Wednesday, 21 February 2024






Polystylism is the use of multiple styles or techniques of music, and is seen as a postmodern characteristic. Polystylist composers include Lera Auerbach, George Rochberg, Dmitri Silnitsky, Alfred Schnittke, and John Zorn.


Alfred Schnittke's work came into Western fashion by virtue of modernist enthusiasm for his "polystylism", an attribute holding obvious appeal for a culture which stresses surface/structural elements. What was unusual about the modernist West's enthusiasm for Schnittke was that neither craft nor complexity are central to his music - indeed, his scores are often rather baldly, not to say crudely, simple, with orchestration sufficiently indifferent to balance that many loud passages degenerate into indeterminate maelstroms of noise.


Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998)

The origins of the Schnittke Family are intriguing. Alfred Schnittke's father, Harry, was a German born Jew of Latvian descent and his mother, Maria, was a Volga-German, who grew up in the German part of Russia. They both spoke German, which was also Schnittke's mother tongue. Schnittke spent part of his childhood in Vienna, Austria, and later said this had an extremely important influence on his music. Perhaps as a result of his poly-cultural roots, he is, indeed, known as the creator of "polystylism".

The Cello Sonata was composed in 1978. In the 70's, after a decade of experimentation with explicit extra-musicality and serialism, Schnittke's compositional style changed toward a more homogenous and introverted polystylism. Polystylism is, like collage, a mixture of different styles within one piece of music. The works from this time have a hidden meaning, a "velvet-surface", that indicates a depth behind the exterior. The stylistic and formal quotations imply a connection to the early Christian traditions. The Sonata is permeated by the variations of the B-A-C-H motive, which to Bach himself signified the cross. Other stylistic elements include a macabre waltz (second mvt.), the sarabande bass ( ) and plain chant (third mvt.). The very low C-pedal in the cello part reminds me of the many ominous pedal-notes in the string quartets of Shostakovich.



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