Recorded at Blackheath Concert Hall, London, August 12-15, 1992, in the presence of the composer.
## 1 Quasi una sonata - Mark Lubotsky (Violin) English Chamber Orchestra - Mstislav Rostropovich (Conductor)
## 2-4 Piano Sonata No. 2 - Irina Schnittke (Piano)
## 5-6 Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano - Mark Lubotsky (Violin), Mstislav Rostropovich (Cello)
========= from the cover ==========
Alfred Schnittke: Chamber And Ensemble Works
The outward stages in the life of the German-based composer Alfred Schnittke may be described, as it were, as a tale of four cities: Engels, Vienna, Moscow and Hamburg. Schnittke was born in Engels, the principal city of the German-speaking enclave on the Volga, in 1934. His father was a journalist from Frankfurt am Main, his mother a German teacher who lived in Engels. He spent part of the war near Moscow and in 1946 moved to Vienna, where his father worked as an editor for two years and where Schnittke began to study music. For the next four decades Moscow formed the centre of his life: after ten years of study (initially orchestral and choral conducting, then, from 1953, composition and instrumentation), he spent the next ten or so years teaching at the city's Conservatory. At the same time, he began to write music of his own, a development which in 1972 ushered in a period of freelance professional activity initially notable for its active commitment to film music. In 1990 he and his family moved to Hamburg, where he took charge of a composition class at the city's Musikhochschule.
It is not only Schnittke's origins that predestined him to the role of intermediary between East and West (his father's family hailed from northern Livonia, now in Estonia). His musical training, too, ensured that the position he adopted was that of a stylistic go-between: among his teachers was Webern's pupil, Filip Hershkovich (1906-1989), who had emigrated to Moscow in 1946. In consequence, Schnittke's compositions and theoretical writings revolve around such great Russian composers as Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Shostakovich, while his equally marked affinities with German music and all its traditions are clear from the debt he owes Mozart, Mahler and Webern, a debt which was to be of determinative influence on the content of his Third Symphony, for example.
There is yet another respect in which Schnittke occupies a central position spanning disparate styles. By around 1968 he had begun to tire of experimentation with two-dimensional serial techniques and, in his own words, "abandoned the already overcrowded train". Under the twofold influence of Anton Webern's interpretation of sonata form as a contrast between "fixed and loose" forms and Henri Pousseur's "multistylistic" aesthetic, Schnittke developed a novel, polystylistic compositional manner which allowed him consciously to exploit such stylistic discrepancies and achieve a musical spatiality that had seemed on the point of being lost. In turn this enabled him to adopt a dynamic approach to form that, through the supersession of tonal thinking, had become impossible during the turbulent avantgarde period.
Schnittke first essayed this polystylistic approach in 1968 with his Second Violin Sonata, to which he gave the subtitle "Quasi una sonata", consciously subverting Beethoven's description of his two Op. 27 piano sonatas as "quasi una fantasia". The work is dedicated to Mark Lubotsky and Luba Edlina, who gave its first performance in Kazan in February 1968. Nineteen years later Schnittke himself adapted the work for violin and chamber orchestra (double woodwind, two horns, piano, harpsichord and sixteen strings).
Schnittke has repeatedly described how difficult it was for him to find a new conception for a work that lacked constructive rules. He begins hesitatingly, therefore, with a G minor chord contrasted with a dissonant violin chord that gives rise to a continuous interplay between tonal and serial episodes, which alienate each other through their mutual interaction. Within the one-movement structure, it is possible to identify three overlapping sections (Sonata, Adagio, Fuga).
In discussing its form, Schnittke himself has described the work as "a borderline case in which sonata form is called into question: it is built up while at the same time falling apart - it is a report on the impossibility of the sonata in the form of a sonata. In the middle we hear the B-A-C-H (B-flat-A-C-B) motif, initially transposed, then stated more clearly, like a resolution which consists, however, in the fact that nothing is resolved: triad and atonality persist as contrasting elements held in a state of balance."
The Piano Trio of 1992, first performed on May 25, 1993 at the Evian Festival, is a reworking of the String Trio written seven years previously in response to a commission from the Alban-Berg-Gesellschaft to mark the centenary of Berg's birth. In its new guise the composer moves away from the homogeneous, almost orchestral string sound and clarifies the inner structures of the work by breaking down the sound in a wholly novel way.
With its reminiscences of Vienna and heavy cargo of personal memories, the String Trio contains allusions to Schubert, Mahler and the expressive language of Alban Berg. A terse thematic motif is varied, polyphonically combined, harmonically reinterpreted and rendered unfamiliar within the course of the clearly structured whole. In addition we hear broken chords of toccata-like brilliance, reminiscences of a funeral march and a contemplative pesante theme similar to one in the ballet Peer Gynt written two years later.
The closeness to Berg is clear not only from the aphoristic concision but also from the principle of variation and the work's melodic construction. But Schnittke goes his own way in his tensely intensive questioning of the material on several stylistic levels, while none the less achieving a remarkable synthesis of his polystylistic resources in spite of the work's multi-faceted character.
Schnittke's intellectual and musical friendships with instrumental soloists, conductors and choreographers have played an essential role in the way he creates and develops new works. Just as the Piano Trio, dedicated to Alexander Potapov, the doctor who was twice responsible for saving Schnittke's life, was written with his wife, the pianist Irina Schnittke, and two performing artists with whom he has been on friendly terms for many years, Mstislav Rostropovich and Mark Lubotsky, in mind, so the Second Piano Sonata - completed in November 1990 - was composed for his wife's birthday. It was she who, during a two-year option period, introduced it to audiences all over the world, performing it in such centres as Liibeck, Hamburg, Bad Kissingen, Munich, Amsterdam, London, Moscow and Tokyo.
In the course of an interview Schnittke himself briefly outlined his relationship to this three-movement work: "Here, too, the attempt to breathe new life into sonata form confronted me with a problem. Also, I'm no pianist and have played the piano only rarely or as an accompanist, so that I lack a well-developed relationship to the keyboard. Little by little, however, I stopped thinking in terms of keys, passage-work and pedals and concentrated instead on the actual content of what I was writing. It then seemed totally uninteresting whether it was new or old, insuperably difficult or whether it had already existed a thousand times before. What was important was simply that it struck me as essential.
The result is a playful piece that unfolds on several stylistic levels. It begins with a Moderato, almost late-Romantic in character, that culminates, after a series of great arching paragraphs designed to increase the tension, in a massive cluster. There follows a brief Lento, 82 bars long, that seems to issue from the sound-world of Peer Gynt. Finally, we hear an Allegro invention of almost terpsichorean lightness which, after a slow and wistful intermezzo, builds to a tempestuous fortissimo climax, to be followed by one last valedictory phrase that seems to waft towards us from afar.