SCHNITTKE: Cello Concerto / Stille Musik / Cello Sonata (Burkhard Godhoff/ Gerhard Markson/ Maria Kliegel/ Raimund Havenith/ Saarbrucken Radio Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.554465)
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Cello Concerto (1986)
Stille Musik (1979)
Sonata for violoncelloand piano (1978)
The Russian composer Alfred Schnittke was born in 1934, the son of ajournalist of Lithuanian-Jewish origin and a mother who taught German. His birthplace, Engels, was the former capital of the Volga Republic, but he began hisreal musical education in Vienna, where his father worked for two years from1946 until 1948, editing a Soviet Army newspaper. There followed a period atthe October Revolution Music Academy in Moscow and further study at the MoscowConservatory, with lessons in instrumentation with Nikolay Rakov andcounterpoint and composition with Yevgeny Golubev. He completed his work as apostgraduate student in 1961 and for the next ten years taught at theConservatory, before embarking on a free?¡lance career in Moscow in 1972.
Changes in cultural policy in the Soviet Union later enabled Schnittke toconsolidate his international position as one of the leading composers of thelater twentieth century, emphasized by his close association with the mostdistinguished performers. Throughout his career he showed a particular interestin string textures, from the time of his first Violin Concerto, writtenin 1957 and revised six years later, to later work for the viola, the ViolaConcerto of 1985 and the Monologue for Viola and Strings, writtenin 1989. More recent compositions have included additions to his ConcertiGrossi, the sixth of which, for violin, piano and orchestra, was completedin 1993, with a Concerto for Three, calling for violin, viola and cellowith an instrumental ensemble, published in 1995, to be given an authoritativeperformance by musicians particularly associated with his work, the violinistGidon Kremer, the viola-player Yuri Bashmet and the cellist MstislavRostropovich.
In 1989, with political changes in Russia, Schnittke was able to acceptthe position of Professor of Composition at the Hamburg Musikhochschule, buthis deteriorating health, after a stroke he had suffered in 1985, madecomposition a slow process, leading, in 1994, to a fourth stroke that preventedhim from speaking or writing. He had, however, been able to complete his EighthSymphony in that year. He was prolific as a composer, writing a quantityof music that found a ready audience outside the Soviet Union, particularlyafter 1989, when his work was made more widely known abroad. In an interview in1977 he explained his method of working, allowing six or seven months in theyear for composition for films, leaving a few months for his own work. He wenton to explain the then available possibilities provided by television and radiofor hearing a wide variety of music, enabling him to live in what he describedas an Ives atmosphere. Often allusive in style, his work might shock, as in theinnovative cadenza he provided for the Beethoven Violin Concerto and themimed cadenza for his own Fourth Violin Concerto, and he drew on wideterms of reference and sources of inspiration, as in his First Symphony, withits reversal of the procedures of Haydn's Farewell Symphony, and worksthat refer obliquely and directly to Handel, Mozart, Paganini and many others,part of the whole body of music that he regarded as a complete entity, essentiallyinterconnected, Schnittke died on 3rd August 1998.
On his First Cello Concerto Schnittke explained that the idea hadlong been in his mind. In the summer of 1985 he made his first rough sketches,before a serious interruption to his work. On the night of 22nd / 23rdJuly he suffered a stroke and spent twenty days in a coma, declaredclinically dead on three occasions. The power of speech returned slowly, atfirst only in German, the German of the Volga district of his childhood. By11th August he had regained consciousness, but at first half dreaming ofwar-time or of adventures in the North, a region he had never visited. Hegradually returned to a normal life and to his work, in particular the CelloConcerto, which he started to write at the end of October, as if it hadalready been formed in his mind. The concerto was planned in three movements.
The first of these, marked Pesante moderato, strictly constructed, thesecond, marked Largo, slow and expressive and the third, Allegrovivace, depicting a wild, dancing world. When the third movement was halffinished, he had the idea of writing a fourth. The idea was not a new one, buthe did not know that this belonged to the Cello Concerto, until itsuddenly occurred to him, as the other movements neared completion. The wholework, in fact, he saw as directed towards the fourth movement, in which itsessence is expressed.
Stille Masik, for violin and cello, was written in 1979 and offersin the main music of great tranquility, as its title suggests. Neverthelessthere are occasional moments of tense dissonance and strong chordal passages. Arhapsodic work, Stille Musik offers a study in tension and relaxation,the basis of musical composition.
The Sonata for Cello and Piano was written in 1978. Inthree movements, it provides a valuable addition to the cello repertoire,exploiting the qualities and possibilities of the instrument in an idiomaticmusical language, allusive and by turns of harsh intensity or poignant in itslyricism. The meditative first movement is followed by a cello motoperpetuo, accompanied initially by the abrupt interjections of the piano,which later assumes a r??le that recalls the music of Prokofiev. The thirdmovement is one of alternately impassioned and brooding melancholy, fading, inits conclusion to an eerie whisper.