As the son of a German mother from Russia’s Volga region and a Jewish father hailing from Frankfurt am Main, Alfred Garrievich Schnittke (1934–1998) was predestined to ask himself often, “Where do I belong?” This question was made more pressing by his confrontation with life in Russia – its culture and other aspects – into which he was born and where he grew up and developed as a composer. Also connected with this interrogation was his relationship to faith. In 1983, he embraced Catholicism, although he had his reservations about the Catholic Church (as a person living in Russia, he saw it as a “something more ornamental”); he felt closer to Orthodox Christianity, as confirmed by the fact that in Moscow he regularly visited an Orthodox priest. This background is important, because it is reflected strongly in Schnittke’s personality and works.
In 1985, Schnittke completed, nearly concurrently, two works that rank among the crowning achievements of his oeuvre: a tragic-sounding Viola Concerto with its relentlessly catastrophic finale, and, contrasting with it, the pellucid Concerto for Choir a cappella in four movements, commissioned by Valery Polyansky for his State Chamber Choir. It sets to music words from the third section of The Book of Lamentations by the mediaeval Armenian monk Gregory of Narek (Grigor Narekatsi in Armenian, c. 950–1003), in Russian translation by Naum Grebnev. The work bears the hallmarks of Schnittke’s 1980s style (despite the statement attributed to the composer: “I wrote music which was evoked by this text, but not the music I wanted to write.”), reflects the influences of Old Russian and Armenian medieval chant, and strikes obvious parallels with Russian vocal works of the Romantic and twentieth-century eras (including Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky and Sviridov), which themselves have Orthodox Christian music as their source.
For the Brno performance of the Concerto for Choir, four local choirs will join forces, clearly demonstrating the strong tradition and high artistic achievements of amateur choral groups in the city.
Vítězslav Mikeš, translated by Štěpán Kaňa
LIGHT WITHOUT SHADOW, SOURCE OF CALM
A. Schnittke: Concerto for Choir
Vox luvenalis, Masaryk Univerzity Choir,
Láska opravdivá Choir, Kantiléna Choir / Jan Ocetek
Church of the Assumption of Our Lady, Jezuitská street
April 19, 9 PM
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