Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Jeff Nichols (Advisor)


Joseph N. Straus (First Reader)

Committee Members

Stephen Blum

David Olan

Subject Categories

Composition | Musicology | Music Theory


Schnittke, polystylism, common mediant, neo-Riemannian, rhythm, asymmetry


This dissertation takes as its subject of study Schnittke’s Concerto for Piano and Strings and seeks to examine several interconnected issues in Schnittke’s music: the problem of unification of disparate and conflicting forces that generally describe his style; the wave-like shape of intensification followed by a pullback that can be seen as acting on different temporal levels; and one of narrative meaning. Particular attention is given to symmetry in various manifestations, which the composer considered a necessary ingredient, comparing rhythmic regularity to periodicity found in nature, while at the same time undermining it through the use of asymmetries in order to avoid “geometrical squareness.”

These topics are closely intertwined and interact with each other. Rhythmic asymmetry in the form of syncopation as well as in the form of acceleration of a pulse on the phrase level creates an irregular rhythmic surface and embodies an impulse toward intensification. The appearance of the same pattern of rhythmic intensification followed by a pullback on the phrase level and on the sectional level has a fractal-like effect and contributes to a sense of unification. It is joined and amplified as a unifying force by the symmetry on the formal level and the inversional symmetry on the pitch level. On the formal level, it is the symmetry of thematic return, and on the pitch level, it is the inversional symmetry of a melodic contour and pitch class sets of atonal triadic progressions.

Both the intensification on different levels and the symmetry of thematic return shape narrative meaning. The constant impulse to intensification creates an impression of a musical world on the verge of losing its balance, punctuated by points of cataclysmic breakdown followed by recovery. The stylistic change toward simplicity in the last appearance of the main theme can be interpreted as attainment of the “true” form of the theme as a protagonist, which is a recurring idea in Schnittke’s music.

While these topics are examined through the prism of the Concerto for Piano and Strings, the same approach could arguably be applied to a number of other Schnittke’s works written in his late period.