Supriya Ghosh (Editor)

Symphony No. 9 (Schnittke)

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Symphony No. 9 by Alfred Schnittke was written two years before his death in 1998. The reconstruction of the manuscript of a barely readable score was made by a younger generation composer – Alexander Raskatov – hired by Irina Schnittke, the composer's widow. Raskatov not only reconstructed Schnittke’s Ninth but also wrote his own composition: Nunc dimittis – In memoriam Alfred Schnittke. The premiere recording of both pieces was conducted by Dennis Russell Davies.

Contents

Movements

Schnittke’s Symphony No. 9 is written in three movements – each consecutively faster than the one before:

  1. [Andante]
  2. Moderato
  3. Presto

The opening movement originally had no tempo marking: Raskatov added one following Irina Schnittke’s suggestion that the composer’s idea was to escalate from a slow movement at the beginning to a faster one in the middle and a very fast movement at the end.

Instrumentation

In the Symphony No. 9 Schnittke employed a large orchestra, including triple woodwind, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, strings, three percussionists and harpsichord.

The Andante begins with the strings followed by the clarinet and the trombone. Raskatov called that section: “voice from beyond”. Consecutive events are interrupted by violent brass. The clarinet plays the leading role, gradually dominating the woodwind section.

The Moderato central movement begins with the strings followed by the wind instruments and harpsichord. The horn plays a delusive solo and the drum beats out a rhythm announcing a fast finale. That movement is a transformation from the first movement’s lamentation into the third movement’s impetus.

The Presto begins with the strings playing against the beat and the wind instruments building the wall of the sound. The strings and the piccolo carry on the dialogue. The harpsichord comes back for a while. A short wind chorale increases and collapses and dissonant pianissimo chords close the work.

Critical reactions

Schnittke’s Symphony No. 9 in the version prepared by Raskatov as well as its world premiere recording conducted by Davies have given rise to diverse and conflicting opinions.

James Leonard from allmusic.com writes: "Schnittke’s Ninth may or may not be judged the equal or even the superior of his Eighth, but it is vastly better than Raskatov’s own Nunc dimittis that accompanies it here". He adds, "But after hearing it [[Nunc dimittis]], the listener can be certain that its composer added nothing of his own music to the score of Schnittke's Ninth".

Robert Carl from ArkivMusic.com writes: "I can’t help [in my interpretation of Symphony No. 9] but feel making a piece out of the most basic, even banal, material may be something of a didactic point, or a dark joke in the spirit of Soviet era humor (even though the piece postdates the fall of that empire)". On Nunc dimittis, he said, "No matter what my reservations about the Schnittke, however, the Raskatov is a revelation".

Composer and conductor William C. White, on his own web site, writes: "I think this is music of someone who is already dead – as Schnittke had been, having been pronounced clinically dead on several occasions during his strokes. Much of the music sounds like the exploratory wanderings of a ghost during his first encounter with a new, otherworldly universe.... It is a delicate work, to be sure, and I think there is a lot of richness to keep exploring in its nuances".

Discography

  • Alfred Schnittke, Symphony No. 9; Alexander Raskatov, Nunc Dimittis, Dresdner Philharmonie, The Hilliard Ensemble, Elena Vassilieva (mez.), Dennis Russell Davies (cond.), ECM, 2009, ECM New Series 2025, 476 6994.
  • Alfred Schnittke, Concerto grosso No. 1; Symphony No. 9, Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, Owain Arwel Hughes, BIS, 2009, CD-1727.
  • Alfred Schnittke, The Ten Symphonies: Symphony No. 0, Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, Owain Arwel Hughes; Symphony No. 1, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, Leif Segerstam; Symphony No. 2 “St. Florian”, Mikaeli Chamber Choir, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, Leif Segerstam; Symphony No. 3, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, Eri Klas; Symphony No. 4, Stockholm Sinfonietta, Uppsala Academic Chamber Choir, Okko Kamu; Symphony No. 5 – Concerto grosso No. 4, Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Neeme Järvi; Symphony No. 6, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Tadaaki Otaka; Symphony No. 7, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Tadaaki Otaka; Symphony No. 8, Norrköping Symphony Orchestra, Lü Jia; Symphony No. 9, Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, Owain Arwel Hughes, BIS, 2009, CD-1767-68.
  • References

    Symphony No. 9 (Schnittke) Wikipedia


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