In 1980 Soviet Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov began a series of “postludes,” a genre representing, in his words, a “collecting of echoes, a form opening not to the end, as is more usual, but to the beginning.” This article examines Silvestrov’s Symphony no. 5 (1980–82), and the theory, practice, and reception of his evolving “post” style. The symphony represents a unique congruence of modernism and postmodernism, nostalgia and continuity, expressed at the end of the Soviet Union, the end of the twentieth century, and what many believed to be the end of history. Completed near the conclusion of the Brezhnev period of stagnation, the symphony was intended to assuage the public’s acute dissatisfaction with life in the USSR. Yet when it was first heard in the mid-1980s, it offered a comforting familiarity amid the bewildering acceleration of perestroika. Examining Silvestrov’s “post” style requires considering the sociocultural impact of his sense of ending by treating his eschatology as a useful fiction that illuminates the conflicting sensations of stasis and acceleration during the last decades of the USSR. This article draws on interviews with Silvestrov and his close associates, as well as the Silvestrov Collection at the Paul Sacher Stiftung.
Valentin Silvestrov and the Echoes of Music History
Peter J. Schmelz is associate professor of musicology and chair of the Music Department at Washington University in St. Louis. He is currently completing a book on polystylism as cultural practice in the late USSR, focusing on the music of Alfred Schnittke and Valentin Silvestrov. He received a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship in 2011, and his first book, Such Freedom, If Only Musical: Unofficial Soviet Music during the Thaw (Oxford, 2009), won an ASCAP Deems Taylor Award in 2010.
Peter Schmelz; Valentin Silvestrov and the Echoes of Music History. Journal of Musicology 1 April 2014; 31 (2): 231–271. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jm.2014.31.2.231
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