Schnittke, Alfred

Schnittke, Alfred,

1924–98, Russian composer. He studied music in Vienna (1946–48) and at the Moscow Conservatory (1953–58), where he later (1962–72) taught instrumentation. Thereafter, he earned a living mainly by composing more than 60 film scores, which he wrote in a traditional style acceptible to Soviet authorities. However, his signature avant-garde pieces are far from traditional, incorporating a wide variety of styles, from classical harmonics to serial dissonances, and including quotations and references to other works—all frequently within the same composition. Schnittke was little known in the West until the 1980s, when his music was championed by a number of expatriate Russian performers. Extremely prolific, he wrote nine symphonies, six concerti grossi, four violin and two cello concerti, four string quartets, six ballet scores, and numerous orchestral, vocal, choral, chamber, and solo pieces. Among his better-known works are the Concerto Grosso No. 1 (1977) and the operas composed late in his career: Life with an Idiot (1992), Historia von D. Johann Fausten (1993), and Gesualdo (1994).

Bibliography

See A. Ivashkin, ed., A Schnittke Reader (2002); biography by A. Ivashkin (1996).

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Godi neizvestnosti Al'freda Shnitke (The Unknown Years of Alfred Schnittke, Alfred Shnitke and Dmitriy Shul'gin [M oscow: Delovaya Liga, 1993]) includes information about Schnittke's family background, schooling, and early career, as well as analytical commentary on most of his compositions before 1976 (up to but not including the first Concerto Grosso).