A passion for Schnittke

[From Gramophone]

The violinist Roman Mints introduces his new album of Schnittke’s complete music for violin and piano

The first time I heard Alfred Schnittke’s music was at children’s music school: it was his Suite in the Old Style, a fairly easy piece to play and understand, notably the Minuet. I remember that one of the teachers, on hearing me play the Minuet, said: ‘See, he can write normal music!’ At that time I didn’t know what he meant, but a few years later, when I began to take an interest in dissonant music, the Soviet record label Melodiya started to release LPs of Schnittke’s symphonies conducted by Gennady Rozhdestvensky. I bought these records, my mother bought them, and I was also given them as birthday presents by my schoolmates. It never occurred to them that, as someone interested in this music, I might already have them. So I wound up with several copies of each record, and in turn gave them to my friends. People began to believe that Schnittke was my favourite composer. And even though that isn’t exactly true, I do still have a particular connection to his music. Although I stopped buying records of his music long ago, I have always found it easy to play – for me it is simple and clear, and it speaks my language.

Coming to London in 1994, I quite coincidentally discovered a fellow spirit in my professor, Felix Andrievsky, who had liked Schnittke’s music from his youth and was one of the first (besides its dedicatee Mark Lubotsky) to play his Sonata No 1. I studied all three sonatas, among other works, in Andrievsky’s class. I had read some studies of Schnittke as well as a couple of books of conversations where he discussed his music. But these were mostly about structural and other technical details, while Andrievsky was teaching me to think in terms of imagery. Unlike many other composers’ music, Schnittke’s brings to mind very definite images, a result I think of how much work he did for cinema. Naturally I got much more out of my lessons with Andrievsky than all the theoretical tomes I read, and I learned to hear the simple, graspable emotions in this music.


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