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Bio of Alfred Schnittke

Alfred Schnittke

Alfred Schnittke was born on 24 November 1934 in Engels, on the Volga River, in the Soviet Union. His father was born in Frankfurt to a Jewish family of Russian origin who had moved to the USSR in 1926, and his mother was a Volga-German born in Russia. Schnittke began his musical education in 1946 in Vienna where his father, a journalist and translator, had been posted. In 1948 the family moved to Moscow, where Schnittke studied piano and received a diploma in choral conducting. From 1953 to 1958 he studied counterpoint and composition with Yevgeny Golubev and instrumentation with Nikolai Rakov at the Moscow Conservatory. Schnittke completed the postgraduate course in composition there in 1961 and joined the Union of Composers the same year. He was particularly encouraged by Phillip Herschkowitz, a Webern disciple, who resided in the Soviet capital. In 1962, Schnittke was appointed instructor in instrumentation at the Moscow Conservatory, a post which he held until 1972. Thereafter he supported himself chiefly as a composer of film scores; by 1984 he had scored more than 60 films. Noted, above all, for his hallmark "polystylistic" idiom, Schnittke has written in a wide range of genres and styles. His Concerto Grosso No. 1 (1977) was one of the first works to bring his name to prominence. It was popularized by Gidon Kremer, a tireless proponent of his music. Many of Schnittke's works have been inspired by Kremer and other prominent performers, including Yury Bashmet, Natalia Gutman, Gennady Rozhdestvensky and Mstislav Rostropovich. Schnittke first came to America in 1988 for the "Making Music Together" Festival in Boston and the American premiere of Symphony No. 1 by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He came again in 1991 when Carnegie Hall commissioned Concerto Grosso No. 5 for the Cleveland Orchestra as part of its Centennial Festival, and again in 1994 for the world premiere of his Symphony No. 7 by the New York Philharmonic and the American premiere of his Symphony No. 6 by the National Symphony. Schnittke composed 9 symphonies, 6 concerti grossi, 4 violin concertos, 2 cello concertos, concertos for piano and a triple concerto for violin, viola and cello, as well as 4 string quartets and much other chamber music, ballet scores, choral and vocal works. His first opera, Life with an Idiot , was premiered in Amsterdam (April 1992). His two new operas, Gesualdo and Historia von D. Johann Fausten were unveiled in Vienna (May 1995) and Hamburg (June 1995) respectively. From the 1980s, Schnittke's music gained increasing exposure and international acclaim. Schnittke has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including Austrian State Prize in 1991, Japan's Imperial Prize in 1992,
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Beginning in 1990. Soon the orchestral violins. At the height of tension. August 1998 Bio provided by G. the two soloists recall their "calling" theme. whereupon the soloists introduce a new Vivaldian theme of repeated notes over a steady pedal-point harpsichord accompaniment. the soloists for the occasion were violinists Gidon Kremer and Tatiana Gridenko. the lower strings interrupt to introduce a new section wherein the soloists alternate with the orchestra in short frenetic gestures. with the soloists becoming increasingly agitated over a long held chords of violas. maintaining dual German-Russian citizenship. providing minimal support for the soloists. as the tension decreases. He died. 1 in 1977. In 1985. a funeral Recitativo marked www-personal. and especially by the melodic and harmonic use of minor and major seconds. The proceedings approach a tense climax. The preludio. cellos. the Baroque. and usually staying close to each other by the same intervallic distance. The style of this composition seems to be one of pastiche. the full orchestral strings take over momentarily. low strings enter playing long heldharmonics. the orchestra begins the third movement. and basses.presents a curious theme that might remind one of a very old jack-in-the-box whose crank will only turn slowly. follows without pause. 1 [1977] Schnittke completed his Concerto Grosso No. When this soon reaches a state of frenzy. his music has been celebrated with retrospectives and major festivals worldwide. on 3 August 1998 in Hamburg. wit and flair" (New York Times). Finally. is then introduced by two solo violins. begins as the piano . Schnittke suffered no loss of creative imagination. and indeed the main germinating cell of the entire work. the work received its premiere performance that same year on March 21. The composer has described the work as "a play of three spheres. The soloists plunge into a diatonic Baroque theme.umich.htm 2/7 . soon supported by canonic orchestral gestures. The basses. marked Allegro. marked Andante. which until this point in this movement have been silent. as the harpsichord recalls the initial theme played by the prepared piano. More than 50 compact discs devoted exclusively to his music have been released in the last ten years. and Yuri Smirnov on the two keyboard instruments. This unity is achieved mostly by the recurrence of thematic motifs. Schirmer NOTES on Concerto Grosso No. join the canon. with the Leningrad Chamber Orchestra under Eri Klas. this time with the first violin playing minor ninths against the second violin's major sevenths. The main theme. furious interjections from the orchesta until the end of the movement. interrupt with a measure of punctuated sevenths. played in strict canon. Schnittke suffered the first of a series of serious strokes. divided into 12 parts. this is all acheived with "extraordinary virtuaosity.prepared in its upper register by the insertion of pieces of wood between the strings . heard against a tolling C in the piano's lower . after suffering another stroke. with a tinge of the trite).edu/~cyoungk/schnittkebio.14/04/14 Bio of Alfred Schnittke and. These seemingly disparate elements and styles emcompassing over two centuries are fused into one cohesive structure of marvelously unified vision. this material will be heard once again towards the end of the composition. along with those intervals' inversions and their expansion by octaves to create minor and major ninths. After only a miniscule rest for a breath. individuality or productivity.and "unprepared" . the Modern and the banal" (the German word meaning the overly popular. Schnittke resided in Hamburg.register. Despite his physical frailty. most recently the Slava-Gloria-Prize in Moscow in June 1998. however. The Toccata. calling to each other with intervals of minor seconds. an atonal theme which retains the previous Baroque mood leads into an extended section in which the carefree soloists keep being interrupted by short.

imparting it with a more romantic flavor. an uncontrollable climazx is reached. but the death knell reasserts itself. NOTES on Piano Quartet www-personal. The Rondo. exchanged between the two in quasi-canonic fashion. will not be quieted. as Schnittke has gone on to composer at least two other Concerto Grossos after this one. After a short pause. is not really the case.14/04/14 Bio of Alfred Schnittke Lento. the deth knell is still being heard. This. the two soloists embark on a passionate Cadenza. the orchestra adds agitated accompaniment figures to create the first. the intervals of minor and major seconds dominate the discourse. The orchestral first violins try to infuse life into the proceedings once again by recalling the canonic Baroque theme momentarily. and snatches the tango theme back. here performed in high harmonics over a sustained chord in the highest register of all the orchestral strings except for the basses.one. bearing an Agitato marking. a declamatory one of Vivaldian character. played now over a dense 21 part chord or minor seconds. The next episode begins with repeated Stravinskian fortissimo chords over which the soloists struggle in vain to establish the theme again. If a person was not aware oif the fact that Mr. against which the soloists play the main theme. s/he might think that the composer's implication is that the form and style of the Baroque Concerto Grosso is dead . the harpsichord establishes a new theme in the form of a tango. the orchestra clumsily takes over the tango and the soloists correct them by playing it pizzicato. the two soon work up to a point of frenzy. with the aid of the harpsichord. recalling the prelude. over which the soloists introduce the main theme.edu/~cyoungk/schnittkebio. In the second episode. Beginning with furious minor seconds. begins with an arpeggiated figure in the harpsichord. as the piano plays the broken toy motif heard at the beginning of the work. This is all punctuated by the insistent death knell low C of the piano. The soloists' final trill in the Straussian melody brings on a change of tempo to Andante. Soon chaos erupts until the proceedings culminate with a short passage of pathos recalling the music of Richard Strauss. extended episode of the Rondo. Without any pause. A curious episodes ensues next. and with feverish pitch the 21 part orchestra slowly creeps to their highest register until reaching a piercing shriek. Schnittke often views the old forms with fond humor. the postludio is reached. -NOTES by Edgar Colon-Hernandez. The orchestra.htm 3/7 . Everything is tightly controlled until the soloists begin to produce larger intervals and wild glissandi runs.and therefore an obsolte . which keeps modulating slowly upward. completing a full cycle as the soloists play their minor seconds calling theme from the first movement. alon gwith sporadic chords from the prepared octave of the piano. however.umich. The sudden appearance of a Purcellian motif leads directly into the next movement. The long sustained chord keeps decreasing in volume until the last breath is spent and the Concerto dies away. playing it with Mahlerian ardor. however. where as if in slow motion. giving the impression of a machine that is finally breaking down.

His abandonment of the reigning dogma of post-war Europe was an inspiration to a whole generation that has sought freedom of action. For the first January of the new Millennium. coexist in the same composition. attracting some. alienating others. (The original finally appears intact at the end of the Schnittke's piece. it certainly couldn't cover his output as extensively as this festival did. the Guildhall had already set the ball rolling with www-personal. It is marked by intense expressiveness. There have been Schnittke festivals in the past. Composers as diverse as Hindemith. (It can be argued that the extraordinary dramatic power of his music. imitation Mahler.full text Searching the Soul: The Music of Alfred Schnittke Friday 12 . using his thematic material. London A review by Paul Pellay For many years now. Earlier in the week.) Schnittke Work list available at Schirmer Philadelphia Inquirer article on his death A good overview of the composer In Memoriam of Composer Korea Times Article on the Composer Remembering Schnittke at Schirmer Recent review of a Schnittke Festival in England . German-domiciled composer. and a natural lyricism. Lutoslawski.Sunday 14 January 2001 Barbican Centre. the spotlight has fallen on the recently deceased Alfred Schnittke. Schnittke's piece is not.) Schnittke based his Piano Quartet upon a scherzo fragment from an incomplete quartet (1876) by Gustav Mahler.14/04/14 Bio of Alfred Schnittke Schnittke's music is known for it powerful impact. Messiaen. Most of his music is characterized by polystylistic construction: radically different compositional styles. have been the lucky recipients of such concentrated exposure. Ives. but an embodiment of the great Austrian's aesthetic. made polystylistic music something of a world-wide fad. Berio. however. but rarely leaving the listener neutral. an innate sense of drama. Martinu and Weill.htm 4/7 .edu/~cyoungk/schnittkebio. most notably in 1994 on the occasion of his 60th birthday. As admirable as that conspectus of Schnittke's oeuvre was. and its appeal to audiences.umich. drawn from centuries of music history. the BBC Symphony Orchestra has hosted an annual composer weekend at the Barbican every January singling out a major 20th Century figure. amongst others. an unpredictable flow of ideas. when the Royal Academy of Music devoted their annual composer festival to the Russian-born.

so his credentials are unimpeachable. though perhaps Brabbins kept! the lid upon the orchestral proceedings a little more insistently than was strictly necessary.umich. and it has to be said that much of the symphony (which lasts over an hour). Only when the orchestra finally fades in exhaustion do we realise that the soloist isn't playing at all. Kim Kashkashian and Tabea Zimmermann. gradually filled with the players walking on while playing. The real meat of the evening followed shortly afterwards. But such notions were firmly dispelled in the second half. Of the 10 concerts which made up the weekend. It wasn't until I heard the work in the flesh that I realised how subdued and restrained most of it is: it was significant that at the work's loudest climaxes the soloist fell silent. come Friday January 12th. including the 7th Symphony (the UK premiere. which has travelled the world through the advocacy of Yuri Bashmet. or near the end of the concluding fourth movement). who comes on last of all. a Scherzo. I was able to attend 6 of them. was by far the weightier one. commandingly performed. for a performance of the 4th Violin Concerto (1984). brilliantly realised by Kremer (the concerto's dedicatee). Boris Berman set the ball rolling early on Friday evening. and was almost orchestral in its texture and complexity. amongst others. The work begins with an empty stage. The second movement. I believe) and the Viola Concerto. disturbing work. He has in fact recorded pretty much all of Schnittke's piano music for Chandos. The much shorter Second Sonata was also sparer. and finally brought to order by the conductor. with a recital consisting of the first 2 piano sonatas. or. either by stopping altogether (as in the climax of the slow 3rd movement). The first movement proper is quite deliberately incoherent in comparison. which was taken over by the absolutely uncategorisable First Symphony (1969-72). is in the same spirit. The First Sonata. is stopped in its tracks by a fast-and-furious jazz cadenza for violin and piano (Daniel Hope and Simon Mulligan were the www-personal. the redoubtable Gidon Kremer. with the BBC SO and Martyn Brabbins taking the stage for the main evening concert. So. more strikingly.14/04/14 Bio of Alfred Schnittke performances of several representative works. wild disruptions and non-sequiturs. In the first half. with quotations from other composers. written for Vladimir Feltsman. A typically odd.edu/~cyoungk/schnittkebio.htm 5/7 . they shared the limelight with another old hand at Schnittke. the tone and atmosphere at the Barbican was already set at the ideal level. by miming furiously along while the orchestra went haywire (as it does in the climax of the moto perpetuo-like second movement. more graceful even (though grace isn't an adjective one would immediately associate with Schnittke). and Berman had no trouble in differentiating his approach to each work. 2 per day.

on Sunday afternoon. provoking much startled laughter from the audience by having snatches of Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto rub shoulders with Autumn Leaves !). Martyn Brabbins was once again on the podium. As one American commentator once put it. it builds arch-like to a massive. playing as they come on. and it was brilliantly realised by the BBC SO which. the symphony commits suicide and leaves a note! As a theatrical experience. Of all Schnittke's works. leaving just the strings and percussion for the slow third movement. one just cannot find the right words to assess this symphony (or "anti-symphony"). and the fourth and last movement gets underway. Saturday opened with the first of two concerts by the London Sinfonietta (the second one. As such. the brass and woodwinds troop back on. A relatively subdued affair. as it were. the whole deranged circus starts all over again. it's worth remembering. climactic chord of C minor before retreating once more. it was a resounding success. but this time he cues the whole orchestra on a deafening unison C. It was followed by the world premiere of an unfinished work that Schnittke had earmarked for the London Sinfonietta.edu/~cyoungk/schnittkebio. www-personal. A musical happening. but was left unfinished when Schnittke's penultimate stroke in 1994 all but dammed the creative floodtide which until then had swept away every obstacle against all odds. at the end. and began the proceedings with what might still be Schnittke's best-known work. But as far as purely musical value is concerned. for whom the symphony was written. Just as we are led to believe that this is the end.htm 6/7 . with the players marching onstage once more. It was intended to be a cantata for countertenor and orchestra. the leader bringing up the rear while playing the last few bars of Haydn's Farewell Symphony. playing all the while (with fragments of Chopin's Funeral March thrown in for good measure).umich. gave the work's Western premiere in 1986 under Gennady Rozhdestvensky. with Clio Gould and Joan Atherton the two solo violinists and John Constable at the prepared piano (whose opening solo cast its customarily creepy spell). all the wind players troop offstage. the Concerto Grosso no. And maybe that was Schnittke's aim: to create a work that defied categorisation of any kind. As it ends.14/04/14 Bio of Alfred Schnittke marvellous soloists here. curdled neo-Baroqueries rubbing shoulders with a sleazy tango and one of Schnittke's most flesh-crawling climaxes (the slowly fermenting build-up in the Recitativo third movement which is finally cut off in mid-scream). it is this one where his "polystylism" is allowed the fullest rein. It's as wild and as crazed a collage as the first movement. and the audience responded with an ovation. the conductor comes on last of all. It boded well for the rest of the Festival. there is nothing quite like it in the orchestral repertoire. I was forced to miss). Again. everyone leaves the stage. and the work is over. Brabbins presided over this whole orchestral "theatre of the absurd" with commendable sang-froid. and at the end. with its odd.1 (1977).

Of all the Schnittke symphonies it is the slowest to reveal its secrets. mostly going at the same slow-ish tempo throughout. articulate tour guide through Schnittke's world). pain-ridden years. being a single movement of some 40 minutes' length.4 (1984). On the other hand.March 2001 Back to The Return of Are You Brave ? Festival Back to welcome page www-personal. The first movement was for strings and harpsichord only. circumspect scherzo which was finally halted by a lone celesta cluster. The second movement was a typically bald incantation for the countertenor. Paul Pellay's exploration of the Schnittke weekend continues next month. but it is also the most monolithic in conception.edu/~cyoungk/schnittkebio. a nervous. Following the interval.htm 7/7 . It was oddly bare and hermetic stuff. and did engage in some fairly intense musical argument before working up to a climax of some power.umich. The unfinished third movement was mainly for woodwinds and horns alone. we heard the two movements and the fragment of a third which was all Schnittke left of this work. Brabbins guided his forces through the Symphony no. It requires the smallest forces of any Schnittke symphony. it did accentuate the powerfully ritualistic aspect of this symphony. which was given the faute-de-mieux title of "Fragment" as the composer himself never even gave it one of his own. and Brabbins did not altogether succeed in that respect: the reticence which had been noticeable in the performance of the 4th Violin Concerto the previous evening was even more evident here.14/04/14 Bio of Alfred Schnittke Following a brief spoken introduction by Gerard McBurney (who during the weekend acted as the witty. with percussion adding some much-needed colour to offset the other music's intransigent greyness. article from Classical London #58 . typical of the work of Schnittke's last.