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Ustvolskaya - Piano Sonata No. 6

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Uploaded on Jun 18, 2009

Piano Sonata No. 6 (1988)

Note about score: Many of the single notes are actually played as tone clusters. Various asterisks on the score indicate footnoted instructions on how to perform these tone clusters, but there are too many to list.

"The growing importance of the tone-cluster and the chorale in the Fifth Sonata clearly point the way to this quite extraordinary piece, the final step in Ustvolskaya's long spiritual journey. Tone-clusters now unleash such power that one fears for the instrument itself, while the listener is almost crushed by the cataclysmic volume of sound. Everything vibrates with its awesome power. As we slowly become acclimatised to the onslaught (like becoming used to darkness) a clear sense of structure nonetheless emerges.

At one notable point (0:55), a sort of massive chorale appears, but its melody is almost completely submerged by the clusters that overwhelm it. However, its outlines remain partly audible, like dark shapes in the ocean. After the final blow we are left dazed and isolated in our own inner darkness."

Galina Ustvolskaya (1919-2006) was a relatively obscure 20th-century Russian composer. Before the 1970s she was virtually unknown to the West and only recently have scholars and performers taken an interest in her music. From 1939 to 1947 Ustvolskaya studied with Shostakovich, who praised her music and unique compositional voice; he even quoted some of her themes in his own music. It was later revealed that there was a romantic relationship between teacher and pupil, and that Ustvolskaya declined Shostakovich's proposal of marriage.

Although Ustvolskaya, like many composers operating in the Soviet regime, appeased the State by writing propaganda pieces, she also wrote modern absolute music "for the drawer." She has been called by one critic "the lady with the hammer" owing to her tendency for dissonant counterpoint and tone clusters. Many of her works reflect her fervent devotion to Christianity, and are characterized as austere, esoteric, declamatory, and without clear influences from other composers.

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