The music of Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998) ought to be better known. It is thoughtful, dramatic, clever and frequently witty. Born in the Soviet Union, Schnittke commenced music studies in post-war Vienna – his family was domiciled in the Austrian capital at the time – and continued them in Moscow once the family returned to Russia. Like other Soviet composers, he was obliged to write ‘politically correct’ music if his career was to prosper (his oratorio Nagasaki received official condemnation in 1958). But Schnittke was no lackey of the state and wrote a large number of film scores while simultaneously developing a more personal, ‘unofficial’ idiom. He studied the scores of non-Soviet 20th-century composers and was thus aware of trends in Western music. Early influences include the music of Shostakovich, while later ones include Mahler, Bruckner, Berg and Nono. His own idiom is markedly polystylistic (indeed, he wrote an essay in 1971, ‘Polystylistic Tendencies in Modern Music’). Schnittke travelled abroad a few times and, once his reputation became known in the West, with greater regularity. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, he moved to Germany, settling in Hamburg, where he died following a series of debilitating strokes.
© Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra