The caption for this article is a photo of Schnittke’s gravestone. The musical symbols are (top to bottom) a fermata (sustained or prolonged), a bar’s rest (silence, no playing) and triple forte (very, very loud)
Alfred Schnittke’s (1934-1998) music is definitely a creature of the later 20th century: often dark, vitriolic and strangely seductive. A pupil of Dmitri Shostakovich, he pushed harder against the Soviet establishment, writing music full of dissonance, mordant sarcasm and absurdity. His mature pieces are often “polystylistic”, stitching together disparate styles (playing catch-me-if-you-can through musical history). Good examples are his first Concerti Grosso and the ballet score Labyrinths.
Latterly, after a series of strokes that left him gradually paralysed, Schnittke resorted to a more tonal, and somehow more bleak, style, such as in his Requiem. His music is a great companion when we’re dealing with the absurd side of life, living with idiot political systems or bureaucracy, or wondering where the point is in it all…
Tango from Life with an Idiot, beautifully interpreted on ice by Peter Tchernyshev and Xenia Alferov. Listen out, the moment at 2.13 where the music “dissolves” is classic Schnittke
I talk about Schnittke in a previous article (The Rest is Noise: Behind the Iron Curtain). The portrait above was painted by Reginald Grey in 1972