as i've implied here before, Schnittke is probably my favorite modern composer. this disc was my introduction to his work and, oddly enough, i bought it at a Tower Records (RIP) based solely on the cover art - love it when that happens. it starts with the Piano Trio, a very cool piece that combines Viennese music circa Mozart with Alfie's trademark brand of polystylistic modernism (peep the 5:15 mark of track 1). but the real slobberknocker is the Quintet, my favorite of all his compositions. i remember driving at night the first time it played on my car stereo and being so engrossed that i literally pulled over and sat there until it was done. to this day i don't think i've heard music more terrifying and full of despair. as it is, i can barely listen to it, sort of like a really depressing movie (Dancer in the Dark? Requiem for a Dream?) that you avoid re-watching but that captivates you with its beauty.
i found out later that it was begun after his mother's death, then shelved after writing it made him have a breakdown, and then finished a while after that. it struck me yesterday that the 5 mov'ts sort of model the 5 stages of grief. the opening presents a haunting theme in the piano that subsequently stagnates with false start after false start, refusing any real development and crafting a perversely insistent denial. the 2nd mov't is an angry, evil waltz, with the strings crowding each other's space with claustrophobic quarter-tone lines that derail any attempts at lyricism, the piano all the while pounding out a demented rhythm in 3/4... and it just spirals down from there until the finale. maybe another composer would end on a happy note, and at first it seems like Schnittke is going to do just that; the lovely major key theme grows in fits and starts, floating along placidly. and then the strings enter, reintroducing brutal snippets of phrases from the other movements. maybe this is the truest manifestation of the acceptance of grief - life goes on, getting easier a little bit at a time. but maybe the pain of it never truly goes away, always lingering and ready to strike.
none more black