Alfred Schnittke

About Alfred Schnittke

Alfred Schnittke was one of late-20th-century music’s most chameleonic and original voices. He was born in 1934 to a German family in an independent Soviet republic, and he established his early reputation with dozens of film scores and other works in the easily assimilated compositional style mandated by the Russian government. He quickly gained a reputation as a subversive, particularly for his banned 1974 masterwork Symphony No. 1, which strings all of Schnittke’s primary frames of musical reference into a funhouse ride, moving through pseudo-serialist passages, quotations from the Romantic and modernist canons, folk songs, and even jazz. As his career progressed, he started to blend his inspirations more subtly. In his symphonies, concertos for orchestra, and string quartets of the 1980s, short-lived moments of breathtaking tonal beauty descend into cacophony or spectral oblivion, usually operating at dynamic extremes. Schnittke was also an accomplished composer of vocal music, especially choral works influenced by his Christian beliefs, including his stunning Requiem (1975) and Concerto for Choir (1984). He composed some of his sparest and most emotionally devastating music at the end of his life—notably, his glacial eighth symphony (1994), written shortly before he suffered a series of strokes that all but ended his creative career. He died after another stroke in 1998.

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