About this Recording
8.223334 - SCHNITTKE: Cello Concerto / Stille Musik / Cello Sonata

Alfred Schnittke (1934–1998)
Cello Concerto (1986) • Stille Musik for violin and cello (1979) • Sonata for cello & piano (1978)


The Russian composer Alfred Schnittke was born in 1934 and began his musical education in Vienna, where his father worked for two years from 1946 until 1948. There followed a period at the October Revolution Music Academy in Moscow and further study with Nikolay Rakov and with Golubev. He completed his work as a postgraduate student in 1961 and for the next ten years taught at the Conservatory, before embarking on a freelance career in Moscow in 1972. Changes in cultural policy in the Soviet Union have enabled Schnittke to consolidate his international position as one of the leading composers of the later 20th century, emphasised by his close association with the most distinguished performers. He has always shown a particular interest in string textures, from the time of his First Violin Concerto in 1957 to the very recent work for the viola-player Yuri Bashmet, Monologue for Viola and Strings (1989).

On the Cello Concerto the composer has explained that the idea had long been in his mind. In the summer of 1985 he made his first rough sketches, before a serious interruption to his work. On the night of 22nd I 23rd July he suffered a stroke and spent twenty days in a coma, declared clinically dead on three occasions. The power of speech returned slowly, at first only in German, the German of the Volga district of his childhood. By 11th August he had regained consciousness, but at first half dreaming of war-time or of adventures in the North, a region he had never visited. He gradually returned to a normal life and to his work, in particular the Cello Concerto, which he started to write at the end of October, as if it had already been formed in his mind.

Schnittke explains that the concerto was planned in three movements. The first of these, marked Pesante moderato, strictly constructed, the second, marked Largo, slow and expressive and the third, Allegro vivace, depicting a wild, dancing world. When the third movement was half finished, he had the idea of writing a fourth. The idea was not a new one, but he did not know that this belonged to the Cello Concerto, until it suddenly occurred to him, as the other movements neared completion. The whole work, in fact, aims at the fourth movement, in which its essence is expressed.

Stille Musik, for violin and cello, was written in 1979 and offers in the main music of great tranquillity, as its title suggests. Nevertheless there are occasional moments of tense dissonance and strong chordal passages. A rhapsodic work, Stille Musik offers a study in tension and relaxation, the basis of musical composition.

The Sonata for cello and piano was written in 1978. In three movements, it provides a valuable addition to the cello repertoire, exploiting the qualities and possibilities of the instrument in an idiomatic musical language, allusive and by turns of harsh intensity or poignant in its lyricism. The meditative first movement is followed by a cello Moto perpetuo, accompanied initially by the abrupt interjections of the piano, which later assumes a role that recalls the music of Prokofiev. The third movement is one of alternately impassioned and brooding melancholy, fading, in its conclusion to an eerie whisper.

Keith Anderson

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