Tonight in Madrid, Petr Kotik, the longtime leader of the S. E. M. Ensemble in New York, will lead the Orquesta de la Comunidad de Madrid in a program of works by the late Russian composer Galina Ustvolskaya: three of her five symphonies, the Composition No. 3, the Octet, and the 1946 Concerto for Piano, Strings, and Timpani. The concert comes at the end of an Universo Ustvolskaya series by musicadhoy Madrid. I'm happy to see that the official Ustvolskaya site is offering detailed concert listings, a gallery of images, a list of the composer's favorite recordings of her music, and a Web radio channel (with remarks by the composer herself). We are told: "Galina Ustvolskaya loved the colour red in all its manifestations, hence its use on this site."
The relationship between Ustvolskaya and her teacher, Dmitri Shostakovich, was fraught. Shostakovich proposed marriage to her at least once. Ustvolskaya may have reciprocated the feelings when she was young, but in later years there was a severe falling-out. On the Ustvolskaya site, the younger composer is heard saying: "It would seem that such an outstanding figure as Shostakovich was not outstanding to me — on the contrary, was painful, and killed my best feelings." The two composers also had a complex musical relationship. It has long been noted that Shostakovich was deeply impressed by his student's work. A quotation from Ustvolskaya's Trio appears in Shostakovich's Fifth Quartet and later in the Michelangelo Suite. The threadbare sound that we know as "late Shostakovich" may owe a considerable debt to the singular style that Ustvolskaya developed in works such as the Trio, from 1949.
An article by Rachel Jeremiah-Foulds in the latest bulletin of the Paul Sacher Stiftung summarizes what is known of the Shostakovich-Ustvolskaya saga, and takes note of a further twist. The musicologist David Fanning has suggested that the tensile theme of Ustvolskaya's Trio may itself refer to a Shostakovich work — the abandoned first version of the Ninth Symphony, which surfaced in 2003 and which Naxos recorded last year. In that fragment, dating from 1945, Shostakovich seems determined to write the big, heroic "victory symphony" that Soviet officialdom expected of him. Shostakovich played the sketch for Isaak Glikman in April 1945, and may well have done the same for Ustvolskaya. If she made conscious reference to the phantom Ninth, did she do so in a spirit of tribute, or did she already feel an ironic distance? Did Shostakovich notice the resemblance when he quoted Ustvolskaya's theme? There is no way of knowing, but here are the relevant audio snippets:
From the first sketch of Shostakovich's Ninth; Mark Fitz-Gerald conducting the Polish National Radio Symphony (Naxos).
From Ustvolskaya's Trio; Reinbert de Leeuw, piano; Harmen de Boer, clarinet; and Vera Beths, cello (Hat Art).
From the first movement of Shostakovich's Fifth Quartet; Emerson Quartet (DG).