The composer Alexander Knaifel was originally a cellist but had to give up the instrument due to a nerve inflammation. Thus Knaifel, born in Tashkent (Uzbekistan) in 1943, turned to composition. His teacher was Boris Arapov, with whom he studied in Leningrad from 1964 until 1967. Since then Knaifel has been living in St. Petersburg as a freelance composer and music editor.
Knaifel evades "valid" rules of the official musical aesthetic already in his first works. He became a member of the group of avant-garde composers that arose at the beginning of the 1960s in Moscow (Schnittke, Gubaidulina, Denisov, amongst others), Kiev (Silvestrov) and Talinn (Pärt, amongst others). Nonetheless he did not repudiate tradition, allowing himself to be influenced by the Second Viennese School and by Shostakovich. His compositions reveal, above all, a high degree of intensity and an expressive style; compositional techniques and sonorous possibilities are explored.
During the 1970s, however, Knaifel's style changed. His rate of production slowed down in favour of larger and more structured works, with theatrical elements being sublimated or lost entirely. Now, economy of musical material and a concentration on sound as the decisive event are in the foreground: "The sounds are, for me, signs of the existence of beauty. Beauty is the most important thing for me - it is energy, unrepeatable," says Knaifel. The works of the 1990s are strongly influenced by religious themes, occupying a territory between philosophy, psychology and the esoteric.
Knaifel has produced a copious oeuvre including musical theatre pieces, symphonic compositions, film music, chamber and vocal music. Important interpreters such as Mstislav Rostropovich, Gennady Roshdestvensky, and Alexei Lyubimov have performed his works.