The American première on 24 March 1988 of Russian-born composer Alfred Schnittke's first symphony was held during the physically frail Schnittke's first visit to the USA. He had suffered the first of several serious strokes three years earlier, but was to live for another ten years until 3 August 1998, where he died in Hamburg, his home since 1990.
Many of the audience voted with their feet, leaving before the Boston Symphony Orchestra's performance had ended, but those listening to the end gave the work a standing ovation, and the orchestra also sided with the composer. From the 1980s onwards, Schnittke, with his easily identifiable polystylistic music, his notable courage and his mischievous sense of humour, had become one of the most important post-Soviet names in Russian music.
Born at Engels in the former Soviet Union on 24 November 1934, his roots (and his citizenship) were both Russian and German - his father was a Russian Jew born in Frankfurt, and his mother was a German born in Russia. He studied in Vienna, then at the Moscow Conservatory, joined the Union of Composers, and was encouraged by Phillip Herschkowitz, a disciple of Anton Webern. Working for the Conservatory for ten years, as 'instructor of instrumentation', he was from then on able to support himself by writing more than sixty film scores. He was prolific with his serious music, too, which includes nine symphonies, four violin concertos, two cello concertos and the operas Life with an Idiot, Gesualdo and Historia von D Johann Fausten.
A selection of M&V articles about Alfred Schnittke
CD Spotlight. A Rich Culture - Russian music from SWR Vokalensemble, appreciated by Howard Smith. '... a gift for those eager to hear voices in chorus ...'
CD Spotlight. Commanding Authority - Shostakovich and Schnittke string quartets, heard by Howard Smith. '... vivid sonic immediacy.'
CD Spotlight. Lyric Expressiveness - Russian music for cello and piano, recommended by Howard Smith. '... much here to praise ...'
Ensemble. Another Treat - Martinu's 'Mirandolina' at Garsington Opera, by Roderic Dunnett
CD Spotlight. A Striking Urgency - Schnittke and Ginastera from the Choir of St Ignatius Loyola, reviewed by Howard Smith. 'Not quite what one might expect.'
Four Strings to his Violin - Many strings to his bow ... Howard Smith reports on Marat Bisengaliev's third tour of New Zealand
Ensemble. An outstanding recital - The Denali Piano Trio, reviewed by Mike Wheeler
Record box. A generous recital - Vadim Gluzman plays Schnittke, Pärt, Vasks and Kancheli, recommended by Howard Smith
Ensemble. Liszt on Wagner's Steinway - Malcolm Miller applauds a young artist in the Festspiel-Soirée Series at the Wahnfried in Bayreuth
Ensemble. Gypsy fire - Lawrence Budmen is impressed by Ukrainian violinist Vadim Gluzman
Violin Master - Gordon Rumson reports on a rare Carnegie Hall appearance of Mark Lubotsky
Unbreakable spirit - Galina Aleykina reports on a concert at the Ukraine National Opera House in memory of the events of September 11th
Distinction and imagination - Malcolm Miller attended a recent concert by violinist Grigory Zhislin
Seeking the Soul - 'Faust Cantata' at the BBC Schnittke Festival in London's Barbican Centre, by Malcolm Miller