About this Recording
8.554728 - SCHNITTKE: Piano Quintet / String Trio / Stille Musik
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Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998)

Piano Quintet • String Trio • Stille Musik • Fuga • Klingende Buchstaben

Born in Engels on 24th November 1934, to parents of German-Jewish origin, Alfred Schnittke spent his early years in Vienna, where he received his earliest musical instruction. Resident in Moscow from 1946, he studied at the October Revolution Music Academy, and at the Moscow Conservatory, with Yevgeny Golubev and Nikolay Rakov, from 1948 to 1953: becoming a teacher of instrumentation there for ten years from 1962. He was elected a member of the Federation of Composers in 1961. Film scores formed the backbone of his musical undertakings during the 1960s and early 1970s, and he became a member of the Federation of Cinematographers in 1970. From 1980, he was a guest teacher at the Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst in Vienna. He was a member of the Akademie der Kunst of the former German Democratic Republic, and of the Bayerische Akademie der Schönen Kunste. He was awarded the State Prize of the RSFSR in 1986. A series of strokes from 1985 coincided with the increasing dissemination of his work in Western Europe, where he came to be seen as the true successor to Shostakovich. Resident in Hamburg from 1990, he died on 3rd August 1998.

Schnittke's music falls into several discernible phases. After a formative period where Shostakovich vied for influence with Prokofiev, Stravinsky and Hindemith, the greater availability of new music at the turn of the 1960s led to a time of increasing

Experimentation, as first serial techniques, latterly collage and aleatoric devices were incorporated into the composer's technical armoury. The stylistic melting-pot that is the First Symphony gave way, in the mid-1970s, to a more intuitive composition, with quotation and allusion now integral to what Schnittke termed his 'polystylistic' mode of expression. In the early 1990s, the effects of prolonged ill-health brought about a final period in which the expressive focus becomes narrower and starker; the music seeming to exist, like the composer himself, almost at a point of no return.

Written in 1953, the Fugue is among the adolescent composer's earliest surviving efforts, bearing witness to studies well learnt and, given the enforced insularity of musical life at the close of Stalin's reign, an engaging, if unformed, combination of old and new. The forthright subject is naturally in the mould of Bach' s unaccompanied works, but with Shostakovich's Mussorgskian manner strongly in evidence. The pizzicato presentation of the subject (2'08") adds a malevolent undercurrent which Schnittke would intensify in his mature work.

One of the performers to have become most associated with Schnittke in his later years is the cellist Alexander Ivashkin, now resident in the United Kingdom and author of the only book-length study in English of the composer (Phaidon Press, 1996). Klingende Buchstaben (Sounding Letters) was a tribute to Ivashkin on his fortieth birthday in 1988. Opening with a monogram deriving from the cellist's first name -A-E-A-D-E- what begins as a mournful soliloquy, becomes inceasingly impassioned. A central climax, with flailing glissandi, is reached, after which (2'21”) the music returns to its brooding opening depths; finally ascending out of earshot.

Schnittke's Piano Quintet is in many respects the defining work of his career. Begun in 1972, in the wake of his mother's death and, perhaps, as a reaction to the titanic conflict with the musical past and present that forms the basis of the vast First Symphony (1969-72), the work took Schnittke longer to complete than any other. Many sketches were tried and rejected in the process of composition, some of which went into the Requiem which Schnittke wrote during 1972-4, and used clandestinely as the music for a production of Schiller's Don Carlos by Moscow's Mossovet Theatre in 1975. Shostakovich died in August that year, and it is not impossible that the quintet became a double homage, stylistically indebted as it is to the last three string quartets of the older composer. Schnittke's orchestration of the work in 1978, as In Memoriam, consolidates the feeling that this is in essence an instrumental requiem. In its haze of never-quite-literal allusions, moreover, the quintet would remain the stylistic template for his music over the next fifteen years. A fragile piano solo, with an ominous Schubertian trill in the left hand, lauches the opening Moderato, before the strings enter (1'34") in confirmation of the frozen mood. Their narrow intervallic range lends a claustrophobic air as tension gradually mounts, the piano remaining detached with a stark repeated-note gesture. Its more conciliatory rejoinder prepares for the second movement. Marked In Tempo di Valse, this opens unexpectedly with a bittersweet waltz idea, the strings becoming entangled in dense canonic strands of sound which quickly transform the music into a dance of death. Descending trills (from 1'56") offer a vivid proximity of this work to the Thirteenth Quartet of Shostakovich. The waltz motion resumes, only to collapse in on itself even more completely. The music moves pensively into the third movement, Andante, a grieving threnody for strings, offset by passive gestures from the piano, which maintain a tenuous tonal outline. Stabbing string dischords (3'02") alternate with a dour cello solo, before (4'51") a piano cadence pointedly recalls Shostakovich's Piano Quintet. The sound dissolves, leaving a quiet depressing of the pedals to introduce the fourth movement. Marked Lento, this returns to the mood and textures of the opening movement. A series of stark cadential phrases from solo strings contrast with impassioned statements for the ensemble. Eventually (3'19") the music freezes into a prolonged discord, which fades out into the Finale, Moderato pastorale, and the strongest contrast imaginable - an undulating motion, high in the piano, of an almost musical-box whimsicality. This appears fourteen times as the basis for an unlikely passacaglia, during which the strings review ideas from earlier in the work, as gradually a stable, even affirmative tonal feel comes into focus (2'47"). The piano remains on its own at the close, now repeating its refrain as a benediction on that which came before.

Written in April 1979 and dedicated to the memory of Michail Druskin, the St Petersburg musicologist and champion of new music, Stille Musik (Silent music) is typical of the short pieces for strings - singly, in combination and with piano - found throughout Schnittke's maturity. Equally typical is the way in which the composer subverts a simple three-­part structure so that the audible form becomes anything but straightforward. The piece starts out fitfully, its progress toward any tonal or melodic definition interspersed with pizzicato gestures and solo lines which emerge fleetingly from the texture. After a brief central climax (3'19"), the music solidifies into a tenuous band of sound, rich in microtonal inflections, before fading out of earshot.

Completed in the spring of 1985, as a commission from the Alban Berg Society of Vienna to commemorate both the centenary of that composer's birth, and the fiftieth anniversary of his death, the String Trio is Schnittke's homage to the city where, as a piano student, he spent a short but vital stage of his formative years. Echoes of Schubert and Mahler, as well as Berg, resonate through the intense and often tortured progress of this two-movement work. A melodic strain emerges immediately in the opening Moderato, the distinctive five-note idea forming the basis for much that follows. Violent convulsions (4'18") recall a similar passage in the Second Quartet (1980) and indeed the music's progress, through a sequence of blunted cadences which never quite resolve, is typical of Schnittke's music from the 1980s as a whole. Further forceful outbursts follow, the primary melodic idea pounded at unceasingly but with evident futility. It closes the movement more in sorrow than in despair (12'25"). The proceeding Adagio does not develop or especially intensify the material already heard, as prolong the sensation of creative amnesia; the composer striving for some semblance of formal logic, against overwhelming creative and emotional odds. Again a sequence of convulsions and strivings for a recognizable coherence: again the music closes in on itself (10'24"), as sound merges regretfully but inevitably into silence. Schnittke's Vienna remains as a haunting, haunted memory.

Richard Whitehouse

Performers on this recording are:


Piano Quintet

Irina Schnittke, piano

Mark Lubotsky, violin

Dimity Hall, violin

Irina Morozova, viola

Julian Smiles, cello


String Trio

Mark Luhotsky, violin

Theodore Kuchar, viola

Alexander lvashkill, cello


Stille Musik

Mark Lubotsky, violin

Alexander Ivashkin, cello


Fuga (first recording)

Mark Lubotsky, violin


Klingende Buchstaben

Alexander Ivashkin, cello



Townsville City Council is a foundation sponsor of the Australian Festival of Chamber Music, which each year delights increasing numbers of local residents and visitors from all over Australia and overseas.

The largest city in tropical Australia, Townsville is the business and cultural centre of North Queensland. The city's relaxed tropical lifestyle in a coastal setting close to the Great Barrier Reef, coupled with a reputation for excellence across the arts spectrum, are contributing factors to the festival's success.

The music on this CD will sorely tempt listeners to experience Townsville for themselves the next time the festival comes around.

Tony Mooney

Mayor of the City of Townsville

The Australian Festival of Chamber Music made its debut in Townsville in July 1991, developed through the vision and commitment of the former Vice Chancellor of James Cook University, Professor Ray Golding and the Festival's International Artistic Director, Theodore Kuchar. Held annually in July, the Festival was established to enhance the cultural environment of Townsville by presenting internationally acclaimed classical musicians to audiences from Townsville, around Australia and overseas. The natural beauty of Townsville and the North Queensland region along with its friendly people, balmy weather and tropical ambience provides a unique backdrop for the Festival's concerts and events. Combine this with the dedication and commitment of the Artistic Directors and festival organisers and the Australian Festival of Chamber Music is one of the most successful regional classical music festivals in Australia.

Since its inception in 1991, the Australian Festival of Chamber Music has developed into a major cultural event for the North Queensland region that benefits artists, audiences and the community alike. With the aim of being recognised by artists and audiences as equal to the world's best, the Festival has developed an annual program of chamber music that hosts a spectrum of internationally prominent chamber musicians and composers from overseas and Australia.

The Festival is held over twelve days with approximately fifteen concerts presented in a variety of venues around Townsville including the Townsville Civic Theatre, St James Cathedral and the Townsville Masonic Centre. In a commitment to regional Queenslanders, concerts are also held in surrounding centres with past concerts taking place at Charters Towers, Cairns, Ayr and Magnetic Island.


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