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Schnittke, Alfred


SCHNITTKE, ALFRED (1934–1998), composer. The son of a German Jewish father and a German mother, Schnittke was born in Soviet Russia. His first music studies between 1946 and 1948 were connected primarily with Vienna, where his father was working after World War ii. He then absorbed the Austrian-German culture that marked him for the rest of his life. However, he was also educated in Russia. He studied in 1949–53 at the Choirmaster Department of the October Revolution Musical College, Moscow, now the Schnittke Institute; and in 1953–58 he studied composition at the Moscow Conservatory. After having taught instrumentation at the Moscow Conservatory (1962–72), he became a freelance composer and between 1962 and 1984 wrote 66 film scores as well as concert and theater works. His early compositions, like the oratorio Nagasaki (1958), were influenced by the Russian tradition of 19th century music. In the 1960s Schnittke himself studied the Western music of the 20th century that was formerly forbidden in the U.S.S.R. but at that time already tolerated. A great sensation of the 1970s was the 1974 premiere of his First Symphony, a polystylistic work following the traditions of Mahler and Berio in a highly individual way. The symphony was banned immediately after the first performance and remained so until Gorbachev came to power (1985). Being always uncommitted to the official Soviet ideology, Schnittke expressed his Christian religious beliefs in many of his works, including the Second Symphony (1979), which followed the Ordinary of the Roman Catholic Mass. In his Fourth Symphony (1983), Schnittke strove, in his own words, "to find the general in the dissimilar," while using melodic elements from Russian Orthodox, Gregorian, Protestant Lutheran, and synagogue chant and combining them in the final section of the work. From 1990 he lived in Hamburg (Germany), where he taught composition at the Hochschule fuer Musik und Theater. He was the recipient of several honors, including the Russian State Prize (twice, 1986 and 1995) and awards from Austria, Germany, and Japan.


NG2; A. Ivashkin, Alfred Schnittke (1996); A. Ivashkin (ed.), Schnittke Reader (1999).

[Yulia Kreinin (2nd ed.)]

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