The Charm of the Impossible
(Le charme des impossibilités, directed by Nicolás Buenaventura Vidal; produced by Les Films du Rat, Gloria Films, Institut National de l’Audiovisuel, France 2007; original version in French, German and Polish, English subtitles, duration 75 min).
The Charm of the Impossible is a French documentary on music, presenting some hypotheses around the origin of Olivier Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps. The quartet was written in the German prisoners of war camp Stalag VIII A in Görlitz (today Zgorzelec) at the turn of 1940/1941 r. The protagonist is the Polish officer cadet Zdzisław Nardelli, who was active after the war as a writer and poet, and from the 1960 worked for the Polish Radio in Warsaw, a.o. as director of the Polish Radio Theatre. The film also includes testimonies of French musicians and other French prisoners in Stalag VIII A. They give us insight into every-day life of this camp and into the prisoners’ cultural activities. We learn about the 1941 premiere of Messiaen’s Quatuor. The film re-enacts the world premiere of the Quatuor pour la fin du temps in the Stalag, featuring outstanding French soloists: violinist Régis Pasquier, clarinettist Paul Meyer, cellist Roland Pidoux and pianist François-René Duchâble. The Messiaen work written in the prisoners of war camp is nowadays considered a masterpiece of 20th-century music and a symbol of hope and belief in the basic humanistic ideas.
Before the film show, we invite you to a lecture of Jerzy Stankiewicz ‘Olivier Messiaen and Polish prisoners of war – artists and intelligentsia – in Stalag VIII A in Görlitz. The origins of the Quatuor pour la fin du temps’ which will be an introduction to the film. The lecture will also focus on the complex origins of Messiaen’s work. This great classic of the 20th century attached special importance to this piece, which was seminal in Messiaen’s development as composer. Also, today the work holds an important position in the programmes of many performing arts organizations all over the world. Messiaen’s work on the Quatuor was boosted by Polish prisoners of war, who created conditions good enough to compose in Stalag VIII A in Görlitz.
Jerzy Stankiewicz is a musicologist and historian. Already at the beginning of his musicology studies at Warsaw University, he became fascinated with the life and work of Olivier Messiaen. He held a scholarship of the French government (Conservatoire Supérieur de Musique in Paris, 1977). In the later period, he was in a close contact with Messiaen and produced a long series of radio programmes devoted to the composer: Works of Olivier Messiaen and Master Interpretations of works by Olivier Messiaen (1978-1981). After the composer’s death, Jerzy Stankiewicz authored a new series: Olivier Messiaen’s Different World (1992-1993). He contributed to 25 works of Messiaen being given their Polish premieres. He was also artistic director of two festivals devoted to Messiaen’s work, held in Kraków in 1989 and 2002. He continues research on the genesis of the Quatuor pour la fin du temps, Messiaen’s imprisonment during the war and the activities of Polish prisoners of war in Stalag VIII A in Görlitz, as well as investigating the reception of Messiaen’s music in contemporary world.