Alfred Schnittke
Gogol Suite



by vanderb0b USER (63 Reviews)
October 8th, 2011 | 9 replies

Release Date: 1980 | Tracklist

Alfred Schnittke was, foremost, a master of drama. Whether it was Faustus lying dismembered and bloodied in the Faust Cantana or the terrible Voland hosting a ball of undead souls in the Master And Margarita soundtrack, Schnittke’s music radiated tension. Indeed, even the composer’s non-programatic works convey a feeling of conflict and intrigue, such as the first Concerto Grosso, where it almost seems like the two soloists are actors in some demonic, hellish tragedy. It should, therefore, come as no great surprise that the composer was asked to provide the score for a theatrical performance of the works of Russian author Nikolai Gogol, and it should be even less of a surprise that the resulting composition, now known as the Gogol Suite, was a resounding success.

Stylistically, the Gogol Suite - probably Schnittke’s least demanding work - represents an often forgotten humorous side of the composer. Behind the dark, brooding, dissonant works that the composer is (rightfully) best known for was a biting, frequently-satirical wit, which is fully expressed here. Consider the Suite’s overture: a series of majestic, solemn chords open the movement until a cymbal crash ushers in an agitated theme carried by squawking violins. Trumpets, pianos, and glockenspiels enter one by one and the music crescendoes into a tempestuous cacophony. And just when the climax is reached, the orchestra suddenly starts to play the opening measures of Beethoven’s fifth - and all this in the course of just a minute and a half! It’s highly unexpected and rather clever, and one can easily picture Schnittke grinning slyly as he writes down the notes.

The music here manages to capture the eccentric and surrealistic style of Gogol: harpsichords crawl like spiders, glockenspiels dance festive melodies, and violins spiral around in melancholy waltzes. As usual with Schnittke’s music, the Gogol Suite is highly polystylistic - its eight movements run the gamut from classical-styled works (Mvmnt II: Chichikov’s Childhood), to distinctly modern compositions (Mvmnt VIII: The Legacy). Indeed, the fifth movement, Ferdinand VIII, is a spoken interlude in which a narrator nonsensically quotes Gogol’s Diary of a Madman, a short story about a schizophrenic, over reprises of the pervious movement.

The Gogol Suite is probably the best example of Schnittke’s ‘easier’ music, which was mostly limited to film scores, and is undoubtedly the best starting point for those curious about the composer’s highly extensive catalog. While it doesn’t quite reach the heights of Schnittke’s more challenging and, ultimately, engrossing opuses, it remains a very enjoyable work and is arguably the best musical representation of Gogol’s writings.

“But I feel much annoyed by an event which is about to take place tomorrow; at seven o’clock the earth is going to sit on the moon. This is foretold by the famous English chemist, Wellington.”
-Nikolai Gogol, Diary of a Madman

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user ratings (2)

Comments:Add a Comment 
October 8th 2011


Album Rating: 4.0

Rather short review for a rather short album/composition. Hard to decide between a 3.5 and a 4, settled on the latter after a bit of thought. Anyone even barely interested in classical music should listen to these:

October 8th 2011


This is as tense and dramatic as described. Good review!

October 8th 2011


Cool man. Nice review.

October 8th 2011


I need to hear this. It sounds awesome.
Nice, concise review.
Are there any others composers you would recommend?

Digging: Seven Impale - City of the Sun

October 8th 2011


Alban Berg
Dmitri Shostakovich
Gyorgy Ligeti
Charles ives

Quite a few others.

October 8th 2011


Not sure if my English is improving or you're getting better and better in reviewing. My guess is the 2nd fact.

October 8th 2011


fuck yeah

October 9th 2011


Album Rating: 4.0

Thanks! On a somewhat unrelated note, I finally got to see Gidon Kremer, my favorite violinist, last night playing Sibelius' D Minor Concerto. Incredible performance.

Are there any others composers you would recommend?

I'll second all of taylor's recs. Also, Alexander Scriabin

and Sergei Prokofiev

and Arnold Schoenberg

Not sure if my English is improving or you're getting better and better in reviewing. My guess is the 2nd fact.

Thank you! I suppose, though, that it's a bit of both. It seems like we've both become a lot better at English since we joined - me through my reviews and you through the Progject account.

March 30th 2013


needs more love

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