Jean-Benoît Tremblay

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ABSTRACT: Acceptance of Death in Alfred Schnittke’s Requiem: A Pluritextual Approach

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Even if composing a religious work during the Brezhnev era was impossible — all liturgical genres being forbidden — Alfred Schnittke managed to compose his Requiem in 1975. First published as the incidental music to Schiller’s Don Carlos, the work is divided in 14 rather short episodes which include most of the usual constituents of the Requiem with two notable exceptions: the presence of a “Credo” and the repetition of the “Requiem aeternam” at the end in lieu of the usual “Lux aeterna”. Other peculiarities consist in the use of modern instruments such as the electric guitar, the combination of many different styles — Schnittke’s famous polystylism —, and the inclusion of various religious symbols in the score. These elements, and many others, can be considered as signifiers and are, as such, susceptible to allow the emergence of a narrative.

In this paper, I will argue that a convincing interpretation of the Requiem should be based on many different texts which effectively circumscribe an otherwise open text. Also, my presentation will thus be divided in four parts, each derived from a distinct textual background: (1) the historical surrounding of the work, (2) the known intents of the composer as encompassed by the work, (3) the “typical reader” expected reaction to the music, and, (4) the elaboration of a tentative narrative.

Inspired by Umberto Eco's definition of the limits of interpretation, a special attention will be given to a systematic differentiation of the various levels of textuality. That will allow me to emphasize their convergences as well as their divergences, and to make analytically enlightened decisions about the narrative. The resulting reading shall demonstrate that Schnittke’s Requiem closely follows the various stages of death acceptation as described by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross: death – refusal and anger – depression – bargaining – and finally, acceptation. In other words, Schnittke addresses his Requiemmuch more to the livings that to the dead.

References :

Eco, Umberto et al. Interpretation and Overinterpretation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Eco, Umberto. The Limits of Interpretation. Advances in Semiotics. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990.

Kübler-Ross, Elisabeth. On Death and Dying. New York: Macmillan, 1969.

Kübler-Ross, Elisabeth. Death: The Final Stage of Growth. Engelwood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1975.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 09 June 2010 12:59