Works performed by Earplay:


Galina Ivanovna Ustvol'skaya (1919-2006) was a Russian composer of classical music with a small but highly personal and idiosyncratic catalog. Born in Petrograd, she studied at the Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory in Leningrad under Dmitri Shostakovich (1939 to 1947). After completing postgraduate course she assumed the composition class at the Conservatory, where she lectured until 1977.

Ustvol'skaya developed her own very particular style, of which she has said, "There is no link whatsoever between my music and that of any other composer, living or dead." She is regarded as the only one of Shostakovich's students who worked out her own aesthetic, completely independent from the style of her great teacher ("It's not you who is under my influence, but rather I am under yours," Shostakovich once wrote to her). She retained little of his influence from the 1950s onwards and her composition are regarded as standing outside fashion, past or present. Among the characteristics of her music are: the use of repeated, homophonic blocks of sound, which prompted the Dutch critic Elmer Schoenberger to call her "the lady with the hammer"; unusual combinations of instruments (such as eight double basses, piano and percussion); considerable use of extreme dynamics; employing groups of instruments in order to introduce tone clusters; and the use of piano or percussion to beat out regular unchanging rhythms (all of her acknowledged works use either piano or percussion, many use both). Hallmarks of her style are unswerving severity and seriousness, presented in a predominantly harsh, hard-edged sound spectrum that is bleak and compelling, neither typically avant garde nor minimalist; cathartic but never comfortable. As a modernist, she had few public performances and none of her works were performed other than patriotic pieces written for official consumption until 1968. After the fall of the USSR, her music has been increasingly programmed at festivals in Europe and the U.S.

[from program for May 21, 2007 concert]