Many composers have incorporated monograms into their music, using pitch letters to spell out words and names. Alfred Schnittke's monogram technique pervades his works from the 1970s until the end of his career. He derived cryptograms from the names of performer-dedicatees, influential composers, and recently deceased friends, using a systematic procedure that accounts in some way for every possible letter in a given name. Although previous scholars have identified individual monograms in some works, the broader principles by which Schnittke generated and deployed his monograms had not been articulated until now. Many of Schnittke's monograms thus remained unidentified, and the ways in which they interact with twelve-tone technique had not been fully understood.
Schnittke appropriated the well-known B–A–C–H and D–S–C–H monograms frequently, but other monograms appear in more than a dozen works. He derived monograms for Russian names from their German transliterations. Schnittke adhered to a principle of chromatic complementation, often integrating monograms into statements of the complete aggregate of twelve pitch classes. I interpret Schnittke’s monogram technique as a facet of the composer’s memorializing impulse, by which he sought to establish in his music the deep connections he felt to the past and the important people in his life.
- Hommage à Stravinsky
- Alfred Schnittke
- twelve-tone technique
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