[rumori] Schnittke

Andrew Lander (andrewlanderAThotmail.com)
Mon, 19 Jul 1999 18:28:52 PDT

I bought a CD of Alfred Schnittke's 1st Symphony last week, and I quite like
it. It strikes me as being an hour-long middle finger to the Soviet
authorities. If Shostakovich's 8th Sting Quartet was a suicide note then
this Symphony seems to me to be Schnittke saying "You bastards are going to
have to kill me!" But I think it will be of special interest to those on
this list for other reasons.

Numerous quotes are strewn throughout the work. I can't identify them,
firstly because they're often played simultaneously, and secondly because
I'm not as familiar with the sources as perhaps I should be. The fact is, I
learned of their existence from the booklet! And not just classical works
are quoted, but a Russian pop song that was popular at the time (around

I wonder if Schnittke got permission to quote it?

We know that "serious" composers do this sort of thing all the time. The
booklet quotes Stravinsky's famous "great composers steal" comment. But to
quote from a modern pop song can get one sued - something I don't have to
tell any of you. I wonder if the same would happen if Schnittke had quoted
Philip Glass. I don't know what the custom is among contemporary "serious"
composers. (Likewise I wonder if Beethoven would've sued Shostakovich for
the final movement of his Viola Concerto.)

Maybe it's a high art thang.

Schnittke's known for his polystylism, so he does more than just "steal"
specific phrases. One of the instruments in the 1st Symphony is an electric
guitar, but I don't know if it's used to quote the pop song or not. I also
noticed what sounded like a drumstick being dragged across a chain link
fence or something. At one point the orchestra (or was it the audience)
begins hooting and hollering. There's also a free improvisation for violin
and piano in the second movement, and a jazz interlude in the fourth. Oh
yeah, and a harpsichord. Quite a collage.

One of his 'hobbies' is taking unfinished fragments (or remaining pieces of
lost works) of other composers and using them in his own work or basing new
works on them, or finishing them in his own "polystyle" (e.g. Moz-Art,
several versions, based on a sole remaining violin part for some pantomime

The only thing that may be off-putting to some (and definitely is to many
western "serious" music critics) is that Schnittke doesn't use these things
as ascetic avant-garde cerebral exersizes, but in a highly emotional, often
melodramatic way. He puts the tools of the Avant-Garde to Romantic
purposes, something which I find both intellectually interesting and
emotionally involving.

Some short mp3s excerpts of his work can be found at
http://www.schnittke.de/ . One of these is a great example of his
borrowing, but I don't want to spoil the surprise for anyone. Unfortunately
the site is currently all in German. But they tell me they plan on putting
up English pages sometime in the future.

Andrew Lander

Get Free Email and Do More On The Web. Visit http://www.msn.com
Rumori, the Detritus.net Discussion List
to unsubscribe, send mail to majordomoATdetritus.net
with "unsubscribe rumori" in the message body.
Rumori list archives & other information are at

Home | Detrivores | Rhizome | Archive | Projects | Contact | Help | Text Index

[an error occurred while processing this directive] N© Detritus.net. Sharerights extended to all.