It seems like yesterday …
… Winter 1974/75. Vladislav Solotaryov made up his mind to apply for admission to the Composers’ Union. He told me that he wanted to be a member of this supreme body of the Soviet Union, although he had no advanced training. Although this goal was at that time almost unattainable (a degree through the final examination of the Conservatory was absolutely essential), my friend seemed very determined.
The admission procedure was rather complicated. One had to submit the required documents and attend an interview with the Composers’ Union of Moscow and the Russian Composers’ Union. Because of a concert tour I did not have the opportunity to be at the first Commission (meeting). When I was back in Moscow, I met Vladislav and learned that the first interview did not go very well for him. The lack of a degree through advanced training influenced the whole course of the Composers’ Union meeting, and the tape recordings of chamber music works must have proved unconvincing. Solotaryov only passed with reservations, as it were.
“Will you be in Moscow, when the interview takes place at the meeting of the Russian Composers’ Union?”, he asked me. I would like you to play the third sonata. A live performance should leave a greater impression on the Commission.
Fortunately, no concert tour was planned for this time, and I came on the appointed day to the Composers’ Union. The meeting took place in the small hall upstairs. First Solotaryov played a tape recording of “Six Romances on Lines by a Japanese Poet” (I do not remember who performed it.) During this I was practising in the corridor. About half an hour after the meeting started, the door opened. Vladislav came and invited me into the hall. His tension was evident, and I too was rather excited. There were not many people in the hall. The well-known composer, Grigory Fried, opened the meeting. He briefly introduced me as the soloist and announced the work. I began to play. How did I play? Probably quite well, although in this case one should not be modest. It was very probably one of my best interpretations of the third sonata, 1 was prepared to give my friend my full backing and did my best …
In the course of the 23 minutes – the duration of the sonata – there was a tense silence, which comes when an audience of enthusiastic professionals listens to music. Naturally the illustrious members of the Commission could hear that they were dealing with a great talent and that, unlike the many young composers who have attended composition classes at college and aimed for the highest rank of composer, this talent was original and had a unique way of musical thinking. What made the first interview become a relative failure for Vladislav Solotaryov, to my amazement, did not happen this time. A lot of people envied him. In particular, there was a barely concealed jealousy among composers; and there were also “principles”: no training, “he did not attend the Conservatory”, “homeless and no family”, he had however terrific success among Bayan players. But today there were well-known composers in the hall such as Gubaidulina, Artyomov and a lot of others. These were the people on whom the judgment on the applicant’s talent largely depended for membership of the Composers’ Union.
… The last hushed chords of the finale died away. The music floated through the silence. The Chairman thanked me and asked me to remain for the discussion. I went up to Solotaryov, who was sitting near Gubaidulina. The discussion was very emotional. Nearly everyone was keen to speak on behalf of the young composer.
Gubaidulina was one of the first to speak. I saw her close for the first time, but for Vladislav she was already an undisputed authority. She spoke of the talent of the young composer, who definitely deserved support. Her voice was not loud, but sounded very important. Among other speakers I too asked to be allowed to speak. I stressed how important Solotaryov was for us Bayan players.
The appearance of Vyacheslav Artyomov: I can remember nearly every word he said: “What are we talking about here anyhow? It is about an extraordinarily talented, highly professional, accomplished composer! I suggest that we finish the interview and vote on admitting Solotaryov into the Composers’ Union.” (Artyomov later became well known, when his Requiem and cycle of symphonies were performed by Mstislav Rostropovich and the Washington Symphony Orchestra.)
I looked at Vladislav sideways. I was filled with pride for my friend. He was calm as always; just a slight smile of embarrassment revealed his inner excitement.
The final stroke was made to the discussion by the Chairman, Grigory Fried: I must confess that ( have been literally overwhelmed by the Bayan sonata and, if i had any doubts on first hearing Solotaryov’s music, these have now been completely dispelled.”
At the end of the meeting many people rushed up to Vladislav to congratulate him. First, Gubaidulina came and congratulated us both warmly and sincerely. Then followed a whole lot of composers. Naturally I did not fail to question her about her relationship with the Bayan and whether she would write something: would gladly write a work for the Bayan, but I must familiarise myself with this instrument, that is to say, I do not know it at all. It seems to me that it has enormous potential. Could you help me with this?”
I was in seventh heaven of happiness. Gubaidulina, the same Gubaidulina, about whom Vladislav Solotaryov had told me so much already, is enthusiastic about an instrument new to her and is actually inviting me to work with her! We exchanged addresses and arranged a meeting.
Though the process of Solotaryov’s admission to the Composers’ Union had a happy outcome, sadly it did not have its logical conclusion. While the formalities of his membership of the Union were being finalised, on 13 May 1975 he committed suicide – a black day in the history of the Bayan. On that day Vladislav Solotaryov died. He did away with himself … (on the possible reasons – another time).
… My contact with Gubaidulina began soon after this meeting at the Composers’ Union. She came to see me at the Institute, in the class and at home. I naturally explained to her all the possibilities of the instrument, the bellows technique, how sound is created, the registers. However, I was astonished how pedantically she asked about all the details, how meticulously she probed every detail which seemed of little importance to us Bayan players. She was striving, so to speak, to penetrate under the hide of this monster (as she subsequently called the Bayan) and to get to know it from inside. Frankly, contact with her was always very pleasant and informative. No hint of anything unusual. Absolutely approachable, she radiated the light of both joy and sorrow. Moreover, there is no doubt that she has a special relationship with God – one can feel this immediately. In her presence one wants to be a better and purer person oneself, because one feels a magnetic attraction from an aura of crystal-clear purity. She never made any negative comment about a. single composer, and how she loved those who performed her music!
She completed her first work for Bayan “De profundis” in 1978. She came to me in the class at the Institute and played it on the grand piano. I was enchanted, not only with the music, but also how well she used the reeds of the Bayan which showed the accoustic potential of the instrument in a fresh new way. At my request she introduced for the first time into Russian musical literature the tonal glissando. Of course I had to make some editorial corrections, when working on this piece, to, make the notation more comfortable for Bayan players, but this was not work, but a pleasure. In contrast, I used to receive from some authors works for the Bayan,
which I not only had to re-edit, but literally re-write. (I remember how a fairly well-known composer, who invited me to play his piece in his class after meeting in the corridor of the Institute, said to me beforehand* “Pianists won’t play this. Will you try; perhaps it will go better on the Bayan.” I never played that piece!)
On one of my few concert trips abroad at the time I put “De profundis” on the programme. These concerts in Scandinavia were organised for me by the well-known Danish musician and teacher, Mogens Ellegaard. The trip was arranged by the concert agency, Gosconcert. In those days the correspondence with the concert organiser and the formalities for a foreign trip lasted months. Three weeks before my departure the telephone rang. The caller was Vladimir Sergeyevich lvanov, an official from Gosconcert: “Friedrich, you cannot play the piece by Gubaidulina in Scandinavia” “Why not? ” “Ali programmes by artists making concert trips abroad must be approved by the Central Committee of the Communist Party. This piece has not been approved.” “But it is a very good piece, and Gubaidulina is an excellent composer, who is already very well known.” “You know, this composer is not consistent. Sometimes she writes well, then again badly. You had better play something by Shostakovich.” “But Shostakovich didn’t write for the Bayan!” “Never mind! Or by Chrennikov. Take a piece from the opera “In the Storm” and adapt it.” I have great respect for both Shostakovich and Chrennikov and will certainly make an adaptation of their works in future, but for this concert trip I would like to play abroad original works which have been specially written for the Bayan.”
I was very calm during this conversation, although a flood of thoughts were spinning around in my head. I already sensed the possible consequences, that the music of the troika well known among the initiated, Schnittke, Gubaidulina and Denissov, was secretly forbidden. Gennady Roshdyestvensky would therefore give the première of Schnittke’s first symphony not in Moscow, but in Gorky (Nizhny Novgorod); authors’ evenings with Denissov were cancelled, in reports of meetings of the Composers’ Union its first Secretary, T Chrehnikov spoke of excessive enthusiasm of some composers for religious themes (everyone knew that he was of course targetting Gubaidulina). In general the dialogue was affected and trivial. I therefore made the following resolution: if it is forbidden to mention the piece on the poster – then I will play it outside the programme. The consequences of doing this could be grave:
reviews appear in the western press on the following day, all works are named and analysed, the critics will give particular prominence to Gubaidulina’s place. The reviews reach the embassy, which will in turn inform the appropriate office In Moscow, and then there is one more musician who is no longer allowed to leave his/ her home town. Vladimir Sergeyevich Ivanov was essentially a good man and always treated me courteously. Therefore he did not try to put pressure on me, but led me on to a higher authority.
“Ail right. If you persist – take the score and the Bayan and show the work to Valery Michailovich Kurshiyamsky at the Ministry of Culture of the USSR. Perhaps he can make a positive decision.”
This turn made me happy. Even in my student days, when I was a soloist in the concert department of Gosconcert, the future conductor of the philharmonic department heard me, when I embarked on my artistic career. (I remember playing at the time the “Toccata and Fugue in D minor” by Bach, “A la Albeniz” by Schedrin and “Partita” by Solotaryov”) and was the initiator of my promotion to the philharmonic department. Later he worked as conductor at the opera and ballet theatre in Alma Ata, after which he returned to Moscow to take up a management post in the Soviet Ministry of Culture as Deputy Head of Administration of school and musical institutions.*
I took the score and went to the Ministry. Kurshiyamsky immediately hurled questions at me: “Why do you want to play Gubaidulina abroad?” “Because it is good music”. “Give me the score!”
He began to look through the score of the piece and asked his questions half jokingIy in a deliberate Ukrainian manner:
“What is that?” “That is a cluster.”
“And that, what is that? ” “That is a glissando with cluster.” “And that?
“That is a tonal glissando … and that is the sound of the air button.”
I understood that our officials and party functionaries feared that composers could reproduce something anti-Soviet with sounds, but I had good reason to trust Kurshiyamsky; he was different. And I was not mistaken. Finally, he shut the score, passed it to me and said: “For my part, I know that you are a creative person. Play anything you like.”
* In the early 1990s I was working in Spain and, on reading the monthly magazines that I usually take with me when travelling, I learned that V M Kurshiyamsky had been murdered in the drive at his home.
My expectations regarding reaction to Gubaidulina’s piece during my concert trip proved true: the critics, who altogether reacted positively to my concerts, constantly emphasised the work “Sofia Asgatovnas”. Seppo Heikinheimo, the leading Finnish music critic of the country’s major newspaper, “Helsinki Sanomat” – a passionate admirer of Gubaidulina’s work, also well known as translator and editor of the Finnish edition of Solomon Volkov’s internationally infamous book on Dimitri Shostakovich was so enthusiastic about the piece, that he suggested a performance at the prestigious festival of organ music in Lahti.
… If I am asked my opinion about the role of Viadislav Solotaryov and Sofia Gubaidulina in the history of the Bayan, then I would briefly answer as follows: Solotaryov raised the Bayan through his work and brought it out of the sphere of specific Bayan music into the world of chamber music, and Gubaidulina, on the strength of her authority and reputation, received the Bayan from the hands of Solotaryov and helped him to his well-earned place on the academic stage.
The German translation of this article comes from Dr Herbert Scheibenreif and has been authorised by Friedrich Lips.