One of the eternal questions in relating to art is how to separate one’s feeling for the art from one’s feelings for the artist. This is not the least bit new; it’s a problem that is probably as old as art itself. There have been so very many artists whose own lives and statements fall well short of the art they produce. I find myself thinking anew, as one of the oldest and yet most irritatingly persistent of hatreds, anti-Semitism, just keeps arising again like the very worst of pennies, of Richard Wagner.
You can barely read a biography of Wagner that covers the man’s life in any depth beyond “He was born in 1813, died in 1883, and wrote operas” without confronting what a staggering boor he was, a fact which…
You know what, to hell with that. I love Wagner’s music, but I don’t want to write about Wagner right now, not when my country’s discourse is once again mainstreaming awful crap about the Jews again.
Let’s talk about Jewish composers instead. We’ll start with Alfred Schnittke.
Schnittke, of whose music I am mostly ignorant, was a Russian composer of Jewish and German ancestry. I’m sure that particular blend of ethnicities and nationalities made for some strife in his life. He was born in 1934 in Russia, and started his musical education in 1946, after the war and after the Holocaust. Not long after, he moved along with the rest of his family back to Russia, where he lived for most of the rest of his life. Thus he had to toil in the air of state control that was the artistic scene in Soviet Russia, until he finally left for good in 1990. Schnittke died in 1998.
His music–and I am going on reference here, rather than my own personal insight–is influenced early on by the great Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich, but later on in his life, as great artists do, he developed his own sound and voice. It’s a voice I know little about. So many voices to hear, so little time!
This work is a ballet called Sketches. In a sequence of twenty-two short pieces, Schnittke puts on display a great deal of sardonic wit, seemingly poking fun at the entire proceedings. He even goes so far as to quote or reference other classical composers along the way, and his use of rhythm and color are infectiously amusing. One of the segments even utilizes a spoken-voice part, which threw me off the first time I heard it; at first I thought one of my other open tabs had stumbled upon a voice recording.
Here is Sketches by Alfred Schnittke.
I almost played this yesterday, but it wasn’t Tuesday, and some things are sacred.
Yeah, that’s what happens when I click “Publish” instead of scheduling!