder the upside if the predictions were true: no more bills!)

Whenever I'm tempted to throw up my hands in disgust at the absurdity of "this ever-changing world in which we live in," I turn to music to make it all better. Here, then, are some classical selections to help us appropriately mock, I mean, mark, the occasion!

1. Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 26, "Les Adieux"

Beethoven wrote this piece as a salute to his patron, the Archduke Rudolph, who fled Vienna in 1809 as Armageddon approached in the form of Napoléon Bonaparte and his army. Beethoven helpfully wrote the German word for farewell, "le-be-wohl," over the first three chords in the piano score:
200px-Lebe_wohl.jpg The work's three movements sketch a narrative arc of farewell, absence and return, so I recommend listening to the first movement today, as we prepare to kiss it all goodbye; the second movement tomorrow to mark the absence of any cataclysmic event; and the third movement on Sunday, as the world returns to its regularly scheduled silliness.

Here's the first movement to get you started:

2. Olivier Messiaen: Quartet for the End of Time

When French composer Olivier Messiaen wrote this piece, he actually had a fairly good reason to believe the end was nigh - it was 1941, and he was a prisoner of war. The piece was premiered in Stalag VIII-A. Furthermore, as a devotee of Roman Catholic mysticism, Messiaen was groovy with the concept of eternity.

The Quartet has eight movements, all of which are sublime, but most relevant to today's topic is the "Dance of Fury, for the Seven Trumpets" -- of the Apocalypse, that is!

3. Alexander Scriabin: Mysterium

In 1903, Russian composer Alexander Scriabin began work on a large-scale multi-media piece (hey, he was ahead of his time!) that, when properly performed, would bring about the end of the world. He didn't complete it before he died prematurely of septicemia from an infected pimple (a considerable step down from the grandiose end he envisioned, poor chap!). And I must say I'm relieved that he didn't reach his goal, as I would have missed out on a lot! In his original conception, the production was to last seven days, but the sketches he left have been assembled into a three-hour-long work. Here's a taste:

Composers do tend to get inspired by themes of parting, loss, death, doom, etc., so there are many more examples that could be included here... feel free to suggest your favorite in the comments!

And just to end on an upbeat note, here's one of several pop songs that instantly come to mind on this subject - but this one has the distinction of mentioning a classical composer and conductor, which is relatively rare in the world of pop lyrics (that should be remedied, I think!). Say it with me, y'all: LEONARD BERNSTEIN!!!

Have an epic weekend, music nerds!

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Miss Music Nerd is the nom de net of Linda Kernohan, composer, pianist and music journalist. Her music has been played across the U.S. and Europe, and she has performed in a wide variety of venues, from a West Hollywood nightclub to the Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican. She also writes at…

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