A Schnittke Reader

Article excerpt

Alfred Schnittke. A Schnittke Reader. Edited by Alexander I vashkin, translated by John Goodliffe with a foreword by Mstislav Rostropovich. Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2002.

This book is the fourth incarnation of the Russian text Besedy s Al'fredom Shnitke originally published in 1994 (Moscow: RIK "Kul'tura"). After Schnittke's death in 1998, Besedy was translated and published in Germany in the same year and in Japan in 2002. This English-language edition has been followed by an updated, revised version of the original publication reissued in Moscow in 2003. Alexander Ivashkin, editor and compiler of these texts, was a close friend of Alfred Schnittke. He is a musicologist, cellist and champion of the composer's music.

As the title suggests, A Schnittke Reader is not simply a translation of Besedy s Al'fredom Shnitke, but it is based substantially on die original Russian text. Besedy, is divided into three main sections. The first and largest one is subdivided into 8 chapters and features a series of conversations presented as transcribed interviews between Ivashkin and Schnittke on a broad range of musical, philosophical, societal, and biographical topics that are interspersed with short essays by the composer. A second section consisting entirely of more essays by Schnittke leads to a third section featuring reminiscences of the composer by exemplary representatives of Russian culture presented again as interviews conducted by Ivashkin. In comparison, the Reader reorganizes the parent text into twice as many sections and in the process separates out essays originally inserted among interviews, which is a welcome editorial change contributing to greater clarity and logic of book layout. It also omits much of the material in the first interview section, the core of the original publication, and includes instead more translations of essays, all but one of which were not published previously in any language. The text is preceded by a helpful chronology of Schnittke's life and is followed by an index.

The six sections of A Schnittke Reader are of strikingly uneven lengths. The first section, "Schnittke Speaks about Himself, presents a translated excerpt from only 2 of the 8 chapters of interviews in Besedy, which condenses drastically, but very effectively the main cultural, musical, religious, and philosophical issues covered in the conversations. Included also is a valuable statement by Schnittke on coming to terms with his personal identity in which he claims no Russian blood, but rather a blend of German and Jewish heritage nurtured primarily in a Russian environment. This rich cultural mix may be the impetus for the composer's unique multi-stylistic musical expression. For a wider discussion of these and other issues as well as to view photographs of which this English edition has none, the reader is referred to Besedy or its German translation.

Sections II ("Schnittke on the Lenin Prize"), III ("Schnittke on his own Compositions"), and III ("Schnittke on Creative Artists") reproduce in translation essays originally published in Besedy or in other earlier sources and reprinted in Besedy. Included are statements on Schnittke's first Concerto Grosso, fourth Symphony, and film music, as well as commentaries on the work of writer Viktor Yerofeev, painter Vladimir Yankilevsky, and a host of musical luminaries such as Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Gubaidulina, Kancheli, Gershkovich, Richter, Rozhdestvensky, and Liubimov. section II hardly fulfills the expected parameters of a section as it consists only of a two-page letter written in 1990 by Schnittke to the Lenin Prize Committee requesting that his name be withdrawn from the list of finalists under consideration for the honour. Nevertheless, the letter is an important historical document as it exemplifies the degree of political freedom that was being exercised under Gorbachev's policies of glasnost and perestroika prior to the break-up of the Soviet Union. …

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