Valentin Silvestrov

From Unearthing The Music

Valentin Silvestrov. Photo sourced from Discogs

Valentin Vasylyovych Silvestrov (Ukrainian: Валенти́н Васи́льович Сильве́стров;[1][2] born 30 September 1937 in Kiev (Kyiv) (Ukrainian SSR)) is a Ukrainian composer and pianist of contemporary classical music.

Early life and education

Silvestrov was born on 30 September 1937 in Kiev, Ukraine.[3][4]

He began private music lessons at age 15. He studied piano at the Kiev Evening Music School from 1955 to 1958, then at the Kiev Conservatory from 1958–1964; composition under Borys Lyatoshynsky, harmony and counterpoint under Levko Revutsky.


Silvestrov is perhaps best known for his post-modern musical style; some, if not most, of his works could be considered neoclassical and post-modernist. Using traditional tonal and modal techniques, Silvestrov creates a unique and delicate tapestry of dramatic and emotional textures, qualities which he suggests are otherwise sacrificed in much of contemporary music. "I do not write new music. My music is a response to and an echo of what already exists," Silvestrov has said.

In 1974, under pressure to conform to both official precepts of socialist realism and fashionable modernism, and likewise to apologise for his walkout from a composers' meeting to protest the Soviet Union invasion of Czechoslovakia,[5] Silvestrov chose to withdraw from the spotlight. In this period he began to reject his previously modernist style. Instead, he composed "Quiet Songs" (Тихі Пісні (1977)) a cycle intended to be played in private. Later, after the fall of the Soviet Union, he also began to compose spiritual and religious works influenced by the style of Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox liturgical music.[6] Silvestrov traced his eventual rejection of avant-garde back to his years in the Kiev Conservatory. When presented one of his radical works Lyatoshynsky asked him: "Do you like this?", and while he replied affirmatively "that question became ingrained in my soul".[7]

Silvestrov's Symphony No. 5 (1980–1982), considered by some to be his masterpiece, may be viewed as an epilogue or coda inspired by the music of late Romantic composers such as Gustav Mahler. "With our advanced artistic awareness, fewer and fewer texts are possible which, figuratively speaking, begin 'at the beginning'... What this means is not the end of music as art, but the end of music, an end in which it can linger for a long time. It is very much in the area of the coda that immense life is possible.”

Silvestrov's recent cycle for violin and piano, "Melodies of Instances" (Мелодії Миттєвостей), a set of seven works comprising 22 movements to be played in sequence (and lasting about 70 minutes), is intimate and elusive - the composer describes it as "melodies [...] on the boundary between their appearance and disappearance".[8]

Elements of Ukrainian nationalism occur in some of Silvestrov's works, most notably in his choral work Diptych. This work sets the strongly patriotic words of Taras Shevchenko's 1845 poem Testament (Заповіт), which has a significant national status in Ukraine, and Silvestrov dedicated it in 2014 to the memory of Sergey Nigoyan, an Armenian-Ukrainian who died in the 2014 Hrushevskoho Street riots and is believed to have been the first casualty of the events that led to the Euromaidan.[6]

Selected works

Silvestrov's principal and published works include nine symphonies, poems for piano and orchestra, miscellaneous pieces for (chamber) orchestra, three string quartets, a piano quintet, three piano sonatas, piano pieces, chamber music, and vocal music (cantatas, songs, etc.) Some of his notable pieces are:

  • Piano Sonatina (1960, revised 1965)
  • Quartetto Piccolo for string quartet (1961)
  • Symphony No.1 (1963, revised 1974)
  • Mysterium for alto flute and six percussion groups (1964)
  • Spectra for chamber orchestra (1965)
  • Monodia for piano and orchestra (1965)
  • Symphony No.2 for flute, timpani, piano and string orchestra (1965)
  • Symphony No.3 "Eschatophony" (1966)
  • Poem to the Memory of Borys Lyatoshynsky for orchestra (1968)
  • Drama for violin, cello, and piano (1970-1971)
  • Meditation for cello and piano (1972)
  • String Quartet No.1 (1974)
  • Thirteen Estrades Songs (1973-1975)
  • Quiet Songs (Silent Songs) after Pushkin, Lermontov, Keats, Yesenin, Shevtshenko, et al. for baritone and piano (1974-1975)
  • Symphony No.4 for brass instruments and strings (1976)
  • Kitsch-Music, cycle of five pieces for piano (1977)
  • Forest Music after G. Aigi for soprano horn and piano (1977-1978)
  • Postludium for violin solo (1981)
  • Postludium for cello and piano (1982)
  • Symphony No.5 (1980-1982)
  • Ode to the Nightingale, cantata with text by John Keats for soprano and small orchestra (1983)
  • Postludium for piano and orchestra (1984)
  • String Quartet No.2 (1988)
  • Widmung (Dedication), symphony for violin and orchestra (1990-1991)
  • Metamusic, symphonic poem for piano and orchestra (1992)
  • Symphony No.6 (1994-1995)
  • The Messenger for synthesizer, piano and string orchestra (1996-1997)
  • Requiem for Larissa for chorus and orchestra (1997-1999)
  • Epitaph for piano and string orchestra (1999)
  • Epitaph L.B. for viola (or cello) and piano (1999)
  • Autumn Serenade for chamber orchestra (2000)
  • Requiem (2000)
  • Hymn 2001 (2001)
  • Symphony No.7 (2002-2003)
  • Lacrimosa for viola (or cello) solo (2004)
  • 5 Sacred Songs for SATB choir had its world premiere in Ireland on 24 September 2009 (2008)Louth Contemporary Music Society
  • 5 New Pieces for Violin and Piano had its world premiere in Ireland on 24 September 2009 (2009)Louth Contemporary Music Society
  • String Quartet No. 3 (2011)
  • Symphony No. 8 (2012-2013)
  • Symphony No. 9 (2019)
  • Silvestrov has recorded 10 albums on the ECM label.



  1. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-10-27. Retrieved 2009-03-12.
  2. "Валентин Сильвестров, Національний камерний ансамбль". UMKA.
  3. "Schott Music".
  4. "Valentin Sylvesrov". ECM Records.
  5. Anastasia Belina-Johnson, notes to 'To Thee We Sing' (2015), Ondine Records ODE 1266-5
  6. Belina-Johnson, 2015
  7. Peter J. Schmelz, Such Freedom, if Only Musical: Unofficial Soviet Music During the Thaw, page 35
  8. Sleeve notes to recording, Fleeting Melodies, Rostok Records, 2008

External links

Text adapted from Wikipedia