Alfred Schnittke (b. 1934)
Hommage a Grieg, for solo violin & orchestra, Op. 233
Schnittke was born in 1934 in the Ukraine to German speaking parents from a mixed German, Russian and Jewish background. After the war, in 1946 his family moved to Vienna, where he began his musical education before studying composition at the Moscow conservatoire. On graduating, he taught in Moscow until 1972 before devoting himself wholly to composition. Always viewed with some suspicion by the Soviet authorities, right up to the fall of communism, much of his music was first performed in Germany. He suffered a stroke in 1985, but managed to continue composing until after another stroke in 1998, when he died.
He was prolific - his output includes 9 symphonies, 4 violin concertos, 2 cello concertos, 3 operas, 3 ballets, much chamber music and over 60 film scores. Many of his works are "poly-stylistic" - they combine more than one style of music in a collage-like effect. Often these are simple harmonic music of an old-fashioned style, with the occasional grating dissonance : the result can be shocking, but sometimes deeply moving. Unlike many avant- garde composers, the harmonic context gives Schnittke's dissonances real meaning.
One of his major compositions is a full-length ballet based on Ibsen's play Peer Gynt. It was written in 1986 for the Hamburg ballet and their American director, John Neumeier, was premiered in Hamburg in 1989, and also performed at the Bolshoi in Moscow in 1990.
At one point Schnittke makes reference to Grieg's incidental music for Peer Gynt - which is the basis for this short piece Homage to Grieg written in 1993. Based on the movement The Death of Ase (Peer Gynt's mother), it begins and ends peacefully and tonally. But in between, a solo violin leads the orchestra into a very different landscape, haunted and terrifying. It seems that Schnittke's view of death is not as comforting as Grieg's ...