27 October 2013

Alfred Schnittke - Symphony No.1

Sometimes you come across pieces of music that you just love instantly, for whatever reason. Schnittke's Symphony No.1 is one of those pieces for me because it's just so much fun and so chockful of different genres and references that you cannot help but be amazed and shocked every couple of minutes. It's an absolutely mad piece but for some reason it works really well. Here's Alex Ross's spot-on description (taken from this article about Schnittke on The Rest is Noise, which is definitely worth a read)
Bedlam erupts in the very first bars of this symphony, and never really subsides.  Jazz combos do not merely add flavor to the texture, as they do in many urbane twentieth-century scores, but actually take charge of the piece for considerable stretches.  From time to time the full orchestra attempts to bring the madness to a halt, with a loud minor chord heavy on the interval of the third.  This warning goes unheeded.  The second movement opens with a lampoon of mindless Baroque music that falls quickly into disrepair.  At the outset of the fourth, a trumpet plays the lilting second theme from the funeral-march movement of Chopin's Piano Sonata No. 2, significant in the annals of musical satire for its refurbishment as kitsch in Erik Satie's Embryons desséchés.  The Chopin tune is the fanfare for an unrestrained five minutes of mayhem, in which Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto (among other works) fights like a wounded animal against a fusillade of sound that recalls and exceeds the most anarchic moments in the music of Charles Ives.  
Thankfully someone has uploaded one of Rozhdestvensky's recordings of this symphony onto youtube;

Alfred Schnittke - Symphony No.1 (all 4 movements: I Senza tempo moderato, II Allegretto, III Lento, IV Lento. Allegro)
Played by the USSR Ministry of Culture Symphony Orchestra, cond. Gennadi Rozhdestvensky.

Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998) was a Russian composer. He was born in the Soviet Union but educated in Vienna, and was never particularly popular with the Russian rulers (but then again, not many composers were). In 1990 he moved to Hamburg where he died 8 years later, and he did get a state funeral in Moscow. Even though his early works were very influenced by Shostakovich, his later works are incredibly diverse and 'polystylistic'. This polystylistic nature of his music means that not only is it difficult to define/pigeon-hole, it's also very exciting and constantly surprising music. He was ill a lot but still composed many works, including 9 symphonies, 9 Concerto Grossi, 15 Concertos, and a whole lot of chamber music. From what I've heard of his music (which I am admittedly still quite new to) his Symphony No.1 is my favourite but I also adore his Requiem and his Concerto for Viola and Orchestra

On Wednesday (the 30th of October) I will be seeing this piece in concert, played by the London Philharmonic and I am so excited, I imagine it will be amazing to hear this live. Though I am slightly worried that I might giggle too much...

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