Alfred Schnittke Archive


Alfred Schnittke: Between Two Worlds. A Symposium.

21-22 November 2009

This event was presented by the Centre for Russian Music/Alfred Schnittke Archive, Goldsmiths, University of London, in association with: LPO Schnittke Festival, Royal Musical Association, Southbank Centre London, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Hans Sikorski Internationale Musikverlage Hamburg, the Alfred Schnittke International Society (Hamburg), the Alfred Schnittke Akademie (Hamburg), the Compozitor Publishing House (St Petersburg), and the Schnittke-Centre (Moscow).

Within the two-week frame of activities of the LPO festival Alfred Schnittke: Between Two Worlds, the Alfred Schnittke Archive at the Centre for Russian Music, Goldsmiths, organized a series of academic conversations over the course of one and a half days, to explore the wide range of research around this prolific composer. Bringing together the most recent scholarly work in the field, the programme combined paper presentations with a roundtable discussion, and recitals. Delegates from ten different countries met at Deptford Town Hall, Goldsmiths on Saturday, 21 November and at the Purcell Room in the Southbank Centre on Sunday, 22 November.

The first session of the symposium, with presentations by Michael Baumgartner (USA) and Paolo Eustachi (Italy), offered a valuable review of Schnittke’s scores for the cinema, their connection with his concert repertory and the development of his style. The second session addressed issues of Religion and Myth with Bohdan Djakovic’s (Serbia) presenting a study on the symbolic meaning of imaginary church folklore in Schnittke’s works, emphasizing the interplay of different dramatic levels of the musical discourse as the means to convey theological meaning. Georgy Kovalevsky (Russia) stressed the centrality of the Faustus image in the creative process of the composer through an analysis of the plot of his ballet Peer Gynt.

The morning sessions were followed by a recital. Along with known works, Margarita Elia (soprano) and Andri Hadjiandreou (piano) performed the world premier of Songs for Soprano and Piano (1954-1955). Alexander Ivashkin conducted the world premier of Concert for Electric Instruments (1960), originally written for camerton, crystadin, theremin, shumophone, and four ekvodins, now adapted to modern synthesizers and keyboards. Guest artist Lydia Kavina performed on the theremin.

Later that afternoon, the third session prompted animated discussions around the topic of Schnittke and postmodernism, and questions of historicity and historiography were brought up through the analysis of his music. I began by assessing the limitations of studying Schnittke’s music via the trends of postmodernism and polystylism as categories for musical and cultural analysis. Luisa Vilar Payá (México) went on to explain how Schnittke undermined the directionality of classical forms in String Quartet no. 2, thus challenging the values of Modernity. Christian Storch (Germany) illuminated the intersubjectivity that comes into play through referential composition, emphasizing the nets of ‘interauthorial’ relations formed among composers. Finally, Ian Power (USA) pointed out the ‘nostalgic disparity’ in Schnittke’s return to classical forms, addressing the destructive and repairing effects on historical perception when reconstructing musical experiences.

The evening sessions were more heterogeneous than the earlier discussions. In each of their papers, Amrei Flechsig (Germany) and Ivana Medic (UK) analysed Schnittke’s relationship to other twentieth century composers by assessing their aesthetic and musical discourses. Maria Lettberg (Belgium) offered an artistic perspective on Schnittke’s Piano Trio by reflecting on her own inquiries as a performer during the creative process of recording the piece. Saturday activities closed with a paper by Dorota Staszkiewicz (Poland), which reminded us of Schnittke’s critical role in the cultural Cold War throughout the seventies and eighties.

Sunday morning four of the most active figures on the study and diffusion of Alfred Schnittke’s music assembled for a round table discussion: Alexander Ivashkin, CRM/Alfred Schnittke Archive (London); Holger Lampson, Alfred Schnittke Akademie (Hamburg) and Alfred Schnittke International Society; Hans-Ulrich Duffek, Hans Sikorski Internationale Musikverlage (Hamburg); and Alla Bogdanova, Schnittke-Centre (Moscow). This presentation triggered a wide reflection on what Schnittke represents to the contemporary world’s composition and what keeps his work alive and active in the concert halls. Moreover, there was an important review of the new sources made available for the study of Schnittke’s music: publications, manuscript collections, the presentation of Discoveries, a recording under the label Toccata Classics, and the presentation of the new critical edition of Collected Works published by Compozitor Publising House.

Three more research works followed the roundtable. Gavin Dixon (CRM) presented a detailed analysis of the musical language of Schnittke’s Symphony no.3, inquiring into both the proximity and dissociation of the piece from the German symphonic tradition. A paper by Peter J. Schmelz (USA) undertook a chronological survey of Schnittke’s idea of polystylism as it developed through his music, to trace the origins and evolution of polystylism as a compositional practice originating in Soviet realism. Finally, Drosostalitsa Moraiti (CRM) surprised us with the presentation of the recently discovered manuscript and première world performance of Six Piano Preludes (1953-55).

Both days of the symposium brought up important questions and reflections around Schnittke and his music, and provided a sampling of the variety of approaches that are available for the understanding of Schnittke’s work. However, they also evidenced that a continuous dialogue between these research approaches is needed to illuminate the process through which his music continues to speak to us.

Emilia Ismael