nedjelja, 2. lipnja 2013.

Galina Ustvolskaja (1919-2006) - muzički Gagarin

Brutalna klasična muzika tek nedavno "otkrivene" zastrašujuće ruske skladateljice. Sama je za svoju muziku rekla da nije u vezi s nijednim drugim skladateljem, živim ili mrtvim.

«Galina Oestvolskaja». Reinbert de Leeuw plays Sonata No. 5 in St. Petersburg State Academic Capella. Directed by Cherry Duyns, VPRO Holland (1994) (21:23)

Galina Ustvolskaya’s entire life (17.VI.1919—22.XII.2006) is tied up with one and the same city. She was born on June 17, 1919 in Petrograd (now Saint Petersburg). From 1934 to 1937 she studied cello at the Leningrad Capella, and from 1937 to 1947 (with a break during the war) attended Dmitri Shostakovich's composition class at the Leningrad Conservatory. Ustvolskaya particularly wanted to study under Shostakovich as she thought him the only composer able to teach her anything. As the years went by, however, and she came to know the man and his music better, her opinions were dramatically revised. Her composition teacher, who seldom praised his students, valued Ustvolskaya’s work very highly and said of her: "I am convinced that the music of G. I. Ustvolskaya will achieve worldwide renown, to be valued by all who perceive truth in music to be of paramount importance." On several occasions Shostakovich supported her in the Union of Soviet Composers against opposition from his colleagues. He sent some of his own as yet unfinished works to Ustvolskaya, attaching great value to her comments. Some of these pieces even contain quotations from his pupil's compositions; for example, he employed the second theme of the Finale of her Trio throughout the Fifth String Quartet and in the Michelangelo Suite (no. 9).
On graduating from the conservatory Ustvolskaya was at once admitted to the Composers' Union and from 1947 until 1950 honed her skills as a graduate student. In 1948, Ustvolskaya began teaching composition at the Leningrad Rimsky-Korsakov College of Music, and continued to do so for around 30 years. According to the composer, she taught "only to subsist on it", and did not see herself as the creator of any of well-regarded composers: "They were educated at the College". In general, she expected her students to work to the same high standards she set for herself and, despite reports to the contrary, she never singled out any of her students for special praise.
Ustvolskaya’s first compositions were a considerable success and were performed by leading musicians at the most prestigious concert halls of the city. From the mid 40s onwards, Ustvolskaya’s work grew in strength. In 1946 she released her Concerto for Piano, String Orchestra and Timpani, in 1947, her Piano Sonata No. 1, and, in 1948, Stepan Razin's Dream, a composition for bass and a symphony orchestra which was deemed fit to open four successive seasons at the Leningrad Philarmonic’s Grand Hall. However, her name soon began to disappear from the concert bills, to be replaced by those of the socially connected and the officially sanctioned; premieres of her music became increasingly rare, and many of her works were published decades after their composition. For some time her music was practically unheard — the critics did not accept it, condemning it as "too sketchy thematically", "designed for a narrow circle of listeners", "tough", etc. Some of Ustvolskaya's compositions were censored by her publishers (bars being inserted where they did not belong, etc.) They are now performed based on the composer's original notation.
Ustvolskaya lived in constant poverty. In 1950s she attempted to improve her financial situation and composed a number of contract works as well as music for several documentaries, works which much later she strived to exclude from her Catalog, going to considerable lengths to locate them, in order to destroy all traces of their existence. On the few manuscripts which did survive, she later wrote "for money", thus defining her attitude towards them. From 1961 onwards, despite the catastrophic lack of money, Ustvolskaya's life was devoted exclusively to "the true, spiritual, not religious creativity".
Ustvolskaya’s music is unique and does not resemble any other. It is exceedingly expressive, high-spirited, austere and full of tragic pathos attained with modest expressive means. Ustvolskaya's musical thought is distinguished by its intellectual power, while a keen spirituality occupies the core of her work. The choice of instruments for her symphonic and instrumental compositions is always ingenious (she never took formal orchestration lessons). Viktor Suslin, with whom Ustvolskaya maintained friendly relations for many years, once called her "a voice from the "Black Hole" of Leningrad, the epicentre of communist terror, the city that suffered so terribly the horrors of war." Ustvolskaya liked the scientific metaphor of the black hole, although she was never interested in history, politics and society.
Genuine recognition came to the composer only in the late 80's when a concert in Leningrad was attended by Jürgen Köchel, the director of the largest music publishing house "Sikorski" and Elmer Schönberger, the Dutch musicologist. Mr. Schönberger was so stunned by the music that he did everything in his power to ensure that this concert was heard in Europe. Soon, a series of international Ustvolskaya's music festivals was organised (1995, 1996, 2005, 2011 – Amsterdam, 1998 – Vienna 1999 – Bern, 2001 – Warsaw, 2004 – Båstad), and Mr. Köchel acquired the rights to publish her works. She unambiguously dismissed subsequent proposals that she should emigrate from Russia: all her life had been connected with St. Petersburg, which she left only a few times in order to attend festivals of her music. Galina Ustvolskaya led a solitary life, thinking over the new works until her last days. "My music is my life" – she said.

A guide to Galina Ustvolskaya's music

The Russian composer's brutally uncompromising work has an elementality that's both horrifying and thrilling
by Tom ServiceGalina Ustvolskaya

'Screaming into space' … Galina Ustvolskaya. Photograph:

It has the "narrowness of a laser beam which is capable of piercing metal"; it's a "voice from the 'Black Hole' of Leningrad, the epicentre of communist terror, the city that suffered so terribly the horrors of war"; it "burns … with an inhuman intensity and a spiritual strength, as though it his broken away from musical substance and exists independently, like radiation or gravity". Composers Viktor Suslin and Boris Tischenko are describing the power of the music of Galina Ustvolskaya, the Russian composer who died in 2006 having created one of the 20th century's most brutally, brilliantly uncompromising corpuses of work. Ustvolskaya said she agreed with Schumann that "the best method of talking about music is to be silent about it". In her case, there's a truth to that dictum because of her music's sheer, brutalising power: it has a terrifying and transcendent physicality; the inescapability of an asteroid firing into earth; an elementality that's both horrifying and thrilling; a sense of pain that becomes … - you see? Ustvolskaya is right of course: instead of all those adjectives and metaphors, listen to this piece …
Told you it was physical: it's one of Ustvolskaya's last works, her 6th Piano Sonata, composed in 1988. And if it's an assault on the senses for you as a listener, that's nothing compared to the painful physical process the pianist must go through to practise and then perform the fistfuls and armfuls of fffff tone-clusters that the piece demands (you can see how the piece is notated, too, on YouTube). In her fascinating book Performing Pain: Music and Trauma in Eastern Europe, musicologist Maria Cizmic says that this piece "opens up a performance space in which a pianist feels pain, foregrounding the concrete bodily acts and sensations of suffering at a time when the violence of the USSR's past continued to be contested". But the sonata isn't just an incessant pianistic battering ram: in just seven minutes, the piece creates a gigantic drama, in which there's melody – listen to the top notes of each of the hammered-out clusters; there are tunes in this piece, I promise – and a ferocious emotional concentration, embodied by the first performance indication, "Espressivissimo" – as expressively as possible.
What the music expresses is something that you will decide for yourself, but there's a rich historical context for how this music, and the rest of Ustvolskaya's hyper-compressed, hyper-intense works (she acknowledged just 21 of them) came about – even if the music seems, when you hear it, to be as strange as a rock thrown from the moon. One of the clues is Dmitri Shostakovich, who proposed marriage to Ustvolskaya at least once.
Shostakovich would send Ustvolskaya his newest works for her approval, and over the years they played out a game of mutual musical tribute-making in a toing-and-froing of quotations based around a motive from the first, unpublished version of Shostakovich's 9th Symphony (read Rachel Jeremiah-Foulds's essay for a precise account of what happened to this melody in their music). But Ustvolskaya later fell out with Shostakovich and left the sphere of his influence – or anyone else's, for that matter – to pursue her own compositional path without compromises, but without public acclaim, too.
Her music of the 1960s and 70s was composed largely without any support from the Soviet regime, and only with glasnost did her music again find a public in the late 80s. She was committed to the idea of composition as a spiritual, but not religious, activity: "The whole process of composition is accomplished in my head and in my soul", she wrote. "Only I myself can determine the path of my composition. Lord, give me strength to compose! – I beseech Thee." It's above all in her three "Compositions" and five symphonies, each written for a frankly bizarre and sui generis instrumental and vocal lineup (the symphonies include parts for speakers, who declaim religious texts), where you hear that spirituality trenchantly, fervently, and apocalyptically expressed.
Take that "triad" of three "Compositions": the first, Dona Nobis Pacem, is written for piccolo, tuba, and piano, a combination that opens up abyssal gaps between the ranges of the instruments, sounding out a musical void into which the instruments seem to shriek and cry, hopelessly, for comfort. The second, Dies Irae, is scored for an even weirder ensemble of piano, eight double-basses, and wooden cube, a coffin-like instrument that is pitilessly pummelled by the percussionist as the basses grind away. The third part of the trilogy is a Benedictus for four flutes, four bassoons and piano, which creates a more reflective but no less bleak soundscape. This is musical spirituality that comes from an unflinching look into depths of human pain.
And yet Ustvolskaya's music has, I think, a cathartic power. Just as it voices a "scream into space" – words appended to the score of theSecond Symphony, "True and Eternal Bliss", it exorcises primordial emotions of suffering and grief, and turns them into vivid, implacable creative expression. In a film made in Holland in 2005, the year before she died, Ustvolskaya spoke of the overwhelming loneliness she felt when she was writing the Second Symphony in the late 70s, and which she still feels at the end of her life. Ironically, it's precisely because her music gives almost unbearably direct expression to this essential spiritual bleakness that it creates such an indelible but mysterious resonance in listeners today. Well, it does in me at least. Find out what you think as you experience the laser beams, black holes, and expressive radiation of Ustvolskaya's musical world.

 Viktor Suslin "The Music Of Spiritual Independence: Galina Ustvolskaya"

The theme entitled "Ustvolskaya" is extremely difficult as "elevated subjects" are given both a material expression and a wholly concrete expression in music. And one must discuss this concisely, clearly and accurately, without becoming preoccupied with shaman incantations about God, Eternity, the Soul, and other things which nowadays are generally emphasized with capital letters. Once music has been written it means that the embodiment of something has taken place (even if it is something non-material and spiritual).
Galina Ivanovna Ustvolskaya was born on 17 June 1919 in Petrograd, and studied at the Leningrad Capella from 1934 until 1937, and then at the Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatoire in Leningrad. She completed her post-graduate study there in 1947 and went on to teach composition at the College of Music.
Her composition teacher was Dmitry Shostakovich. Not every pupil can boast that his teacher uses his themes in his own compositions, gives him his autograph scores, and sends him his newest works to look over, earnestly wishing to hear his opinion. Yet these are indisputable facts from Ustvolskaya's biography. Shostakovich, who was miserly with compliments and often sarcastic, certainly did not describe all of his pupils in this way: "I believe that Ustvolskaya's music will gain world-wide recognition from all who hold real creativity dear". To merit such an evaluation from the maestro and to win such a deep personal faith, one must possess something more than simply devotion to the teacher. Shostakovich's attitude towards his pupil is in some ways reminiscent of Schönberg's attitude towards Webern.
The music of Ustvolskaya is not "avant-garde" in the usual sense of the word. It is perhaps for just this reason that her work was never subjected to the same public condemnation as the music of several of her colleagues in the USSR. However, Ustvolskaya has often been criticized for the "narrowness", "rigidity" and "uncommunicativeness" of her work, and accused of elitism. It is only in recent years that the critics have gradually begun to understand that these "inadequacies" are essentially the individual merits of her music. The composer Boris Tishchenko, a pupil of both Shostakovich and Ustvolskaya, expressed it thus: "this 'narrowness' is the narrowness of a laser beam which is capable of piercing metal".
Boris Tishchenko:
The influence of Galina Ustvolskaya's music is as magnetic as the personality of the composer herself. Self-will, clarity and a complete absence of any "moulds" forms the essence of her work, without external attributes. The maximum expression using the minimum of resources. One wonders: if you find it difficult in this life and bustle, then what must it be like for her at such a height and in such solitude? "What is it like for you there, in a vacuum, in purity — an orphan..."
The music of Ustvolskaya is unique: it does not conform to the usual patterns. Usually it is not difficult to discern points of contact with the music of other composers, both predecessors and contemporaries, in the work of influential masters. But sometimes we meet precious stones which possess such a strength of internal construction that it is difficult to recognize the reflection of the light which falls on them in their sparkle. These are artists who break sharply away from the established norms and build a musical world according to their own laws. Ustvolskaya is one such artist. Her music literally bums with a piercing single-mindedness, with an inhuman intensity and a spiritual strength, as though it his broken away from musical substance and exists independently, like radiation or gravity. The specific gravity of each of her compositions — of each note even — is so great that we are compelled to recall the distant stars where, according to the supposition of scientists, the density of matter is such that just a thimbleful of it on Earth would weigh several tons. The growing topicality of her work is staggering. Works written 25 or 30 years ago are finding an ever-widening path to the listener or, to be more precise — the listener is discovering the path to her music more and more often.
Ustvolskaya's art is not entertaining. It contains only the most important essential ingredients. Ustvolskaya does not use symmetrical constructions. The rhythm is rectified. There are no experiments or caprices. The long chains of identical durations (crotchets as a rule) are grouped into polyphonic structures. The idea and not the bar controls the accentuation. Thus Ustvolskaya often renounces bar lines. This system of temporal organization, which seems so simple at first glance, is so convincing and natural that it allows her to achieve an unlikely rhythmic tension using the minimum of resources. Thus the harmonic and timbral aspects of Ustvolskaya's music are logical and non-standard.
It is impossible to describe Ustvolskaya's compositions for one, two or three performers as "chamber" music in any sense since they are so charged with meaning and harness such emotional power. The structure of her music is coarse-grained: it is masculine, strong-willed and controlled. There is no sentimentality, mellowness or bombast. The depths of the most extreme conditions arc exposed severely and concisely. The precisely outlined individuality, internal strength and external restraint allow us to regard all of Ustvolskaya's creative work as a single whole, as a single lump of human spirit, as a monolith or a beautiful and laconic sculpture. Galina Ustvolskaya is demanding of herself, uncompromising and honourable in the highest degree. The pure innocence of the artist is apparent in everything she does. And each of her compositions confirms this.
(Music in the USSR. Moscow, 1990, April—June, pp. 22—21)
...In recent years Ustvolskaya's music has undergone a surprising renaissance. Suddenly it has been discovered that the compositions written in the 40s and 50s sound as if they were written today. And this is in spite of the revolutionary changes which occurred in music in the 50s — 70s; changes which affected the creative work of composers of almost all generations. Or perhaps it is precisely because of these. Ustvolskaya's small number of compositions tower above the sea of avant-garde or pseudo avant-garde music like a gloomy rocky island which has not yielded to the temptations of "progress" but has preferred to remain itself.
In order to remain oneself, however, one must first be oneself. In one of his books Schopenhauer advises that one must test one's own significance through solitude: if it is interesting for you to be atone — you have personality. And it is just this quality — to be herself — that Ustvolskaya has in abundance. Such personal self-sufficiency, aesthetic and stylistic exclusiveness is a unique phenomenon in music of our time. The music of Ustvolskaya is not "introduced" into the general landscape of Western concert life so much as into the landscape of "socialist realism".
It cannot be denied that a specific idealism, maximalism and even fanaticism is inherent in the compositions of Ustvolskaya. But (his maximalism is genuine and not a theatrical avant-garde element designed to shock — a pre-requisite for comfortable popularity in the future. This maximalism is a purely Russian phenomenon, even a purely Petersburg, "Dostoevskian" trait. Ustvolskaya undoubtedly has several characteristics in common with Shostakovich: a meditative quality, an unusual ponderability in her treatment of intervals, and a polyphonic way of thinking. But here the similarity ends. Ustvolskaya takes the above-mentioned elements so far that any allusions to "classicism", often that of Shostakovich, completely disappear.
Theatrical and dramatic devices and quotations do not interest her. Other people may quote her, but she quotes no one.
Everything that Ustvolskaya does is significant and is done on a large scale, irrespective of whether we are talking about a symphony or about a small composition for a solo instrument She herself says, characteristically: "... my compositions are not chamber music, not even the solo sonatas". She has a strange relationship with time which sometimes gives rise to ideas about her kinship with composers of "minimal music". But this is quite wrong for the essence of her music lies in an incredible "high-voltage" tendency and a density which is superior to virtually all the musical substances known to me. Her pauses can rival those of Webern in their intensity. As a rule, this music is ascetic and is devoid of bar lines. However, this by no means makes it inert or anaemic but, on the contrary, allows her to create surprisingly intense asymmetrical polyphonic constructions and to achieve incredible rhythmic pressure. The dynamic is reduced almost to Baroque gradation, although — she is equally capable of the greatest extremes — by no means Baroque but entirely contemporary! — with the most abrupt fffff and ppppp contrasts. Ustvolskaya's predisposition for extremes is not only expressed in the dynamics but also in the choice of unique performing forces (as in Compositions nos. 1—3 and the Third and Fourth Symphonies). The texts which she sets are both aphoristic and concentrated.
There is nothing eternally feminine in this music. It is a clot of masculinity, free will and severity of spirit, which relentlessly cuts away everything extraneous. Cutting away that which is superfluous is one of the main virtues of a sculptor. And, indeed, if we are talking about associations, then Ustvolskaya's music is not at all pictorial but is sculptural in the highest degree....
The Second Piano Sonata was written in 1949. This year was not like any other in the USSR: Stalin celebrated his 70th birthday, and the country was struck by a wave of arrests and fear; cultural terror achieved a peak previously unseen in human history.
At a time when composers of world-wide significance were humiliated in the Soviet press, at a time when they acknowledged their errors in relation to the Party and socialist realism and were ready to repent and ask forgiveness, a shy, modest, barely-known 30-year-old woman composed this music, which is so full of immense despair and furious protest, in her poverty-stricken Leningrad flat. It is not surprising that the composition was performed for the first time only in 1967. Beyond any doubt the Sonata could only have arisen in that place and at that time.
The two movements of the composition arc only slightly differentiated by theme: there is a tragic, meditative, agonized element in the first movement; while the second movement is based on similar material it gives rise to a dynamic intensification of vast strength. Notated without bar lines, the music is subordinate to a hypnotic metric and rhythmic influence and a grandiose linear quality. In spite of the relatively early date, the Sonata already shows the true Ustvolskaya; with this composition she made herself known as a worthy pupil of Shostakovich for by this time the teacher no longer had anything to do with her music.
Galina Ustvolskaya:
I unexpectedly heard a compact-disc with a recording of my Sonata no. 2 performed by Anatoly Ivanovtch Vedernikov. It was unexpected because Vedernikov first began to play my Sonata a quarter of a century ago; it has only now been recorded and the composer Viktor Suslin sent me this recording. Vedernikov played the Sonata at a time when I was persecuted: people did not buy my music, did not publish it and did not play it, but Vedernikov included the Sonata in his concert programmes. He played it so perfectly that, having heard it, I wanted to listen to it again. Surprisingly, Vedernikov did not ask me a single question when he was working on the Sonata, but himself found all the keys necessary in order to give a sufficiently strong and worthy performance. I will be eternally grateful to Anatoly Ivanovich for this heroic deed and for his worthy treatment of my composition.
(from a letter dated 10 June 1994).
Dona nobis pacem (Composition no. 1) is the first movement of Triad, composed by Ustvolskaya between 1971 and 1975. The second movement is Dies irae for eight double basses, percussion (a box of thick veneer which one strikes with wooden mallets) and piano, and the third — Benedictus, qui venit for four flutes, four bassoons and piano. It is already clear from the instrumental forces used that the concept of Triad is rather extraordinary. According to the composer, "it is desirable that these compositions be performed in the given order, but if this is not possible then each of them may be performed by itself.
The instrumentation of Dona nobis pacem — piccolo, tuba and piano — alone confirms that Ustvolskaya is right when she says — "my compositions arc not chamber music". The piccolo and tuba are typically orchestral instruments which, as a rule, have very little to do with chamber music. The piccolo's "mousey squeak" which is devoid of overtones in the high register and its puny sound in the low register does little to embellish the chamber sound. And the fortissimo tuba produces such a wave of sound that you follow it with misgiving, expecting the piano to be blown off the stage into the audience. Apart from that, the very title Dona nobis pacem for piccolo, tuba and piano provokes spontaneous mirth: this is more like the circus! Is it a joke? Or a blasphemy by the composer?
However, the composition very quickly compels us to forget that the instrumental forces have an element of the circus. There is no escape from the instrumentation, of course, and the circus remains the circus. But already this circus is very sinister. It is comfortless and absurd. The first movement is incredibly aggressive. It consists of polyphonic variations on a short, easily recognised motif. But the absurdity penetrates literally into every pore of this movement. Strict motivic work with such instrumentation is absurd, the '"strict" linear quality in the piano part, in which the lines are by no means pure but abound in every "sin", is absurd: clusters arc frequently substituted for the notes of the motif. And often the whole polyphonic line consists solely of clusters (how else are you supposed to contend with the tuba?). But, thanks to the rhythmic brilliance, we recognize the motif all the same.
In short, the polyphonic motivic work by means of refined rhythm and maximum thematic concentration is very subtle. Throughout this the pianist thrashes with his fists or palms, the trumpet croaks and the piccolo emits piercing screams. All this recalls the parody on the legal process which is performed by criminals in prison, as if to say "eternal and noble truths on impure lips."
... As Gogol' said, "one cannot blame the mirror if the face is crooked". It is difficult to imagine a more fluent expression of disharmony than this movement. Evil and chaos reign in the world and the composer finds adequate musical and linguistic resources to express them. It is remarkable how quickly one forgets the gaiety which was produced by the performers coming out onto the stage when listening to this composition!
In the second and third movements Ustvolskaya goes still further. Through her use of the musical resources she compels the listener to forget about the disharmony of the instrumental forces. It turns out that this disharmony is more imaginary than real. In the second movement the short nervous motifs disappear and broader melodic phrases appear (thus the thematic link with the first movement is preserved). The tuba, with its mighty crescendi, plays a central role in this movement.
A final metamorphosis occurs in the third movement (all the movements are performed attacca). An atmosphere of prayer about the gift of peace truly pervades this movement. The composer creates this atmosphere with minimal resources: just three intervals in the piano part, a single f sharp on the tuba and a mournful litany on five notes for the piccolo are sufficient for her purpose. Ustvolskaya remains true to herself: in the third movement there is not a single note which is not strictly derived from the theme of the first movement. The ominous circus of the first movement is recalled only briefly. In the crystal-clear, prayerful pianissimo harmony reigns even between the trumpet and the piccolo. Before God all are equal...
About the Third Symphony Jesus, Messiah, save us! (1983). Half a century separates Ustvolskaya's Third Symphony and the Fourth Symphony by Shostakovich — and not just any century, but the 20th century. Vast shocks occurred in the world during this time. One of the most important of these occurred in the spiritual sphere: what in the 30s seemed to many (and certainly not just in the USSR) to be a "bright future" by the 80s had become an inglorious and shameful past. So shameful that one can only hope timidly that the payment for the blindness and sins of the 20th century will not be too severe and pray to God for salvation. This is what Galina Ustvolskaya does in her Third Symphony. The composition is entitled Jesus, Messiah, save us! — we are not talking about personal salvation. Ustvolskaya is praying for us all.
The text recited in the symphony (translated from Latin) is that of an astonishing man — a German monk from Reichenau — Hermannus Contractus (1013—1054). His life was short, he was almost completely paralysed and unable to speak, but in his time he managed to write outstanding treatises on mathematics, astronomy and music, and also prayers and hymns to the Virgin Mary. The fact that three of Ustvolskaya's five symphonies (the Second, Third and Fourth) are based on texts by this author and, moreover, were written in the city which until very recently bore the name of Lenin, is eloquent in itself.
The Symphony is in a one-movement form and its concept is simple: it is a prayer about salvation. The prayer demands concentration and spiritual strength: the greater this strength, the greater the efficacy of the prayer. Ustvolskaya is first and foremost a musician and these qualities are achieved by purely musical means.
First: concentration. In contrast to the symphonic adventure novel a diversity of colour is appropriate in the symphonic prayer. Concentration is achieved through the colossal economy of resources and the rejection of everything superfluous: there are only four motifs which possess thematic meaning in the Third Symphony. They possess not only a melodic but also a rhythmic individuality, and are easily recognized even when played by the percussion alone.
Second: form and rhythm. The formal construction of the Symphony is very clear and logical (it is a specific sonata form with a development section and even a "literal" recapitulation). However, the development is fulfilled not by tonal means, but by means of the rhythm, timbre and articulation. With regard to pitch, the composition is static and motifs remain linked with the same pitches for a long time (thus any change of pitch is regarded as a serious event). The rhythmic essence of this music is unique: the most extensive rhythmic and polyphonic variation more than compensates for the "spatial" immobility. The thematically-important motifs possess different time durations and continually displace one another, "changing colour" and changing meaning, crossing from one instrumental group to another (the most important of these is heard at the beginning of the composition on the trombone and passes through the whole symphony as an "ostinato" like a red thread). Melodically they have a "common denominator" — a diatonicism which calls to mind distant associations with the Gregorian chorale, but this remains in the background since the rhythm is the main "motor" of the composition. In this respect the "development" of the symphony makes a very strong impression, containing rhythmic polyphony in the percussion section, a big piano solo, and a powerful growth, with the repetition of the two concluding notes of the principal motif — d flat and e flat— in all the groups of the orchestra, producing an impression of colossal group strength and incantation.
Ustvolskaya demands an unusual "instrumentation" for an equally unusual artistic task: her orchestra in the Third Symphony (5 oboes, 5 trumpets, 1 trombone, 3 tubas, 2 bass drums, 1 tenor drum, piano and 5 double basses) in no way resembles that which is generally understood by the word "orchestra". This "multi-choral" force is ideally suited to impart a multi-faceted character to the composition both in terms of rhythm and timbre. In her own composition Ustvolskaya is as far removed as possible from abstract theorizing and the "construction of systems", but it must be said that her musical texture possesses a staggering unity. To give just one example: the very first "chord" of the Symphony (on the oboes) contains all the notes of the "principal motif (one could provide a great many similar examples).
Through her music Ustvolskaya lets us clearly understand that prayer demands a much greater volitional strength and energy of man in the 20th century than it did "in the good old days" when it was enough to clothe an appeal to God in the usual liturgical form.
There is a Jewish anecdote or parable in which a Jew asks the Rabbi: "Why is it, Rabbi, that the Lord once appeared to us in the desert, once spoke to us and led our people, but does so no longer?" The Rabbi answers: "Because there is no longer anyone who can bow down low enough before Him..."

This article has been compiled from materials (in Russian and German) kindly provided by Viktor Suslin. A part of it was published in the 80s—90s in Germany (by the publisher Hans Sikorski) and in Russia (Music in the USSR, Moscow. 1990, April—June, pp. 22—23).
Published in the book "Ex oriente...". Ten composers from the Former USSR.
Verlag Ernst Kuhn — Berlin, 2002
Transalted from Russian by Carolyn Dunlop

 Extracts from letters by Galina Ustvolskaya to Viktor Suslin (publishing house Hans Sikorski, Hamburg)

...I would gladly write something for your publishing house, but this depends on God — not on me. If God gives me the opportunity to compose something, then I will do it without fail.
My method of finishing a work is essentially very different from that of other composers. I write whenever I am in a favourable mood. Then the composition is left to rest for some time, and when its time comes I give it its freedom. If its time does not come, then I destroy it. I do not accept commissions. The whole process of composition is accomplished in my head and in my soul. Only I myself can determine the path of my composition. "Lord, give me the strength to compose! — I beseech Thee" (04.02.1990).
...I received your letter with the enclosed plan for a catalogue of my compositions... A series of compositions are cited under the rubric "Chamber music", even though that kind of classification has no place in an index of my work. This is not a formality but a question of principle, and I would ask you lo take this into consideration. The content of my work completely excludes the term "chamber". I have no "chamber music" — the category "instrumental music" should be substituted in its place. I repeat: this is a creative question of principle.
Your plan contains a series of compositions which arc absent from my list. These are works, which I had to write for material reasons, in order to help my family which had to struggle very hard at that time. These compositions can immediately be distinguished from the real ones, and therefore they must not be included in the index... Perhaps some people consider this list too short, but I am convinced that an artist who puts his whole soul into every individual piece can never be compared to a hack in the quantity of his works. If a composer's value was determined by the quantity of compositions that he has written, then pencil-pushers would be the most celebrated composers. Unfortunately this does sometimes happen. It is very hard for me to explain to you the scale of my inaptitude for clerical work... (22.10.1989).
...What is a "festival of women's music"? Is there really a difference between "men's" and "women's" music! If they organize a festival of WOMEN'S music then it follows that they should also organize a festival of MEN'S music. However, I believe that no such division exists. Only music which is genuine and strong should be performed. Strictly speaking, performing the proposed music within the context of WOMEN'S music is a humiliation. Anton Chekhov expressed this in a reasonable way: 'if the cat writes something remarkable then I will respect her". I hope that no one is offended by my opinions — I am really speaking from the depths of my soul... (29.09.1988).
...It is very difficult to talk about my own music. ...Unfortunately my ability to compose does not coincide with an ability to write about my music. In general there is a belief that the one even precludes the other...
All my compositions are spiritually independent; my work is not linked in any way with that of any other composer. Unfortunately, musicologists generally think stereotypically and immediately begin to seek out kinships (who the father and forefathers are and so on). Originality is essential in creative work. Every talent, even the most modest, is only interesting when it finds its own path. And it immediately becomes uninteresting if it cannot produce anything original.
Those who are in a position to judge and analyse my compositions from a theoretical point of view must do so in a monologue with themselves. Those who cannot do this must simply listen to my compositions — this is the very best way. Although my compositions are not religious in the strictly liturgical sense, they are filled with religious spirit, and I feel that they sound best of all when performed within a church environment, without musicological prefaces and analyses. In the concert hall, i. e. in "secular" surroundings, they sound completely different... (17.05.1988).
...I do not believe composers who produce hundreds of compositions by the production method... Sophocles once said that three of his verses represent three days' work. "Three days!", cried a mediocre poet. "I could write hundreds in that time!". "Yes", answered Sophocles, "but they would only exist for three days!" (02.08.1989).
...I am sending you the Symphony no. 5 (Amen). It is difficult for me to say anything about this composition; I agree with the words of Schumann: "The best method of talking about music is to be silent about it".
The symphony is difficult for performers. It is evident that, although only six musicians in all take part in the performance, they need a leader. I visualize this leader not as a conductor but as a musician who has entered into the flow of my music and has studied my other compositions, including the Three Compositions, even just a little. Why not a conductor? The minimum of external attributes — gestures and so — and the maximum of internal attributes, i.e. understanding, is demanded of whoever leads the performance of the Fifth Symphony. The less he draws the listener's attention to himself the better. Apart from that, practice shows that even the best musicians sometimes demonstrate a lack of understanding when performing my music. It is possible to play the written notes faithfully but "ruin" a composition (16.04.1990). 

 Frans C. Lemaire "A singular and uncommon fate"

Galina Ustvolskaya's fate was to be as rude, ascetic and obstinate as her music. During the first fifteen years of her creative life (1946—1961), she wrote conventional works of socialist inspiration as well as more personal partitions, which were condemned to the silence of the drawers because their language was too innovative. Even works that were relatively close to Shostakovich's style would have to wait twenty years before being performed in public. Not unambiguously, the only work that seems to have enjoyed a preferential treatment was Ustvolskaya's Piano and Violin Sonata from 1952. It is that very piece of music that had to convince visitors in the USSR, that there were artists who wrote music that was at least modern enough to scare them. The first delegation of American composers going to the USSR, in the autumn of 1958, surely experienced it and one of them, Roy Harris, spoke about the Sonata as "a dreadful kind of thing, dissonant from the beginning to the end". In 1962, it was Stravinsky's and Robert Craft's turn, but the reactions varied a lot, as Craft wrote in his personal diary: "She's only one more of Shostakovich's students", and after listening to her music, Stravinsky declared that he understood what the Iron Curtain actually meant. Such statements may be quite surprising. This applies even to the greatest musicians: None so deaf as those who will not hear.
While keeping well away from people in a minuscule flat, Galina Ustvolskaya refused all interviewers and photographers and declined every invitation, even for works performed abroad. She seemed to belong to another world. Little is known about her, and the information that reached us from indirect sources, like the accounts of other composers (e.g. Shostakovich and Tishchenko) is not realty useful. In the 288 letters Shostakovitch wrote between 1941 and 1974 to a friend of his', Isaak Glickman, who was a musicologist in Leningrad, Ustvolskaya's name was mentioned only three times, which is not very much for a relation underlined by most commentators. One of these letters, dating from 26 February 1960, throws an interesting light on the personality of the woman composer. Shostakovitch was worried about and irritated at her being too modest to accept writing the score for a film called Krotkaya (The sweet lady) after Dostoevsky. Ustvolskaya was actually living in extremely difficult material conditions at that time. "It's the end of everything" Shostakovitch wrote indignantly and in bitter irony: "Modesty is a great Bolshevist virtue Stalin taught us! At this rate we should try and find excuses for Beethoven for having had the immodesty to write his symphonies!" Six months later, on 3 November 1960, the third letter still unfolds another aspect of Ustvolskaya's life. She then lived with a composer called Yuri Balkashin, who died suddenly of an epileptic fit at the age of thirty-seven. Ustvolskaya and Balkashin had known each other for a long time but never got married. Shostakovitch commented that fact by quoting Desdemona in Othello: "It's not you I am in love with but your suffering", and he adds: "That Dostoevsky-like aspect of her character dominates her entire existence and I fear for what the future will bring". That future brought, among other things, the Soviet reality which Shostakovitch knew through and through: being alone, Ustvolskaya lost the housing surface which she and Balkashin were entitled to.1 [...]
To Ustvolskaya, the sixties were a decade of mourning and silence2. "I only write when I am in a state of grace. Then I let my work rest for a long time. When the time comes, I reveal the composition. And if the time does not come, I simply destroy it. I never accept commissions to order." The only work retained in ten years' time was the Duet for Violin and Piano of 1964. It was created in 1968 by Philippe Hirschhorn3, who had won the Belgian Queen Elizabeth Contest the year before.
1966, however, had seen the first production of her 1st Symphony, written in 1955 and based on social poems by Gianni Rodari, an Italian communist poet. Those poems describe the sadness of the capitalist world, with its unemployed, its rag-and-bone men, its people who cannot afford going to the fair, its chimneys,... Although that imagery was entrusted to two children's voices, the work was all but a tremendous success, and would not be played until thirty-six years later.
It's only in 1976 that the VAAP, the institution that was responsible for the royalties, devoted one of its leaflets to Ustvolskaya, who had then reached the age of fifty. Her compositions, however, although few, were to be published sparingly.
It would last untill the end of the 80s until the Western World discovered Galina Ustvolskaya's music. The 1986 Wiener Festwochen probably were the first occasion on which the Grand Duet was performed before a large international live audience. A completely new composition, the so-called 4th "Prayer" Symphony, was first produced outside Leningrad on 24 June 1988, thanks to Roswitha Sperber and the activities of her Institute in Heidelberg operating in favour of woman composers and their work. It was played at the Hamburg Festival of Women Composers in the same year. But Ustvolskaya protested against this feminist distinction and even suggested quite ironically to organize a Festival of Men Composers. "The only thing that matters", she said when refusing the invitation to Hamburg, "is that the music played is at once authentic and strong."
Konstantin Bagrenin's commentary:
1. It was not "lost": she simply moved in 1968 to another flat on Prospect Gagarina where she lived with her husband, Konstantin Bagrenin until 2006.
2. It was in fact a productive period in her life: she worked intensively. Yes, there was mourning and silence but it did not last that long and did not dramatically affect her ability to compose. She was working on something and in the mid 60s, she destroyed her Quartet, Sinfonietta, Sonata for cello and several small pieces. She was highly self-critical and demanding with regards to her music. Two pieces survived this purge — they were saved by Mr. Bagrenin — her Octet and Trio. These two were shown to Ustvolskaya a few years later to her great surprise and she admitted that, in fact, they were good.
3. Philippe Hirschhorn studied at the Leningrad Conservatory in the class of Mikhail Vaiman (violin) and performed the Duetduring his studies, before he left the USSR.

Until very recently, the music of reclusive St Petersburg composer Galina Ustvolskaya (born 17th June 1919) had hardly been heard in Russia, let alone in the West. Five years ago, it was impossible to obtain any of it on compact disc; indeed only two of her works had been recorded in the Soviet Union by 1970 and these were known solely to connoisseurs of the nether regions of the Melodiya catalogue. Ironically both of these pieces have since been repudiated by the composer.

Things began to change in 1992-3 with the earliest foreign recordings and the simultaneous appearance of the first Western documentation of her controversial relationship with Shostakovich. To date, Ustvolskaya's compact discography shows her to be an artist of stubborn self-will uniquely unsuited to a career in the Soviet music service. Quite apart from its individual integrity, her work is driven by a spiritual ideal which would have placed her in diametrical opposition to the Communist state.
For one reason or another, the pursuit of her personal vision excluded Ustvolskaya from mainstream musical life in the USSR. Her music was performed at the Warsaw Autumn Festival during the late Fifties but, at home, she tended to be bracketed with Andrei Volkonsky (a cosmopolitan enfant terrible modernist) as largely beyond the pale. Not that this exclusion was total. For example, her Violin Sonata of 1952 seems to have been officially adopted as a token of the acceptable face of Soviet modernism, being played in 1958 to a visiting American delegation (including the composer Roy Harris who found it "kind of ugly") and trotted out again in 1962 to a party headed by Stravinsky, Robert Craft, and Nicolas Slonimsky. Nor was Ustvolskaya otherwise quite as heroically neglected as some Western idealists have fondly hoped.

Here, as in other aspects of foreign acquaintance with Soviet life, misapprehensions abound. For example, Mark Swed's liner note for David Arden's disc on Koch attempts to portray Shostakovich as an evasive "neurotic" scared openly to challenge the Socialist Realist status quo, as compared with the supposedly uncompromising Ustvolskaya, who was allegedly always "direct and boldly dramatic" and whose art "pulls no punches". Taking a similar line in his notes to Reinbert de Leeuw's hatART CD, Art Lange claims "no evidence of Ustvolskaya compromising with the Party line - she never stooped to writing secular cantatas or programmatically accessible music for theatre or films, or to using recognizable folk material in glibly popular ways".

Had Ustvolskaya really maintained such a stand throughout her career, she would have been unique in the world of Soviet music (not to mention uniquely hungry, in that she would have had no income). In fact the truth, like Soviet reality, was harder than most Western pundits are used to imagining. Ustvolskaya, like any other artist in the USSR needed to live, and to live she had to come to an arrangement with the state.

A more informed commentator, Boris Schwarz, observed in 1972 (Music and Musical Life in Soviet Russia, p. 404) that while Ustvolskaya's Violin Sonata was then regarded as "proof that modernism can survive and coexist with Socialist Realism", the truth was that "her dissonant writing is counterbalanced by some perfectly charming pieces in the best Socialist Realist tradition". Among these "charming" pieces are some occasional cantatas - Stepan Razin's Dream (1948), Hail, Youth! (1950), Dawn Over The Homeland (1952), Man From The High Mountains (1952), Song of Praise (1961) - and several symphonic poems, including Young Pioneers (1950), Children's Suite (1955), The Hero's Exploit (1957), Sports (1958), and Fire on the Steppes (1958). There are also a number of songs and even some cinema music.

A need for purity

The existence of these works is no scandal in itself. Every other "Soviet" composer has similar embarrassing necessities to his or her name. True, Ustvolskaya packed an unusual quantity of these monstrosities into the early part of her career - she seems to have offered up more sops to the Soviet state in one decade than Shostakovich did in five - yet the scorching intensity of her personal "for the drawer" composing is more than sufficient to show that she can only have submitted to these compromises because she had to. Moreover in Ustvolskaya's case there remains a special point of interest. The reason why Mark Swed, Art Lange, and other Western commentators have overlooked her many reluctant contributions to Socialist Realism is that, unlike Shostakovich, who kept his forced concessions in his opus list for all to see, Ustvolskaya has chosen to eliminate hers in order to keep her oeuvre ostensibly pure.

Speaking of her Clarinet Trio of 1949, the composer has said that "all my music from this composition onward is 'spiritual' in nature". Whatever else this implies, it means that all but one of the ten manifestly unspiritual works listed above are, by definition, not her music. This is both understandable and fair. No one of creative spirit wishes to dwell on hackwork done under political duress - and nor should they be made to. (The fact that, until recently, the Children's Suite and Fire on the Steppes were the only works of Ustvolskaya which Melodiya deemed worthy of recording must have added insult to injury, notwithstanding the much-needed roubles accruing to her thereby.)

What remains significant is that the composer could so little tolerate sullying her list with these pieces that she took the quasi-Stalinist step of erasing them from her personal history. A reflection of her fierce intensity of spirit, this simultaneously reveals a streak of absolutism which, by all accounts, functions naively in her personal dealings. She nurses ethical standards of an unworldly exaltedness, breaks off relationships at the merest hint of bad faith, and is in general as elusive and unbending as her music suggests. While not conventionally introverted, hers is the work of an artist travelling relentlessly into the heart of a private vision, with no distracted (or forgiving) glances in any other direction - a sort of musical edition of Simone Weil.

It is not difficult to imagine the disgust someone of Ustvolskaya's temperament must have felt at having to filthy her hands with concessions to the Soviet Communist Party. Referring to her slab-like sonorities delivered with piledriving staccato attack, Dutch critic Elmer Schoenberger has called her "the lady with the hammer". Perhaps more accurate would be "the lady with the flail". The puritanical lashing fury of her music often suggests the image of Christ flogging the moneylenders from the temple, while several writers have remarked on the "Old Testament" vengefulness they hear in her work. There is a pounding masculinity in many of Ustvolskaya's scores - few men, let alone women, have written music as violent as this - which bespeaks an affinity more for Jehovah than for Jesus, for the railing prophets of the Exile rather than the Gospel message of love. (Not entirely coincidentally, she dislikes having her music performed by women.)

Critics have strained for parallels between Ustvolskaya's music and that of her nominal teacher Shostakovich - but, aside from a predilection for bleakly oscillating semitones and brief, rhythmically emphatic mottos, few similarities have been found. One close resemblance does, however, exist. If Ustvolskaya's experience of spiritual repression under Communism cultivated an inner kinship with the moral anger of the Old Testament, then Shostakovich, particularly in his later music, expresses something very similar - and in similar language. InThe New Shostakovich (1990), the present writer noted a motto link between Shostakovich's music for the 1964 film of Hamlet and his cantata The Execution of Stepan Razin, written in the same year:

"These scores share a militant simplicity, almost puritanical in its distrust of anything colourful or soft-edged. Inherited from the Thirteenth Symphony is an edge of irascible Old Testament violence, crashing down in vengeful blows from an enlarged percussion section. Both Stepan Razin and Hamlet feature these flagellating chords, cracked out with the help of the whip and woodblock introduced in the Thirteenth's third movement."That Shostakovich had a need for sackcloth and ashes after the Twelfth Symphony is possible - but it squares neither with his usually forceful creativity nor his, by now, extreme toughness of mind. More probable is that after the failure of the third thaw (and more particularly, the banning of one of his most personal and outspoken works) he was simply furious with the Soviet mediocracy and the morally rotten art it brandished as exemplary. Solzhenitsyn's description of the Writers' Union as 'a rabble of hucksters and moneychangers' voices the same vituperative disgust as Shostakovich's Hamlet and Stepan Razin.
"It is as if the composer has seen too much evil, suffered too much duplicity. Like Britten, he ponders in old age a kind of Noh theatre of moral parable, chiselling away the superfluous to expose the essential human beneath, bereft of its camouflage of vanity and pretence. The further into the late period this theme is pursued, the more extreme it becomes. Lashing 'infamy and crime', 'those who jabber lies', and 'the malevolent crowd' in his Suite on Verses of Michelangelo, Shostakovich prowls the verge of misanthropy like some latterday Ecclesiastes, the whipcrack chords of Hamlet and Stepan Razin raining down in the eighth movement as though the scars of calumny were as livid to him in 1974 as they had been in 1936, 1948, and 1962."

The parallels between Shostakovich and Ustvolskaya in the former's Suite on Verses of Michelangelo are specially interesting in that this work also contains, in its ninth movement, a folk-like theme from the finale of one of Ustvolskaya's early pieces: the Clarinet Trio of 1949. (Conceivably Shostakovich's Stepan Razin of 1964 may likewise be connected in some way with Ustvolskaya's Stepan Razin of 1948.) What, though, apart from a shared mood and method, does this link indicate?

Ustvolskaya and Shostakovich

Ustvolskaya was a pupil of Shostakovich in Leningrad between 1937 and 1947, and they maintained a close, and closely guarded, relationship. That she represented something special to him, both artistically and personally, is beyond doubt. Equally clear is that this closeness was eventually explosive. In an interview with Ustvolskaya conducted by Dutch journalist Thea Derks (Tempo 193, July 1995) it emerges that Shostakovich proposed to her "during the Fifties", that she refused him, and that their relationship appears to have ended acrimoniously soon afterwards. In a recent letter to her German publisher, Ustvolskaya writes dismissively of Shostakovich:

"Then, as now, I determinedly rejected his music, and unfortunately his personality only intensified this negative attitude... One thing remains as clear as day: a seemingly eminent figure such as Shostakovich, to me, is not eminent at all, on the contrary he burdened my life and killed my best feelings."
The true story of this affair may never be known. Ustvolskaya refuses to say more. Yet, during the Forties, their involvement seems to have been intense. Mstislav Rostropovich knew both of them around 1948 and records of Ustvolskaya that "she certainly regarded Shostakovich very highly, and indeed there was a very 'tender' relationship between them." Rostropovich further notes that Ustvolskaya was one of the close friends who gave Shostakovich emotional support during the aftermath of the Zhdanov Decree. Elizabeth Wilson (whose book Shostakovich: A Life Remembered is the source of Rostropovich's observations) reveals that Shostakovich's marriage to Nina Varzar was, by mutual agreement, "open" and that his liaison with Ustvolskaya was an "open secret".

For his part, Shostakovich was obviously deeply struck by Ustvolskaya, calling her his "musical conscience" and submitting his scores for her approval. He supposedly defended her music against official attack, declaring: "I am convinced that the music of G. I. Ustvolskaya will achieve world fame, and be valued by all who hold truth to be the essential element of music." In a letter to her he acknowledged that she had influenced him - adding, perhaps cryptically, that he'd failed to influence her.

How, when, and for what duration their relationship exceeded that of teacher and pupil is, for now, unknown. The early Fifties were, by all accounts, a desperately isolated period in Shostakovich's life and his need for close companionship, evidently unsatisfied by his marriage, may then have caused him to lean too heavily on Ustvolskaya with disastrous results. (It may be significant that the same quotation from her Clarinet Trio which appears in Shostakovich's Suite on Verses by Michelangelo first turns up in his work at a pivotal point in his stressful Fifth Quartet of 1952.)

A similarly intense, though chiefly epistolatory, relationship developed between Shostakovich and another of his students, Elmira Nazhirova between 1953 and 1956. (This, too, led to a musical reference in one of his key works: the horn call in the third movement of the Tenth Symphony.) Possibly the Nazhirova affair began after the break with Ustvolskaya, the former filling the absence left by the latter. There again, Marina Sabinina records that Ustvolskaya was still part of Shostakovich's intimate entourage in late October 1955 (at the Moscow première of his First Violin Concerto). This suggests that the break with Ustvolskaya happened near to, if not consequent upon, Shostakovich's sudden unexpected marriage to Margarita Kainova in July 1956. In this case, Ustvolskaya, rather than Shostakovich, may have been the rejected party.
Whatever the truth, Ustvolskaya's subsequent bitter repudiation of a man she had been close to for nearly twenty years indicates that the break-up was painful and final - so much so that the absolutist streak which drove to her to purge her opus list of all "compromised" material may likewise have prompted a retrospective revision of her relationship with Shostakovich. In his foreword to Ustvolskaya's Sikorski catalogue of 1990, her friend and protector the composer Viktor Suslin (b. 1942) insists that "on several occasions Shostakovich supported her in the Union of Soviet Composers against opposition from his colleagues". Yet, five years later, talking to Thea Derks, he relays a different version of the past - one clearly emanating from Ustvolskaya herself:
"Madame Ustvolskaya is always represented as a pupil of Shostakovich, and time and again she is forced to read that he defended her music when she graduated from the conservatory. This information stems from one single letter Shostakovich wrote to Edison Denisov. At the time, however, Galina was astounded and deeply disappointed by his conspicuous silence. It was not Shostakovich, but Mikhail Gnessin, who defended her."
If Ustvolskaya was so deeply disillusioned by Shostakovich at the time of her graduation in 1947, why did she remain in such close proximity to him for a further eight years? Has the absolutism intrinsic to her music - one hesitates, if only out of politeness, to call it "fanaticism" - led to a wholesale rewriting of her personal history? This would not be at odds with the personality conveyed in Derks' account of her bizarre "interview" with Ustvolskaya (conducted through Viktor Suslin, despite the fact that journalist and composer were alike fluent in both Russian and German). The abrupt, anxious, explosively eccentric old woman Ustvolskaya has become may bear only a partial resemblance to the 37-year-old who broke with Shostakovich in 1956.

Shostakovich dedicated no works to Ustvolskaya and there is no mention of her in Testimony. Several quite different conclusions might be drawn from this and there is too little evidence at present to choose between them. All we can be sure of is that the quotation from Ustvolskaya's Clarinet Trio in the ninth movement of Shostakovich's Suite on Verses of Michelangelo shows that he did not blot her completely out of his mind after she rejected him. Louis Blois's thoughtful observations on the textual context of this latter quotation (Tempo182, September 1992) - in particular his hint that the music, as well as the poem, may be taken as "an elegy of unrequited love" - suggest that, so far as Shostakovich was concerned, the fire had not quite gone out twenty years later. If this is so, the dual motifs of ascetic incorruptibility and eroticism in the Michelangelo cycle perhaps ultimately converge on thoughts of Ustvolskaya; indeed, she may also be present in the stark Symbolist shadows of Shostakovich's austere Seven Romances on Poems of Alexander Blok.

The Shostakovich-Ustvolskaya connection is full of interest for Shostakovich fans. Was his Piano Quintet (whose Bachian prelude is described by the present writer in The New Shostakovich as "the jeremiad of a modern yurodivy, foretelling weeping and gnashing of teeth") an early by-product of their relationship? Did she introduce him to the Psalms, which he claims in Testimony constitute a sub-text to his Seventh Symphony? - Or was all of this independently suggested by his studies of Bach's Preludes and Fugues and Stravinsky'sSymphony of Psalms during the late Thirties?
Yet, for all this, Ustvolskaya's music bears only a distant relationship to Shostakovich's. Her often radically skeletal polyphony has been plausibly cited as influential on Shostakovich's late style. More obviously, the two composers share a penchant for the semitone and an abiding reliance on the passacaglia form - though here the influence, if there was any, must surely have been from Shostakovich to Ustvolskaya. (The second "theme" of the first movement of her Clarinet Trio recalls - albeit only in the most basic rhythmic-harmonic sense - the passacaglia in the second movement of Shostakovich's First Quartet of 1938.) Apart from that, similarities between the two composers are thin on the ground; indeed precedents for Ustvolskaya's style in general are difficult to discern.

An art without influence?

Parallels have been drawn between Ustvolskaya and figures as diverse as Hindemith, Bartok, Pettersson, Pärt, and the Minimalists. The Stravinsky of Les Noces and Symphony of Psalms is certainly audible in her Octet (1949-50). A commonality with Panufnik's simplicity and blocklike sectionality and the percussive attack of Gorecki's Lerchenmusik is likewise clear, if coincidental. More curiously, in her First and (particularly) her Second Piano Sonata, there seems to be a background influence from the hieratic music of Satie, especially that of his Rosicrucian phase. (The two styles share a lofty symbolic ambience, static tonality, steady crotchet pace, and inclination towards passacaglia/variation form, although these similarities are disguised by Ustvolskaya's violence of attack.)
Aside from a Scelsi-like absorption in single notes and overtone harmonics, however, Ustvolskaya is nearest in style and concept to middle-period Messiaen. This is suggested by similarities between her Fifth Prelude and "Par lui tout a été fait" from Vingt regards sur l'enfant Jésus, and (partly through the instrumentation) between her Clarinet Trio and the Quatuor pour le fin du temps. It is also apparent in the first and last movements of her Fifth Piano Sonata and virtually explicit in the Duet for violin and piano (1964), which, in parts, bears a resemblance to Cantéjodaya. Her mood, though, is dark and apocalyptic compared to the Frenchman's dazzling acid colours, and always deeply obsessional. (Whether Ustvolskaya knew Messiaen's music is presently unknown. As the work of a Catholic modernist, his scores were excoriated as degenerate by Khrennikov at the 1948 Composers' Union Congress, and are unlikely to have circulated in Soviet conservatories during the Fifties.)

Much of how we eventually come to pigeonhole Ustvolskaya will depend on what we think her music is saying. Doubtless there are clues to be found in musicological details, but since the composer severely discourages us from examining her methods too closely ("I implore all those who really love my music to refrain from theoretical analysis of it"), it seems appropriate to judge it from a respectful distance by trying to understand it as a whole. This, though, is no easy task. While Ustvolskaya herself is convinced that her meaning will be transparent to anyone who approaches her work in the right spirit, very little music is as enigmatically personal as hers, and it is often difficult to decide what this right spirit might be. For example, in attempting to summarise Ustvolskaya's art, Frans C. Lemaire (Music in 20th Century Russia, Fayard, 1994) waxes cosmological, likening it to a distant star on which gravity has collapsed the universe into the density of an orange:
"This state of density prior to the birth of the universe without doubt corresponds to a spiritual condition... one before all religion, before the Cross... In this cosmic, non-terrestrial dimension, nature has no place... Man himself, that incorrigible romantic, has no role here."
This might make more sense had Ustvolskaya not composed symphonies imploring the mercy of Christ and addressing God in conventional Christian terms via The Lord's Prayer. Hers is certainly not impersonal music of the sort Lemaire suggests; if anything, the opposite. Such is its stylisation, however, that it can easily be mistaken for something inhumanly supramundane. For example, the cover of Reinbert de Leeuw's disc for hatART features an abstract by Konstantin Malevich, a link underlined in the sleeve note by Art Lange, who claims that "Ustvolskaya is writing Suprematist music". Yet if by this, Lange means that Ustvolskaya's music is purely abstract, there are several reasons to doubt it. Much of the otherwise stark and uningratiating Violin Sonata (1952) sounds like "music-speech", its repetitive motto units suggesting verbal phrases (indeed, at times, words of endearment). Again, in the Octet, there is a strong sense of emotional-pictorial images abstracted to the limit of "representation" - but not beyond it. Unlike Malevich's Red Square, in which his "peasant woman" has completely disappeared into planar abstraction, Ustvolskaya's "peasants" in her Octet (if such they are) remain vestigially identifiable. If there is a parallel to her music in the 20th century Russian visual arts, it would seem more accurate to nominate the abstract expressionism of Vasily Kandinsky.
The composer herself is of little help in elucidating this. We have it on her assurance that her art is spiritual without possessing specifically religious associations - yet, in her work of the last quarter century, she has regularly used Catholic liturgical titles and concepts, and insists that the best place to perform and hear it is in church. That her concept of God is both vividly apprehended and thoroughly idiosyncratic is clear from the absence of tenderness and redemption in her music, which seems predominantly apocalyptic in tone and outlook. The texts she sets in her Second, Third, and Fourth symphonies are by Hermannus Contractus, a German monk of the 11th century who was almost completely paralysed and could hardly speak.Pre sumably the extremity of Hermannus' predicament appeals to a corresponding extremity - perhaps even a martyr-complex - in Ustvolskaya. (This suggests a parallel with Lili Boulanger's setting of the work of a comparably disabled woman poet in her final song Dans l'immense Tristesse.) Whatever the ultimate nature of Ustvolskaya's vision, there is no avoiding the fact that the absolutism of its hair-shirt integrity is unlikely to endear it to more than a small audience of devotees.
Viktor Suslin has spoken of Ustvolskaya's Third Symphony as "a form of exorcism". This description might easily be applied to almost everything in her opus-list, the consistency of whose style is rigid from the start. Suslin has further offered that Ustvolskaya's work is at once spiritual and temporal, and that its temporal face has been definitively conditioned by her life in Soviet society:
"Music such as hers could only develop in that place, at that time. In this century, St Petersburg witnessed numerous horrors, of which the siege in the Second World War is only one."
If the fate of Galina Ustvolskaya is, finally, to be seen as a late 20th century echo of Heinrich Schütz in his capacity as the musical voice of catastrophe-wracked 17th century Protestant Europe, that will be an honourable, if intrinsically unpopular, role. Humour - indeed any form of relieving contrast - is scarcely to be found in her work, and, though doubtless ruthlessly true both to its times and its composer's inner voice, it remains difficult to penetrate and, for much of its extent, difficult to listen to, let alone to love.

A brief survey

Ustvolskaya's official catalogue runs to twenty-one works and includes five symphonies, six piano sonatas, and a number of works for chamber groupings. What is crucial to grasp is that she regards all her music, for whatever instruments, as implicitly orchestral in scale.
Calling an eight-minute, one movement piece for four performers a "symphony" (her Fourth) may seem like the gesture of a provocateuse, but the composer is serious and her description plays a functional role in defining the music's cosmic scope. Very probably her preference for small groups stems from an early recognition that private performances by friends would be the only way she would get to hear her scores during her lifetime. Yet, as she forcefully insists, her pieces, whether for soloist or anything up to ten players, are never "merely" chamber music. (When her Grand Duet was programmed at the 65th Festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music in Switzerland in 1991, she made the organisers change the classification of the recital from Chamber Music to Concert.) Imaginatively, Ustvolskaya's music is built on a cosmic scale with a ritualistic dimension she prefers realised in a church setting. While often only a few musicians may be at work in her pieces, it is up to us to hear the orchestra and choir within her striving sonorities and frantic dynamics. (Her Fifth Piano Sonata contains the marking ffffff.)
So far, half a dozen discs have featured works by Ustvolskaya, providing an incomplete view of her art. In the last year, however, the Belgium company Megadisc has begun to issue a complete edition in six volumes, recorded in St Petersburg by Oleg Malov and the St Petersburg Soloists. The first four volumes of this series are already available; the remaining two, devoted to the symphonies, will be issued around the beginning of 1996.
Malov, Professor of Piano at the St Petersburg Conservatory, has been associated with Ustvolskaya's music for the last twenty years. He has given most of her premières and her Third Piano Sonata is dedicated to him. Though less well recorded than, say, the discs by Reinbert de Leeuw's group, Malov and his St Petersburg Soloists are by and large far more purposeful and energetic than their recorded Western rivals. (The London Musici's version of the Octet, for example, is lifeless by comparison.) This, of course, stems from the Russians' proximity to the composer, whose sometimes obscure wishes - no bar-lines, only maximum permissible speeds given - have evidently been communicated to them with an inspiring forcefulness. No one seriously interested in Ustvolskaya can be without the Megadisc series as a whole, which must inevitably serve as a template and standard by which all other recordings will be judged. That said, Ustvolskaya has recently withdrawn her support for Malov and transferred it to de Leeuw - although this appears to be solely the consequence of Malov's desire to play the music of other composers as well as hers.
For Shostakovich devotees, the main work of interest will, of course, be the Clarinet Trio, which may well come to be regarded as Ustvolskaya's best work. Of the three versions available in her current discography, the Barton Workshop's on Etcetera is ruled out by an excessively precipitate reading of the opening Espressivo, reducing a fifteen-minute work to eleven minutes. Reinbert de Leeuw, on the other hand, stretches this movement out too far. Exactly bifurcating the time-differences between Barton and de Leeuw, Malov's group brings in the most convincing performance, albeit that his clarinet player is closely recorded to the point of occasional distortion. Honours are even in the quiet, motionless Dolce, but the Russians win again in the closing Energico, projecting the main theme (reminiscent of the climactic second section of the Second Piano Sonata) in a deliberate, pesante manner which allows the secondary "folk" tune (the one quoted by Shostakovich) to sound naturally, rather than being hastily garbled, as in the rival versions. In the St Petersburg recording, the effect is of an upsurge of rebellious popular feeling, such as is suggested by the variation finale of Shostakovich's Second Quartet.
If the Megadisc issues are generally first choices in this repertoire, it should be borne in mind that some of the Western discs are more varied in content and sometimes constitute valid alternative views. (De Leeuw's recitals are foremost in this category.) Furthermore, the Megadisc series suffers from sparse banding - which makes it impossible to sample individual movements - and, on the piano sonata disc, inadequate gaps between works. On the other hand, Megadisc do very well with their sleeve designs and full liner notes. -

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