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The Musical Event of the Year 2007: Dresden Premiere of Alfred Schnittke’s Symphony No. 9

The premiere of Alfred Schnittke’s Ninth Symphony on 16 June 2007 in the Dresden Frauenkirche by the Dresden Philharmonic under Dennis Russell Davies is the music world’s largest media event of the year. Shortly before his death on 3 August 1998 and gravely marked by illness, Alfred Schnittke committed his third-movement Ninth Symphony to paper with a shaky hand. Schnittke’s widow, Irina, regarded the score as a kind of testament after her husband’s death and repeatedly attempted to find one of his colleagues who could decipher and, where necessary, carefully complete and correct the score, which was difficult to read in places. After two unsuccessful and/or incomplete reconstruction attempts by other composers, it was finally possible to engage the Russian composer Alexander Raskatov, born in 1953. He developed the idea of adding a completely independent composition to the work in the sense of an epilogue, which would also be premiered in Dresden. He entitled this vocal-symphonic work “Nunc dimittis,” setting texts by Joseph Brodsky and the Orthodox monk Starets Siluan. Raskatov stresses the fact that he regards “Nunc dimittis” as separate from the Schnittke Symphony, also recommending it for separate performance. At any rate, he always had the feeling that Schnittke had thought of a fourth movement whilst he (Raskatov) was reconstructing the autograph.

The passage “Nunc dimittis” is taken from Simeon’s song of praise from the Gospel According to St. Luke (Luke 2: 29-32) and relates to the aged Simeon with the words “Now Lord, thou dost let Thy bond-servant depart.” Simeon encounters the Christ Child shortly before his death and can only then die in peace. Raskatov: “Both texts are exactly in tune with the idea of the ‘farewell,’ the idea of this symphony. This was also decisive for my selection.”

Further performances of the Ninth Symphony will take place in New York (7 November 2007) and Linz (26 April 2008).