Research Programs: Fellowships for University Teachers

Period of Performance

1/1/2012 - 12/31/2012

Funding Totals

$50,400.00 (approved)
$50,400.00 (awarded)

Russian Composers Alfred Schnittke and Valentin Silvestrov and the End of Soviet Music

FAIN: FA-56562-12

Peter J. Schmelz
Washington University (St. Louis, MO 63130-4862)

This musically-centered cultural history investigates the works of leading composers Alfred Schnittke (1934-98) and Valentin Silvestrov (b. 1937) to shed new light on the sociocultural shifts of the USSR’s turbulent final two decades. Rather than stagnating, contemporary Soviet life became collage-like, its public bombarded by a baffling array of new influences, high and low, many of which inspired strong anxieties about the end, in both metaphorical and literal senses. Each composer reacted differently: Schnittke’s polystylism purported to embrace everything, while Silvestrov’s neo-Romanticism retreated into an idealized past. Both constantly negotiated between foreign and domestic, popular and elite, and past, present, or (imaginary) future. This project explores the new social and political realities that surrounded the production and reception of each composer’s output, thereby reframing both the late Soviet period and late twentieth-century music more broadly.

Media Coverage

Books (Review)
Author(s): Moody, Ivan
Publication: Gramophone
Date: 9/9/2021
Abstract: Gramophone Awards issue 2021, pp. 124-25.

Associated Products

Valentin Silvestrov and the Echoes of Music History (Article)
Title: Valentin Silvestrov and the Echoes of Music History
Author: Peter Schmelz
Abstract: In 1980 Soviet Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov began a series of ‘‘postludes,’’ a genre representing, in his words, a ‘‘collecting of echoes, a form opening not to the end, as is more usual, but to the beginning.’’ This article examines Silvestrov’s Symphony no. 5 (1980– 82), and the theory, practice, and reception of his evolving ‘‘post’’ style. The symphony represents a unique congruence of modernism and postmodernism, nostalgia and continuity, expressed at the end of the Soviet Union, the end of the twentieth century, and what many believed to be the end of history. Completed near the conclusion of the Brezhnev period of stagnation, the symphony was intended to assuage the public’s acute dissatisfaction with life in the USSR. Yet when it was first heard in the mid-1980s, it offered a comforting familiarity amid the bewildering acceleration of perestroika. Examining Silvestrov’s ‘‘post’’ style requires considering the sociocultural impact of his sense of ending by treating his eschatology as a useful fiction that illuminates the conflicting sensations of stasis and acceleration during the last decades of the USSR. This article draws on interviews with Silvestrov and his close associates, as well as the Silvestrov Collection at the Paul Sacher Stiftung.
Year: 2014
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Journal of Musicology website
Access Model: Subscription
Format: Journal
Periodical Title: Journal of Musicology
Publisher: University of California Press

Sonic Overload: Alfred Schnittke, Valentin Silvestrov, and Polystylism in the Late USSR (Book)
Title: Sonic Overload: Alfred Schnittke, Valentin Silvestrov, and Polystylism in the Late USSR
Author: Schmelz, Peter J.
Abstract: Sonic Overload offers a new, music-centered cultural history of the late Soviet Union. It focuses on polystylism in music as a response to the information overload swamping listeners in the Soviet Union during its final decades. It traces the ways in which leading composers Alfred Schnittke and Valentin Silvestrov initially embraced popular sources before ultimately rejecting them. Polystylism first responded to the utopian impulses of Soviet ideology with utopian impulses to encompass all musical styles, from "high" to "low". But these initial all-embracing aspirations were soon followed by retreats to alternate utopias founded on carefully selecting satisfactory borrowings, as familiar hierarchies of culture, taste, and class reasserted themselves. Looking at polystylism in the late USSR tells us about past and present, near and far, as it probes the musical roots of the overloaded, distracted present. Based on archival research, oral historical interviews, and other overlooked primary materials, as well as close listening and thorough examination of scores and recordings, Sonic Overload presents a multilayered and comprehensive portrait of late-Soviet polystylism and cultural life, and of the music of Silvestrov and Schnittke. Sonic Overload is intended for musicologists and Soviet, Russian, and Ukrainian specialists in history, the arts, film, and literature, as well as readers interested in twentieth- and twenty-first century music; modernism and postmodernism; quotation and collage; the intersections of "high" and "low" cultures; and politics and the arts.
Year: 2021
Primary URL: http://
Primary URL Description:
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Type: Single author monograph
ISBN: 9780197541258
Copy sent to NEH?: Yes