Galina Ustvolskaya

'We should only play music that is genuine and strong' - Galina Ustvolskaya

Reclusive St Petersburg composer Galina Ivanovna Ustvolskaya died on Friday 22 December 2006, aged eighty-seven, in the city of her birth (on 17 June 1919).

Her teacher at the Leningrad Conservatory, Dmitri Shostakovich (from 1939 until 1947), who proposed to her after the death of his first wife, is famously quoted as saying 'I am talent, you are a phenomenon', and that 'I am convinced that her music will achieve worldwide fame, valued by all who see truth to be the primary element in music'.

Abandoning the socialist idiom forced on her by the Soviet authorities, Ustvolskaya gradually introduced Christian subject matter to her austere, repetitive and intensely personal musical style. Based on tension and density, her works are all large scale in intent, regardless of actual length or forces employed. ('My music is never chamber music, not even in the case of a solo sonata.') She commented that there was no link between her music and that of any other composer, living or dead. This music was almost completely unheard in Russia until 1992-3, when the first foreign recordings and documentation of her contraversial relationship with Shostakovich began to appear.

Her slow-moving, obsessive, dissonant writing was counterbalanced by 'charming' pieces in acceptable Soviet style, such as the occasional cantatas Stepan Razin's Dream (1948), Hail, Youth! (1950), Dawn Over The Homeland (1952), Man From The High Mountains (1952) and Song of Praise (1961), plus symphonic poems, songs and cinema music.

Further information:


A selection of articles about Galina Ustvolskaya

CD Spotlight. Truth in Music - The Zodiac Trio, heard by Keith Bramich. '... young wine, already highly palatable ...'

Ensemble - St Petersburg Revelations. Malcolm Miller attends UK premières of recent Russian music in London