Alfred Schnittke's Cello Sonata No. 2 (1993/94): Referential music in the composer's late style

Date of Completion

January 2006






The challenging stylistic turn manifest in Alfred Schnittke's post-1992 compositions was, in many ways, a modest leap along a line that he had been tracing for some time. It may be accounted for as an acknowledgement, conscious or otherwise, of anti-postmodern criticism, as a natural maturation of artistic priorities, as consequence of biographical circumstances, or any combination of these reasons. The Second Cello Sonata (1993/94) is representative of the style in which Schnittke composed between the time that he resumed work following his second stroke, in the fall of 1991, and his third stroke, in 1994. The first chapter of this dissertation discusses the substance of this stylistic change and its biographical context while beginning to lay the foundation of an interpretation of the Second Cello Sonata. Another chapter is devoted to a discussion of the concept of duality in Schnittke's work.^ The analysis of the sonata examines the form of the work and recommends the development of a methodology that addresses the paradigmatic structures operant in Schnittke's works rather a syntagmatic approach. The composer's late-style musical syntax is limited, rarely departing from what this analysis refers to as anabasis, catabasis, circulatio and two other prominent cells, all of which, along with structural analogy, temporally exotic moment/static forms and ubiquitous hidden tonality, are found to function as signifiers.^ The Second Cello Sonata is a richly coded work of art. The main emphasis of this analysis is semiotic in nature, striving to identify the abundant signs, references, allusions and at least one prominent quotation within the sonata. Schnittke's musical language hides references to Monteverdi, Purcell, Bach, Schubert, Liszt, Mahler, Strauss and Lutosławski as well as many of his own works (including the contemporaneously-written Eighth Symphony and Fünf Fragmente zu Bildern von Hieronymus Bosch). The strength of these references and the concordance of meaning associated with their objects suggest a narrative of struggle and future-oriented contemplation of death and resurrection from an ambivalent, personal perspective.^