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Alfred Schnittke - Stille Musik

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Published on May 19, 2010

Peaceful Music (Stille Musik), for violin & cello (1979)

Mark Lubotsky, violin
Alexander Ivashkin, cello

In his play The Dancing of the Bones, W.B. Yeats suggested a fascinating reversal: the oldest thing in the world is not peace but grief -- not some primordial tranquility to and from which all things pass their striving lives, but a basic, indelible sense of loss, the pain of some pre-historic absence or wrong turn. Life is a life in debt, and its most authentic privilege is the chance to weep your fill.

While Russian composer Alfred Schnittke wasn't particularly Irish in his affiliations, he probably would have sympathized with Yeats' hard and unpopular vision. The sentiment glues Schnittke's fragmented universe together, and even a work like his miniature violin-and-cello duet Stille Musik seems impressively full with a grief which almost tips its diminutive frame over. The title translates as something like "Silent Music," and it conjures images of some "soundless, hypnotic musical Hereafter" (as Schnittke called a passage in his Fourth Violin Concerto) which lies at the temporal and spatial limits of the audible, cosmic, and quiescent. But what one imagines from the title is quite distant from what one hears -- a thick, lugubrious, profoundly melancholic wheezing in the lower depths of both instruments as they play chromatic double-stops. The music is indeed "stille" in the sense that it moves slowly; its great age is testified to by its agonizing sluggishness. But one also senses that the music's antiquarian affect doesn't sound out wisdom and achievement as much as some vast and stable sadness.

Yet this atmosphere does change, in a very striking way. Amid chilly, almost inanimate pizzicato interludes for both instruments, this heavy, low strain begins to rise and lighten. About midway through the score's six-minute duration, a kind of climactic moment of full expansion occurs, after which the instruments get higher and higher, as if floating away. The word "sublimation" comes to mind, in two senses: nineteenth-century philosopher Hegel used it define the basic movement of history into higher and wider realms of spiritual self-knowledge; and, in the twentieth century, Freud spoke of "sublimation" as the ideal form of coping, by moving a repressed trauma from the subconscious out of the depths and into the consciousness' light of day. It's tempting to think of this music, so brief and modest in scope, as a mini-allegory for momentous historical or psychological transformation, from grief to "the letting go." And as the two instruments end the piece by slipping into a stratospheric ether of harmonics and overtones, one would do well to remember likely traumas for Schnittke's own sad world-view: his lifetime in Soviet Russia from the "terrible years" through the gray ones, and also his spiritual and ethnic homelessness, being at once Russian and German, Catholic and Jew. [allmusic.com]

  • Category

  • Song

    • Stille Nacht: Stille Musik for Violin and Cello
  • Artist

    • Mark Lubotsky
  • Album

    • SCHNITTKE: Piano Quintet / String Trio / Stille Musik
  • Licensed to YouTube by

    • AdShare MG for a Third Party (on behalf of Naxos_thenax), and 2 Music Rights Societies

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