08/10/1998 10:35:34 FOCUS Russia mourns composer Schnittke
(Recasts with ceremony underway)
By Peter Graff
MOSCOW, Aug 10 (Reuters) - Hundreds of mourners laid flowers
on Monday at the coffin of Russian composer Alfred Schnittke in
the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory where he once taught.
Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko and some of the world's
greatest musicians paid their last respects to Schnittke, whose
body was flown to Moscow on Saturday from Hamburg, Germany,
where he had died, aged 63, on August 3 after a long illness.
The mourners filed past the open coffin at the foot of the
stage in the famed concert hall, where Schnittke's last, ninth
symphony received its premiere two months ago.
He was to be interred later on Monday in the cemetery at
Moscow's mediaeval Novodevichy convent, where many of country's
great composers, writers and public figures are buried.
Schnittke, who composed symphonies, concerti, operas, choral
works and more than 60 film scores, gained worldwide
appreciation for his work, which drew on the ancient as well as
the modern, the lyrical as well as the cerebral.
Among the Russian virtuosi paying homage were violinist
Gidon Kremer and cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, who had been
tireless supporters of the composer's music in the West before
and after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
On the day of Schnittke's death, Kremer told Reuters: "His
music always was and will remain a sincere statement on the
conflicts of our times and the conflicts of the country he lived
in most of his life, the former Soviet Union.
"It reflected the complexity of the battle between free
spirits and totalitarian ideology."
Like earlier Soviet composers, such as Sergei Prokofiev and
Dmitry Shostakovich, Schnittke was often caught between the
abstract language of 20th century classical music and a state
that was sceptical of modernism.
Like them, he often drew inspiration from the past. His
fourth symphony used elements from Russian Orthodox, Roman
Catholic, Lutheran and Jewish music.
"He saw himself as a medium who would connect the past with
the future," Kremer said.
Speaking at Monday's ceremony, conductor Gennady
Rozhdestvensky compared Schnittke with some of the greatest
Russian composers of the century.
"Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Schnittke ... put
the entire huge arsenal of contemporary musical language to the
service of melody," he said.
"In Schnittke's universe reigned beauty, truth, perfection
of form and greatness of soul''.
President Boris Yeltsin, in a telegram of condolence to
Schnittke's widow, Irina, said: "Winning worldwide renown, he
glorified our national culture and enriched the tradition of
Russian classical music with his unique, innovative ideas."
Schnittke was born on November 24, 1934 in the town of
Engels on the Volga river. His mother was an ethnic German and
his father a Jewish journalist who had moved to Russia from
Frankfurt. At the end of his life, Schnittke held dual