1919 - 2006
Galina Ustvolskaya studied at the Music College of her native Petrograd (St. Petersburg) from 1937 to 1939 and at the Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory there until 1947. Here she completed her post-graduate studies and eventually led a composition class at the conservatory's affiliated music college. Her composition teacher Dmitri Shostakovich expressed his enthusiasm for her music. Several times he stood up for her in the Composers' Association against the resistance of his colleagues. Along with Sofia Gubaidulina, Ustvolskaya is considered Russia's most important contemporary woman composer.
Her catalogue of works is extremely concentrated, conveying a succinct and uncompromising musical message. Ustvolskaya's compositions are meant to be "symphonic", regardless of their actual instrumentation or temporal extent. She writes ascetic music supported by remarkable rhythmic power. Bar lines are often missing from the notation, which produces astonishingly asymmetrical polyphonic constructions. Dynamic developments are reduced almost to pure terraced dynamics and are characterised by extreme contrasts. The mainly Christian texts she sets are aphoristic and concentrated. Her works speak of an austere, independent spirit, of relentless will and deep faith.
Galina Ustvolskaya died in St. Petersburg on 22 December 2006.
Biography reprinted by kind permission of Boosey & Hawkes/Sikorski.
Photo: Leendert Jansen