Alfred Schnittke was the leading figure of the Soviet post-war avant-garde and remains a prominent composer of international acclaim. Born of German decent on November 24, 1934, in Engels, on the Volga River, he began his musical training on the piano in 1946 in Vienna where his father worked for two years as a correspondent for a German-language Soviet newspaper. In 1948 the family moved to Moscow, where Schnittke continued his musical training, receiving a diploma in choral conducting. From 1953 to 1958 he attended the Moscow Conservatory studying composition. As there comprised the years of the "Krushchev Thaw," which ended an almost 30-year period of cultural isolation, Schnittke was exposed to the new techniques and experimentation of the Western avant-garde. Completing his training in 1961, he immediately began a ten-year tenure as instructor of instrumentation at the Moscow Conservatory. Beginning in 1972, he supported himself as a composer. One who enjoyed being provocative, he went through a difficult period in which his music was almost entirely banned from performance and publication in the USSR. During these years as an "unofficial" composer, he managed to support himself chiefly as a composer of film music, and, ironically, through the efforts of many prominent performers, gained increasing exposure and critical acclaim internationally. In 1985, he survived the first of a series of strokes. He moved to Hamburg in 1990 and died on August 3, 1998 after suffering another stroke. He has been the recipient of many awards and honors, including Austrian State Prize in 1991, Japan's Imperial Prize in 1992 and Slava-Gloria-Prize in Moscow in June 1998. His numerous works can best be described as eclectic. The majority were written using the classical forms of symphony, sonata and concerto, but with twentieth-century freedoms applied. The result is a mixture of past and present and is representative of his hallmark trait of "polystylism." His reasons behind his compositional style are illuminated in the following quote:
The idea of several historic periods acting together in the same piece is ... vitally important.... That is why I resort fairly often to the technique of poly-stylistics, which enables me to bring together various musical epochs. The idea of the universal character of culture, of its integrity, seems particularly apt today when our concepts of time and space have undergone drastic transformations.