Galina Ustvolskaya

Biography

Born: June 17, 1919; Petrograd, Russia   Died: December 22, 2006; St. Petersburg, Russia  
"None of my music is chamber music, even when it is a Sonata for only one instrument." -- Galina Ustvolskaya

The music of Russian composer Galina Ustvolskaya (b. 1919) came shamefully late to the west -- a premiere only in 1986 -- but it carried the force of a catastrophe when it arrived. Struggling mightily for articulate reactions, listeners and writers seemed drawn to descriptive metaphors for strength against itself, on the grandest
Read more scales: Ustvolskaya's music was compared to imploding poles, dark stars, paralytic fervor or perfervid paralysis, a small body in a great space, a cosmos rent by a single crushing stroke. For Frans Lemaire, Ustvolskaya's work was a "black hole" with "such density that it imprisons its own light"; for Art Lange it was a musical "suprematism" of apocalyptic geometric violence; for compatriot composer and friend Victor Suslin, Ustvolskaya's body of work was a testament to Russia's "terrible" years, and the black hole that was St. Petersburg; and Dutch musicologist Elmer Schönberger tersely dubbed Ustvolskaya "the lady with a hammer." But perhaps Ustvolskaya's own proud assertion, that none of her music is chamber music, holds best: in her six piano sonatas, five symphonies, and three "compositions," the space doesn't surround the music; the music envelopes the space, and clutches the listener like a new skull with a new blood beating fiercely against its temples.

Galina Ivanovna Ustvolskaya lived in one city -- with three names -- all her life. She was born in "Petrograd" on June 17, 1919, and studied at the music college affiliated with the (now) Leningrad Conservatory from 1937 - 1939. Upon graduating into the Conservatory itself, Ustvolskaya began studies with Shebalin and Shostakovich. It was presumably here that an intense relationship between Shostakovich and Ustvolskaya began, eventually becoming romantic, at least on Shostakovich's part; hence the older composer's quasi-worship of his pupil. Among his more well-known words to her is his extraordinary confession that "it is not I who have influenced you, but you who have influenced me"; Shostakovich's 1952 Fifth String Quartet and 1974 Michelangelo Suite quote a theme from Ustvolskaya's powerful Clarinet Trio of 1949, and do so very conspicuously.

Nevertheless, the relationship seemed doomed, and Ustvolskaya became unequivocal in her feelings: "Then, as now, I determinedly rejected his music...he burdened my life and killed my best feelings." By 1947, Ustvolskaya herself had attained a post as composition teacher at the Conservatory College, and would remain there until 1975. As of 2000, she had pursued an ascetic and withdrawn existence, writing only "when I am in a state of grace...When the time comes I reveal the composition. If the time does not come, I simply destroy it. I never accept commissions to order."

Listening to the change which had overtaken Ustvolskaya's music since the early 1950s, one wonders whether Shostakovich's shadow indeed hung over Ustvolskaya's work, and whether the terrifying bareness of her music in fact manifests an attempt to annihilate all "anxieties of influence." Whatever the case, any speculation or analysis of Ustvolskaya's extremely naked music is inevitably a means of diluting and dispersing its effect, monolithically present like the beat of a assaulted heart. Often her music proceeds without bar lines in simple quarter, half, or eighth notes; the "language" veers almost entirely between bone-cracking chromatic clusters and unadorned stepwise chants, dynamically between pppppp and ffffff. But no account, no matter how "metaphorically" loaded, can prepare one for the effect of an Ustvolskaya work played "authentically and strongly" in a church: it can crack the sublime in two, and reveal the fear art more often tries so hard to repress. Read less
Browse 1-14 of 14 Available Recordings
  • 1.
    Artefacts: Piano Music From The 50th
    Label: Md&g (Dabringhaus & Grimm)   Catalog: 6131821 Release Date: 12/03/2013   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Christian Wolff,  Luigi Dallapiccola,  Chou Wen-Chung,  Josef Matthias Hauer  ... 
    Performer:  Steffen Schleiermacher
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  • 2.
    Ustvolskaya: Complete Piano Music / Ivan Sokolov
    Label: Piano Classics   Catalog: 50 Release Date: 03/12/2013   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Galina Ustvolskaya
    Performer:  Ivan Sokolov
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  • 3.
    Zodiac Trio Plays Stravinsky, Bacri, Bartok
    Label: Blue Griffin   Catalog: 257 Release Date: 10/09/2012   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Igor Stravinsky,  Nicolas Bacri,  Galina Ustvolskaya,  Béla Bartók
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Zodiac Trio
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  • 4.
    Ustvolskaya: Piano Sonatas No 1-6 / Markus Hinterhauser
    Label: Col Legno   Catalog: 50502 Release Date: 05/08/2012   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Galina Ustvolskaya
    Performer:  Markus Hinterhäuser
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  • 5.
    Ustvolskaya: Composition No.2 'Dies Irae' Sonata No.6, Grand Duet / De Saram, Marino
    Label: Wergo   Catalog: 6739 Release Date: 01/10/2012   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Galina Ustvolskaya
    Performer:  Fabrizio Ottaviucci,  Marino Formenti,  Rohan de Saram
    Conductor:  Stefano Scodanibbio
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ludus Gravis Contrabass Ensemble
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  • 6.
    Steven Stucky, Galina Ustvolskaya, Esa-pekka Salonen, Johannes Brahms  / David Howard
    Label: Yarlung Records   Catalog: 78874 Release Date: 06/28/2011   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Steven Edward Stucky,  Galina Ustvolskaya,  Esa-Pekka Salonen,  Johannes Brahms
    Performer:  David Howard,  Vicki Ray,  Johnny Lee,  Lyndon Taylor  ... 
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  • 7.
    Salzburg Biennial - Festival For New Music 2009
    Label: Neos   Catalog: 10947 Release Date: 09/28/2010   Number of Discs: 4
    Composer:  Beat Furrer,  Mauricio Sotelo,  György Kurtág,  Steve Reich  ... 
    Performer:  Hsin-Huei Huang,  Piroska Molnár,  Miki Skuta,  Nora Skuta  ... 
    Conductor:  Beat Furrer,  Johannes Kalitzke,  Arturo Tamayo
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Stadler Quartet,  Contrechamps Ensemble,  Austrian Ensemble for New Music  ... 
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  • 8.
    Ustvolskaya: Octet, Etc; Shostakovich: Piano Quintet / Stott
    Label: Conifer   Catalog: 51194 Release Date: 07/09/2008   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Galina Ustvolskaya,  Dmitri Shostakovich
    Performer:  Susie Mészáros,  Lyn Fletcher,  Christopher Tombling,  Maya Iwabuchi  ... 
    Conductor:  Mark Stephenson
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Musici,  London Musici Quartet
    ArkivCD $16.99
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  • 9.
    Ustvolskaya: Compositions I, II, III / Reinbert De Leeuw
    Label: Philips   Catalog: 442532 Release Date: 05/15/2008   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Galina Ustvolskaya
    Conductor:  Reinbert De Leeuw
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Schoenberg Ensemble
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  • 10.
    Ustvolskaya: Piano Sonatas / Frank Denyer
    Label: Conifer   Catalog: 51262 Release Date: 04/09/2007   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Galina Ustvolskaya
    Performer:  Frank Denyer
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  • 11.
    Misterioso - Silvestrov, Pärt, Ustvolskaya / Lubimov, Et Al
    Label: Ecm   Catalog: 000732802 Release Date: 09/26/2006   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Valentin Silvestrov,  Arvo Pärt,  Galina Ustvolskaya
    Performer:  Alexei Lubimov,  Alexander Trostiansky,  Kyrill Rybakov
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  • 12.
    Holnd Fstvl - A Dutch Miracle - Fifty Years - 1947-1997
    Label: Globe   Catalog: 6900 Release Date: 05/09/2006   Number of Discs: 7
    Composer:  Gioachino Rossini,  Rudolf Escher,  Richard Strauss,  Manuel de Falla  ... 
    Performer:  Renato Capecchi,  Teresa Berganza,  Giulietta Simionato,  Elisabeth Schwarzkopf  ... 
    Conductor:  Carlo Maria Giulini,  George Szell,  Jean Fournet,  Kiril Kondrashin  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hague Residentie Orchestra,  Milan Teatro alla Scala Chorus,  Danzi Woodwind Quintet  ... 
    On sale! $59.98
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  • 13.
    Shostakovich's Circle / I Musici De Montréal
    Label: Analekta   Catalog: 29898 Release Date: 02/21/2006   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  German Galďnin,  Galina Ustvolskaya,  Dmitri Shostakovich
    Performer:  Serhiy Salov
    Conductor:  Yuli Turovsky
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  I Musici de Montreal
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  • 14.
    Górecki: Sonata No 1, Etc;  Pärt, Ustvolskaya / David Arden
    Label: Koch International Classics   Catalog: 7301 Release Date: 05/23/1995   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Henryk Mikolaj Górecki,  Galina Ustvolskaya,  Arvo Pärt
    Performer:  David Arden
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