I start enjoying myself preparing programs for my radio show, Eric & Ananda Classical Eve. Since next Monday (March 7th) will be the birthday of my favorite composer Maurice Ravel, I tweeted and asked which favorite piece of Ravel should I broadcast. It turned out to be unnecessary, since we all know what it is. Hundreds of replies through twitter vote for: BOLERO! ....
... which led to another composer who I knew & worked with, the late Russian Jew Alfred Schnittke. The reason was because he parodied "Bolero" in part of his music for the film "Meister und Margarita". And that led to another topic, a conversation I had with him in one of the dinners we had back in 1993. He talked about "the curse of the 9th symphony" ; he was at that time writing his 6th. "I have 3 more to go", he said, and when I asked why, "well, noone except 'that guy' survived to write a 10th". I must keep "that guy" a secret for now, since I will reveal his name in my radio show next Sunday and tell you that in fact the curse wasn't broken at all by "that guy". Someone did die from his 9th symphony. It was from Schnittke that I learned for the first time about that particular curse, that nobody could survive further than writing 9 symphonies. Since then I lost contact with Mr. Schnittke, partly because he was already weak (he had 2 strokes in the previous years) and of course partly since communication was not that easy then as it is now, with emails. So it was my last contact with him. I performed under his supervision, by the way, his amazing Piano Quintet dedicated in memory of his mother.
Now the greatest composer of all time (at least according to me) Gustav Mahler was so afraid of this curse, that he took every way he could to NOT write a 9th after he finished his 8th. He wrote "A symphony for tenor, alto and orchestra" which is called "Das Lied von der Erde" (The song of the earth) in 6 big (when Gus said big, he meant REALLY big. The 6th and last movement "Der Abschied" alone lasts for half an hour, almost as long as the total of the 5 preceding movements) movements. He thought he could get away with it. Therefore he wrote his real 9th afterwards, and ...yes you guessed it right. He died when he started writing his 10th. He finished one movement of the 10th, by the way, but it was just one farewell too many. He succumbed to the curse : a composer should leave the earth with his 9th symphony. Just like Beethoven, Schubert, Bruckner, Dvorak, and more after him: Ralph Vaughan Williams (he died when he just started to write his 9th, therefore his "official" number was just 8), Alexander Glazounov, Roger Sessions and of course .... Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998). I think there are more names. I remember I had goosebumps when I learned Schnittke's death, especially because I talked with his publisher a few days after, asking what he was composing when he got the fatal stroke and died a few days later. He had the same fate as Vaughan Williams.
RIP, maestro Schnittke. I'll never forget our meeting, our working together and of course your great music.
This entry I dedicate to my good friends, Spain's most prominent composers of symphonies today David del Puerto and Jesus Rueda. Both of them, in their late 40s (Jesus Rueda will celebrate his 50th this year) had written 3 great symphonies. May they be granted long and productive musical lives !