Russian composer Alfred Schnittke’s chaotic modern classical music, a style he called “polystylism,” became widely known to Western audiences in the 1980s. He is considered by many to be among the ranks of the very most important late 20th composers.
From The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross.
In the cantata Seid nüchtern und wachet of 1983, a setting of the 16th-century History of Dr. Johann Faust, the gruesome scene of Faust’s going-under is delivered by a Satanically amplified mezzo-soprano: in the BIS recording, Inger Blom presides over a hectic cabaret orchestra like some Ethel Merman of the apocalypse.
It may not amount to “ordinary rock-music,” as the composer intended, but it manages to dumbfound listeners all the same. This cantata, one of Schnittke’s most viscerally thrilling pieces, will furnish material for an upcoming opera on Faust themes.
“Faust is the theme of my whole life, and I am already afraid of it. I don’t think I shall ever complete it.”
He did, although it took more than a decade (due to a stroke, Soviet travel restrictions and poor health generally) before Schnittke’s Historia von D. Johann Fausten was finally completed. It premiered in Hamburg in 1995. Alfred Schnittke died in 1998.
The clip below of the Faust cantata (VII. Es geschah (“It came to pass”) is taken from the BBC documentary The Unreal World Of Alfred Schnittke directed by Donald Sturrock in 1983. The performance is by the Malmö Symphony Chorus and Orchestra with Inger Blom, conducted by James DePreist
Thank you Michael Backes of Los Angeles, California!