Tonight’s program of Alfred Schnittke’s World presents two piano pieces by Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov (b. 1937) that embody two features of his creative character – a disregard for political pressure and a melancholic soul.
The first one is reflected in Elegy (1967), where atonal piontilistic gestures exhibit modern aesthetic that was considered unacceptable in the Soviet Union for several decades. As many of his coleagues, Silvestrov faced oppression when he was composing music using avant-garde techniques from the West, and many of his works were not performed in his native country for political reasons.
However, it was not the oppression that prompted Silvestrov to change his style, but the discovery of his inner lyrical and poetic universe. In 1974-77 he composed a melancholic song cycle Silent Songs, written in deeply lyrical, reminiscent of romantic songs, but still original music language. Since then, many of his piano works, including Hymn – 2001 sound almost as if they were Romantic fragments. Almost – but one can virtually hear their timelessness in the long reverberating silences. Silvestrov believes that music becomes music only when it doesn’t limit itself to such things as an époque. As he stated during one of his public lectures:
People say it’s romanticism, but [tonality in my work] does not stand for romanticism, rather for the return of music to poetry. Originally romanticism was meant to marry the music and the poetry. Consider, for example, Shubert. People composed songs before him, but he made this meeting of poetry and music possible and people called it romanticism. That was the time when the human soul had acquired not only poetic language, but also musical.
Poetry and melancholy are always present in the musical language of Silvestrov’s piano miniatures – his main specialties of the recent years. They are composed with an instant inspiration, and then carefully crafted, like platonic ideas that have always existed beyond human realm.
When there is no melancholy, there is no music…Sadness [is present in my music] not because the life is difficult, but because music is like fleeting beauty. Everyone who lives in this world seems to be happy, but short-lived. Only music remains.
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