Birthday: November 24, 1934
Nationality: German, Russian
Died At Age: 63
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Born Country: Russia
Born in: Engels, Saratov Oblast
Famous as: Composer
Spouse/Ex-: Irina Schnittke
father: Harry Viktorovich Schnittke
mother: Maria Iosifovna Schnittke
Died on: August 3, 1998
place of death: Hamburg
awards: Austrian State Prize - 1991
Praemium Imperiale - 1992
Slava-Gloria Prize - 1998
Alfred Schnittke was a Russian composer famous for his unique approach of composing music known as ‘polystylism’. He was a genius at producing scores using his newly developed polystylistic technique. He fell in love with music during his early years living in Vienna, where music is a part of history and culture. Eventually, he pursued music composition as his profession and produced various symphonies and string quartets along with numerous violin, piano, cello and viola concerts. During his lifetime, he composed nine symphonies, six concerti grossi, four violin concertos, two cello concertos, concertos for piano and a triple concerto for violin, viola and cello, as well as four string quartets and many other chamber music scores, ballet scores, choral and vocal works. He was a creative and confident composer with a keen sense of contemporary music through which he exemplified a unique genre of music in a stylized manner. He was a talented composer who created everlasting tunes. His forte was not just creating the compositions; instead, it was also the way how he incorporated different, often contradictory, music styles to develop dark-toned musical works in accordance with his artistic imagination.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born on November 24, 1934 in Engels, in the Volga-German Republic of the Soviet Union, to Harry Viktorovich Schnittke and his wife, Maria Iosifovna Schnittke.
His father, a Jewish man of Latvian descent, worked as a journalist and translator of Russian to German language. His mother was a Volga German who served as a school teacher.
In 1946, his family moved to Vienna where his father was appointed to work for a newspaper. He began his musical education in Vienna where he took piano lessons from Charlotte Ruber and attended opera performances and concerts.
In 1948, his family moved to Valentinowka near Moscow where he attended choral conducting lessons and took classes in music theory from a music school. Thereafter, he attended the Moscow Conservatory where he studied counterpoint and composition with Jewgeni Golube and instrumentation with Nikolai Rakow.
In 1961, he completed his post-graduation and joined the ‘Union of Composers’ the same year.
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In 1956, he performed his 1st Violin Concerto while studying at the Moscow Conservatory.
After his post-graduation, he was appointed as the instrumentation instructor in the Conservatory from 1962 to 1972. During his tenure, he wrote many theoretical papers on new music and conducted trips to Poland and German Democratic Republic.
In 1966, he produced his 1st String Quartet while he composed the First Symphony in 1969–1972 which was highly praised by everybody.
Thereafter, he composed music independently, including film scores, and earned his living through it. He composed nearly 70 scores in 30 years of his music career.
From 1975 onwards, his music was played at all the important contemporary music festivals, and in the 1980s it was included in the concert programs of leading orchestras throughout the world including Moscow, Stockholm, London, Vienna, Berlin and many other cities.
He served as a guest professor at the Vienna University of Music and Performing Arts in 1980.
He also gave score for the ballet ‘Peer Gynt’ which premiered in 1989 in Hamburg.
In 1989, he joined as a fellow of the academic staff and composer in residence’ of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and remained there until July 1990.
In 1990, he left Russia and settled in Hamburg. He was appointed as the professor of composition at the Hamburg Musikhochschule, where he worked until 1994.
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He also made compositions for three operas; ‘Life with an idiot’ (1992), ‘Gesualdo’ (1993) and ‘Historia von D. Johann Fausten’ (1991-1994).
He is best known for his hallmark ‘polystylistic’ technique of composing music over a wide range of genres and styles. His first concert work to use the polystylistic technique was the Second Violin Sonata, Quasi una sonata (1967–1968).
He continued to develop the polystylistic technique in works such as the epic First Symphony (1969–1972) which became a great success.
His best-known works include the Concerto Grosso No. 1 and the Violin Concerto No. 4, for which the violinist was instructed to mime the cadenza rather than actually play it.
Awards & Achievements
He was elected as an honorary fellow of the ‘the ‘Royal Academy of Music’ in London, and a member of Royal Swedish Academy of Music’ in Stockholm, and the ‘Free Academy of Arts’ in Hamburg.
He received the Austrian State Prize in 1991.
In 1992, he was awarded with the prestigious Praemium Imperiale in Tokyo.
In 1993, he was honored with the Russian Culture Prize and the Bach Prize of the City of Hamburg.
In June 1998, he received the distinguished Slava-Gloria Prize.
He was also a member of the ‘Academy of Arts’ in Berlin, the ‘Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts’ in Munich and the ‘American Academy of Arts and Letters’ in New York.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1985, he suffered a brain stroke and went into a coma. On several occasions, he was declared clinically dead but he recovered from it. His health remained poor, however, for the rest of his life.
He died on August 3, 1998, in Hamburg, at the age of 63, after suffering a series of strokes. He was buried at the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow with state honors.