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Alfred Schnittke


An avant-garde Russian composer of German-Jewish descent, a proponent of polystylism.

Alfred Schnittke was born on 24 November 1934 in Engels in the Soviet Union. He spent his childhood in Vienna, where he fell in love with music. After World War II, his family moved to Moscow. In 1961, he graduated from the Moscow Conservatory, where between 1961 and 1972 he taught composition. In 1990, he left the USSR and settled in Hamburg, where he would live until his death, in 1990.

Schnittke’s early music was markedly influenced by Dmitry Shostakovich, yet after the visit of Luigi Nono to the Soviet Union he embraced serialism, before creating a new method, polystylism, which he defined in the essay Polystylistic Tendencies in Modern Music (1971).

Schnittke and his work were often viewed with suspicion and criticised by the Soviet censors. In the 1980s, he became widely known abroad, mainly as a composer of orchestral and chamber music. His oeuvre contains nine symphonies, numerous string quartets and concerti, six concerti grossi, choral pieces, three operas, including Historia von D. Johann Fausten, based on Goethe’s tragedy Faust, and four ballets, including Peer Gynt.