Galina Ustvolskaya gave few interviews during her lifetime — in 1995 in Amsterdam, in three films, and twice with Olga Gladkova (see below). This was her own decision after falling victim to regular misunderstanding of her words and works by journalists and musicians. She was very sensitive to these issues and could not tolerate misinterpretation of her creative output. The only Russian film about her ends with her pronouncement: "If I put all of me, all of my energy, into my works, then one should listen to me in this manner too, putting equal energy into the effort. They treat me too much in the old-fashioned way, quite incorrectly. I believe that this will change in the future. I am tired of explaining: all the forms, polyphonies, etc. should be treated in this new way."

The only interview with Ustvolskaya in the West took place in January 1995 when she first went abroad to Amsterdam for the premiere of her Third Symphony, performed by Concertgebouw Orchestra directed by Valery Gergiev. Ustvolskaya assented to an interview with Thea Derks, but when the music journalist arrived, she didnt want to be interviewed after all. She was only persuaded to take part with great difficulty, on condition that she may answer questions in monosyllables, and that Viktor Suslin will translate and comment. The interview took place in her hotel room, and was immediately published in the Dutch newspaper Vrij Nederland, on 4 February 1995. Two months later Derks published a translation in the German VivaVoce music magazine, and in July 1995 she made an English version for the British music journal Tempo. See the full text of the interview below, reproduced by kind permission of Thea Derks.

In 1998 in Vienna, Ustvolskaya, after much persuasion, agreed to enter her hotel's lounge for an interview on the condition that she would not be recorded. Her husband, Konstantin Bagrenin recalls that as soon as she became aware of the camera present, she got up, walked over to it and sent it crashing to the floor. The camera smashed and Ustvolskaya left.

Interview from 1995 with Thea Derks – 'Sind Sie mir nicht böse!' (Very Nearly an Interview)

The last sounds of her Third Symphony have died down; conductor Valery Gergiev turns about, clapping. A wave of surprise and emotion passes through Amsterdam Concertgebouw as Galina Ustvolskaya, shy but determined, climbs the stage. The audience, aware of the historic significance of this moment, continues applauding for some minutes, and she returns to the stage a second time. But this time she turns about half-way up the stairs, and leaves the hall.*

The 75-year-old Ustvolskaya is abroad for the first time. She has lived in her native town of St. Petersburg all her life, and up to now shunned any form of publicity.

When I encounter her in the corridor and say in my best Russian how impressed I am with her music, she says Danke schön. She reaches to my waist and is dressed in a pink and black checkered two-piece suit. Her eyes move about skittishly behind oversized glasses, and never really look one in the face. When I tell her I devoted a programme to her music on the radio that evening, she is visibly pleased. Could I do an interview with her? Ich denke nicht. But she hesitates, and asks her husband for advice. He suggests for me to come back tomorrow, and proffers name and room number of their hotel.

The next day I phone her room direct and get through to Galina Ustvolskaya at once. Yes, she remembers me, but tonight is inconvenient, she is a little tired. Tomorrow then? Yes, tomorrow. But at what time? And what shall she say? And her German is so bad! I hear tears in her voice and suddenly realize she is a very simple woman, who fears the world and especially journalists. To put her at ease I tell her my name is Tyea Ivanovna. This cheers her up. Happily she says that her ochestva is also Ivanovna, and the ice is finally broken: she agrees to do an interview the next day at two.

Her husband collects me from the lobby and takes me to a room that is dominated by a spacious double bed. I have to duck in order not to bump my head on the sloping ceiling. We sit down at a tiny table with two chairs. The moment I bring out my recorder, things go wrong. This was not the intention! But I told her I worked for the radio, didn't I? No, she hadn't interpreted it that way. For the radio she won't say a thing. My promise not to broadcast the interview, but to write it down, doesn't help: Ich sage nichts! She has misunderstood me, and moreover they have to leave in a minute, Sind Sie mir nicht böse.

She bickers with her husband, who rubs it in that she did agree to talk to me, and how could she be so stupid as to make an appointment at two, when they have to be at Reinbert de Leeuw's at half past? They phone Viktor Suslin, who works for Sikorski Verlag, and who is accompanying her on this trip. He'll be here soon. Meanwhile we dish out commonplaces. How does Galina like Amsterdam? She likes it very much, it's schön and the people are nett. But she is tired: she came by plane on Wednesday, the day of the premiere, and is leaving again on Sunday. What is the situation like in St. Petersburg? Bad, much worse than before the overthrow of the old regime. This is due to politics, the war in Chechnia, and it's all really awful. But, of course, St. Petersburg is still a glorious city, and its inhabitants are much kinder and opener than those of Moscow. The irony of this 'opener' entirely escapes her.

Viktor Suslin arrives. He elegantly kisses Galina's hand, and explains once more that, on principle, she doesn't give interviews. He is very charming, and obviously sorry for Galina's letting me down like that. He goes out of his way trying to persuade her to cooperate, after all. To no avail: her yes may not be a yes, her no is irrevocable, dressed in a sweet smile and lots of es tut mir Lied. I suggest to ask him the questions, and to this she agrees. First they have to call Reinbert de Leeuw. Suslin dials the number and plumps the receiver into my hand. Bewildered, I explain the situation and promise to keep it short.

In the interview that follows, Suslin will reply to almost every question that Frau Ustvolskaya is the proper person to answer it, thus drawing a few remarks from her. She listens attentively, and occasionally shifts on her chair in agreement or irritation. He regularly looks at her in an apologetic manner, enquiring whether she is not böse with him. He politely asks permission to sit down on her bed. Her husband occupies the other corner.

First I want to know whether the performance of Ustvolskaya's Third Symphony was a world- or a Dutch premiere: Contemporary Composers (Morton/Collins 1992) states that this work was premiered in 1987, in Leningrad. This appears to be an example of the rewriting of history by the Russian League of Composers: last Wednesday really was the world premiere.

How did Galina like the performance?

She answers herself: 'Not very much. The acoustics were not favourable, so that the piano didn't come out properly, and the five double basses should have been placed more to the front. Moreover the ensemble, recruited more or less ad hoc from members of the Concertgebouw orchestra, hadn't as yet properly mastered the score, and the reciter wasn't adequately amplified. But yesterday it was better and I hope it will again be better tonight'.

When was this symphony written?

This time Suslin answers: 'Frau Ustvolskaya wrote her Third Symphony in 1983, on a text by Hermannus Contractus. She got to know this German poet, who lived in the 11th century, through translations that appeared in Russia at the time.

What does his poetry mean to her?

'It is very intense, deeply felt poetry that is pervaded with God. It was written by a monk who was almost completely paralysed, and could hardly speak. His poems, translated from Latin into Russian, have such strength that Galina devoted three symphonies to them: the Second, True and eternal Beatitude (1979); the Third, Jesus, Messiah, save us! (1983), and the Fourth, Prayer (1985–87).'

'Although Galina employs religious texts, she doesn't want her music to be labelled religious. It springs directly from the contact she feels with God and doesn't have any liturgical meaning. Nor is it part of any denomination. Yet her music would benefit from being performed in a church, because only there the acoustics would be good enough to do justice to the tremendous power of expression of her music.'

Does Galina compose at the piano, or on paper?

'Not at the piano: each work has a very long period of coming into being, after which she simply writes it down. Definitely not at the piano!'

This immediately brings to mind her teacher Shostakovich, who speaks deprecatingly of composers who need a piano to evolve ideas. Cautiously I enquire after a letter to her publishers, in which she writes: '...then, as now, I determinedly rejected his music, and unfortunately his personality only intensified this negative attitude. (...) One thing remains as clear as day: a seemingly eminent figure such as Shostakovich, to me, is not eminent at all, on the contrary, he burdened my life and killed my best feelings.' How could she bear to have someone for a teacher, who apparently repelled her?

Ustvolskaya springs up and says: Ich sage nichts! Everything she has to say on this subject, is already in her letter. Suslin adds: 'In the fifties, Shostakovich proposed to marry her, but she refused him. What exactly happened then – let's leave that be, but Shostakovich definitely wasn't an easy person. Moreover it took Galina almost superhuman strength to avoid his influence: she is the only one of Shostakovich's pupils who did not become his clone, but succeeded in developing a language completely her own. This must have been a tremendous effort of will.

'By the way, I have something else to say to this subject. Frau Ustvolskaya is always represented as a pupil of Shostakovich, and time and again she is forced to read that he defended her music when she graduated from the conservatory. This information stems from one single letter Shostakovich wrote to Edison Denisov. At the time, however, Galina was astounded and deeply disappointed by his conspicuous silence. It was not Shostakovich, but Mikhail Gnessin** who defended her.'

She often writes for bizarre combinations of instruments. So, too, in this symphony for five trumpets, five double basses, five oboes, three tubas, one trombone, three drums, one piano and a reciter. How does she arrive at such combinations?

'Each piece demands the ensemble it requires. And what is so bizarre about a double bass? She simply uses regular instruments. Only, because her material demands it, she employs these in unusual combinations, which are necessary to convey the immense power of her music. Thus the Third Symphony can almost be regarded as a form of exorcism, in which the different groups of instruments function as choirs, which together reach a colossal exertion.'

Galina writes that her music is misunderstood. By whom?

'Most of all by critics, who always go about analytically and thus try to pigeon-hole her music. Thus they ascribe influences to composers she has never even heard of, they call her minimalist, refer to Webern, and find old- Russian or even old-Indian folk-music in her work. This is all nonsense, made up by unimaginative musicologists, who feel a need for organization. She has her own language, which is unique and is beyond any form of analysis. Of course she has contact to other composers, but in no way is she directly influenced by any of them.'

Yet you write that her music is typically Russian. Even typical of St. Petersburg. How are we to understand this?

With an apologetic glance at Ustvolskaya, Suslin hurries to say that this does not so much refer to her Third Symphony, as to her work in general. 'I mean her inclination towards idealism, and her consistency in this respect. Music naturally knows two levels: the spiritual, and the temporal. This last level I refer to. Music such as hers could only develop in that place, and at that time. In this century St. Petersburg witnessed numerous horrors, of which the siege in the Second World War is only one.'

How does Galina want us to interpret her music?

Suslin tries again to draw her into the conversation, yet she refuses to speak. What can he say? Her music is a gift of God, that's about it.'

How does the public react?

'At the world premiere, the audience was enthralled. It irritates me that "the public" is said to have a lack of taste: her music obviously speaks so much for itself, that the man-in-the-street is indeed moved by it.'

In her essay, 'My Thoughts on the creative Arts' she quotes Van Gogh, who writes: "... Many people hold that my paintings are too simple, too primitive." and adds: "it turns out to be anything but easy to be simple." Does she feel akin to this painter?

'You'd better ask Frau Ustvo...'

'Frau, Frau, Frau!' she interrupts Suslin.

Crestfallen, he looks at her: what shall he say? – Her name is, bless her eyes, GALINA! Sind Sie mir nicht böse, Galina. Heated deliberation follows. No, she doesn't feel a kinship to Van Gogh. She just happened to quote him, that's all. But, of course, he had an inner strength, like hers, that was not understood by the world.

And then it's over. Galina Ivanovna Ustvolskaya shakes my hand: Sind Sie mir nicht böse!

Thea Derks: Galina Oestvolskaja: Sind sie mir nicht böse!, in: Vrij Nederland 4 February 1995, Nr. 5, pp. 66-67
Thea Derks: Galina Ustwolskaja: Sind sie mir nicht böse!, VivaVoce April-Mai 1995, Nr. 34, pp. 4-5
Thea Derks, Galina Ustvolskaya: Sind Sie mir nicht Böse (very nearly an interview), in: Tempo nr. 193, July 1995, pp. 31-33


* Galina Ustvolskaya's Symphony No.3, Jesus, Messiah, save us! was premiered in Amsterdam on 18 January by members of the Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Valery Gergiev, followed after the interval by Shostakovich's Symphony No.4. The programme was repeated on 19 and 20 February; Ustvolskaya attended all three performances of her symphony, always leaving before the Shostakovich. Thea Derks spoke to her at her hotel in Amsterdam on 20 February; the interview was conducted in German (in which, Thea Derks notes, Ustvolskaya is fluent, despite her disclaimers) and published in Dutch in the 4 Febrary 1995 issue of Vrij Nederland.

You can listen to this historic performance on our Radio (Part 3).

** According to Bagrenin, Shostakovich never defended her, even on the street. At one point, Ustvolskaya was about to be excluded from the Conservatory when, at the Academic Council, she was defended by one person who even took responsibility for her informal attitude. That was Maximilian Oseevich Steinberg. Shostakovich, during discussion of this issue, went out into the corridor to smoke, and for this Steinberg was very upset with him.

Interview from 1998 with Olga Gladkova

Galina Ivanovna, what are the first musical impressions you remember?

G.U.: As a child, listening to "Eugene Onegin" in a theater, I burst into tears, and was led from the hall. I felt sorry for Onegin. My mother complained that they couldn't take me anywhere because I would only disgrace them. I remember the orchestra impressed me so much that I proclaimed: "I want to be an orchestra!"

Were you taught to play a musical instrument?

G.U.: Yes, the cello. I played poorly and the instrument was imperfect itself: the strings lowered, the pins squeaked (being ungreased), and I had to retune constantly. I would practice reluctantly, but when I played, my half-deaf father (he lost his hearing following an illness) would sit nearby and listen. It touched me deeply.

Tell me about your parents, about your childhood, was it a musical family?

G.U.: No, my family had no musical roots. My father, Ivan Mikhailovich Ustvolskiy, a lawyer, came from a priest's family: my grandfather was a powerful figure in the spiritual world. Our name is a reference to this. My mother, Ksenia Kornilyevna Potapova, who much outlived my father (he died shortly after the war), was a school teacher. She came from an impoverished noble family, who managed to give her a good education. As far as I remember, we lived in constant financial constraint. I would wear an old coat of my father's (which was too long for me) and his muffler, which I gave to a young friend. I loved to give gifts, although we did not have anything to spare. Since childhood, I could not tolerate these kinds of pressures. I missed school very often. I left for the Islands [the northern islands of the Neva River delta in St. Petersburg — translator's comment] by tram and watched the birds swimming in pools for hours at a time. I wandered aimlessly around the city, looking at shop windows. I would come home late, because I did not want to return to a scolding.

Do you remember any childhood affections?

G.U.: At the dacha, all children would play together, and I would hide from them: I sat in the depths of the forest, near the lake, and drew. As a child I was completely misunderstood (then as now) and effectively raised myself. I was overlooked as my parents went on with their lives. My nerves were disrupted from then on... I remember when I was little I climbed under the piano to avoid a visit with my parents. I wanted to be alone. Then, when I became an adult, my relatives did not understand my music, could not understand why I'm writing "for the cabinet", but do not write songs and earn some money.

How long your works waited for publication?

G.U.: Usually about twenty years. My piano Concerto, written in 1946, was only released in 1967 (21 years), the First Sonata of 1947 in 1973 (26 years), Trio for Violin, Clarinet and Piano, created in 1949, was published in 1970 (21 years).The Second Sonata waited for publication for 20 years; starting with the Duet for Violin and Piano, it usually took about three to eight years between writing and publication.

Have any of your works been reprinted?

G.U.: Only recently they have begun to be reprinted abroad by Hans Sikorski, Hamburg.

Do you remember the day of your first premiere? Where was it, and which work was performed?

G.U.: No, I do not remember.

How do you perceive the reception of your music by the musical audience of the 60s and 70s?

G.U.: With great interest and attention.

You did not include in your catalogue some of your early symphonic works, nor your film music. Why?

G.U.: These are the works which I was compelled to write due to extreme material poverty, in order to help my family, which in those days were going through very hard times. These compositions can be distinguished at first sight from my real works, that's why they do not belong in the list.

In the catalogue there are only twenty-four works.

G.U.: Sophocles once said that three verses took him three full days of labor. "Three days!" cried a mediocre poet on hearing those words. "I would have written a hundred in that time!" "Yes", replied Sophocles, "but they would only endure for three days."

Do you edit your works over time? Are there works that exist in different versions?

G.U.: No. The works written by me were often hidden for long periods. But then if they did not satisfy me, I destroyed them. I do not have drafts; I compose at the table, without an instrument. Everything is thought out with such care that it only needs to be written down. I'm always in my thoughts. I spend the nights thinking as well, and therefore do not have time to relax. Thoughts gnaw me. My world possesses me completely, and I understand everything in my own way. I hear, I see, and I act differently from others. I just live my lonely life.

Did you happen to heard something new in your music when correctly performed?

G.U.: This is not possible for me.

One of the authors who wrote about you remembered the words of Schopenhauer: that self-sufficiency, an ability to find interest and pleasure in communicating with yourself — a sure sign of personality. Do you like listening to music by other composers, or to read?

G.U.: Of all the writers I have always preferred only Gogol. I think that he misunderstood in his time, and is not truly understood even today. I do not like to analyze music, always remembering a proverb (I think it's ancient Greek) — "Much learning does not teach understanding." For me, the most important things are nature, silence, rest. But not people. I would sit under a birch tree — just like it used to be when I was writing my Second Symphony — and nothing more is needed. The best thing is loneliness, because in loneliness I find myself, and through this I can actually live.

Has your sense of time in your current music changed in comparison to your music of thirty or forty years ago?

G.U.: It has not changed.

Are there any modern musical trends and styles that you feel close to?

G.U.: For anyone who knows my music, the question is meaningless.

You have been called a student of Shostakovich, and he is known to have been personally and creatively sympathetic towards you.

G.U.: Dmitri Dmitriyevich invited me to concerts and rehearsals. I could not refuse, of course. Sometimes I stood for the entire concert because there were as many people in his concerts in the Great Hall of the Philharmonic as herrings in a barrel. I endured these concerts with great difficulty because the music was grating on the ears, and my soul ached. I wanted to leave, but had to shake hands with Shostakovich and Mravinsky after the concert. Shostakovich's music always left me depressed. How the music such as this was called and is still called genius? It dims over time.
One episode says a lot. Once around 1939 or 40, Shostakovich came to me and told me that he had almost finished his Seventh Symphony. A few finishing touches were all that remained, and he mentioned that he did not know whether it should be called "Lenin" or "Leninskaya". Dmitri Dmitriyevich respected V.I. Lenin very much and always wanted to dedicate one of his works to him. [Later, this symphony was renamed "Leningradskaya" and became one of the symbols of the blockade and the resistance to fascism — Comment by K. Bagrenin.]

What would you say about the music and personality of Prokofiev?

G.U.: Nothing! I do not like his music.

Do you agree with Igor Stravinsky, who argued that "in musical notation it is not possible to fully and completely express the concept of the composer's style"?

G.U.: Completely impossible — this is indeed so. My music has not yet been performed perfectly (the Second Symphony, etc.). On the other hand, I do not like talking about my music. It is very difficult to discuss my own works. My ability to write music unfortunately does not grant the ability to write about it. In fact, it is said that one precludes the other...

Yet whom of your performers would you like to mention? Whose performances seem to you the most successful?

G.U.: Reinbert de Leeuw, Mstislav Rostropovich, Alexei Lyubimov, Frank Denier. Anatoly Ivanovich Vedernikov was the first who played my Second Piano Sonata brilliantly (in 1967), when all were afraid of everything and I was just trampled down in the dirt. He was not afraid to play my music.

If some unknown conductor or pianist were to request the scores and your permission to perform them, how would you react?

G.U.: I would give them the scores.

Many people argue about the genre of your works.

G.U.: The contents of my works exclude the application of the term "chamber music". Therefore, my works should be put either into the category of symphonic music (when it comes to symphonies and the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra), or to the category of instrumental music (when it comes to other works — for one, two or more instruments).

How do you feel about the latest fashion for religion which has spread in recent years among musicians, conductors, and authors?

G.U.: Negatively.

Do you consider yourself a believer?

G.U.: Yes.

Your music is often called religious...

G.U.: This is a profound mistake. I have talked about it many times.

What about the concept of nationalism — do you consider your music Russian?

G.U.: How do we perceive the art of Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Bach, Beethoven? Is it Italian, Dutch, or German art? This is the HIGHEST work. If the highest art is above all, or if a certain work of art stands above all the rest, that means it must be above nationality! I accept only such works, meaning in all forms of art.

Galina Ivanovna! Many St. Petersburg musicians can call you their teacher.

G.U.: I worked for a long time in the College, for about thirty years, and I was teaching only to survive and do not consider myself a creator of dozens of famous composers: they were educated at the conservatory. The students treated me very well. When I was expelled from the teaching staff for the performance of my Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (the work was banned), students picketed the college with a poster: "Give us back Ustvolskaya". I was reinstated.

What would you wish of a future composer?

G.U.: To write with great talent and brevity.

St. Petersburg, 1998

Source: Olga Gladkova's book in Russian "Galina Ustvolskaya: Music as Bewitchment"

Interview from 1998 with Olga Gladkova (German translation)

Galina Iwanowna, welche ersten musikalischen Eindrücke haben Sie in Erinnerung?

G.U.: Als ich in der Kindheit Eugen Onegin in der Oper hörte, heulte ich so, daß man mich aus dem Zuschauerraum entfernt hat. Onegin tat mir einfach leid. Mutter sagte, daß man "Galina nirgends hin mitnehmen darf, weil sie uns nur Schande bringt". Ich erinnere mich, daß das Orchester auf mich einen solchen Eindruck gemacht hat, daß ich sagte: "Ich will ein Orchester sein!"

Haben Sie irgendein Musikinstrument gelernt?

G.U.: Ja, das Violoncello. Ich spielte schlecht. Unvollkommen war auch das Instrument selbst: Die Saiten lockerten sich immer wieder und die Wirbel knarrten; man mußte die Saiten ständig nachstimmen. Ich übte nicht gern, aber wenn ich spielte, setzte sich mein Vater, der – nach einer Krankheit – fast taub war, neben mich und hörte zu. Das berührte mich sehr.

Erzählen Sie bitte über Ihre Eltern, über Ihre Kindheit. Gab es in Ihrer Familie Musiker?

G.U.: Nein, musikalische Wurzeln gab es keine in unserer Familie, Mein Vater, Iwan Michailowitsch Ustwolski, war Jurist, Rechtsanwalt, und kam aus einer Priesterfamilie: Mein Großvater war eine große bedeutende Persönlichkeit in der geistlichen Welt. Von dieser Herkunft zeugt auch unser Familienname. Meine Mutter, Xenia Korniljewna Potapowa, die meinen Vater, der sofort nach dem Krieg starb, um viele Jahre überlebte, war Schullehrerin. Sie kam aus einer verarmten Adelsfamilie, die ihr eine gute Bildung ermöglichen konnte. Soweit ich mich erinnern kann, lebten wir ständig in materiellen Schwierigkeiten. In der Not trug ich den alten Mantel meines Vaters – er war mir zu lang – und ein neues Halstuch von ihm, das ich später einem Mädchen geschenkt habe. Ich schenkte gern, obwohl wir selbst nichts übrig hatten. Seit meiner Kindheit duldete ich keinen Druck auf mich. Sehr oft blieb ich dem Schulunterricht fern. Ich fuhr lieber mit der Straßenbahn zu den Inseln und sah mir stundenlang an, wie die Vögel in Wasserpfützen badeten. Ich bummelte ziellos durch die Stadt und schaute mir Schaufenster an. Oft kam ich spät nach Hause, weil ich wußte, daß mich dort Tadel erwartete.

Können Sie sich an etwas erinnern, das Ihnen in der Kindheit lieb und teuer war?

G.U.: Auf der Datscha gingen alle Kinder zusammen spielen, aber ich versteckte mich vor ihnen, setzte mich ins Dickicht am See und zeichnete. In der Kindheit verstand man mich absolut nicht – übrigens, wie auch heute; ich wuchs allein auf. Ich war ganz allein. Die Eltern lebten ihr eigenes Leben. Seitdem sind meine Nerven zerrüttet... Ich erinnere mich daran, daß ich, als ich noch ganz klein war, unter das Klavier kroch, um zu vermeiden, mit den Eltern auf Besuch zu gehen. Ich wollte allein bleiben. Später, als ich erwachsen war, verstanden die Verwandten meine Musik nicht, sie verstanden nicht, warum ich "für die Schublade" komponierte und keine populären Lieder schrieb, um Geld zu verdienen.

Wie lange mußten Ihre Werke normalerweise bis zur Druckausgabe warten?

G.U.: In der Regel etwa zwanzig Jahre. Das Klavierkonzert, geschrieben 1946, wurde erst 1967, einundzwanzig Jahre später, herausgegeben. Die Erste Klaviersonate von 1947 erschien 1973, also nach sechsundzwanzig Jahren, und das Trio für Violine, Klarinette und Klavier von 1949 wurde 1970 gedruckt, nach einundzwanzig Jahren also. Die Zweite Klaviersonate wartete zwanzig Jahre auf ihre Druckausgabe, und erst seit dem Duett für Violine und Klavier betrug die Zeit zwischen dem Abschluß einer Komposition und der Druckausgabe normalerweise drei bis sieben Jahre.

Wurde irgendeines Ihrer Werke neu herausgegeben?

G.U.: Erst in den letzten Jahren kam es zu Neuausgaben außerhalb Rußlands beim Musikverlag Hans Sikorski in Hamburg.

Können Sie sich an den Tag Ihrer ersten Uraufführung erinnern? In welchem Saal war das? Was für ein Werk wurde aufgeführt?

G.U.: Nein, ich erinnere mich nicht.

Wie war, nach ihrem Eindruck, die Einstellung des Konzertpublikums der 60er und 70er Jahre zu Ihrer Musik?

G.U.: Es gab viel Interesse und große Aufmerksamkeit.

Einige Ihrer frühen sinfonischen Werke haben Sie nicht in Ihr Werkverzeichnis aufgenommen. Warum?

G.U.: Das sind Arbeiten, die ich aus äußerster materieller Not heraus komponieren mußte, um meiner Familie zu helfen, die es damals nicht leicht hatte. Diese Stücke kann man auf den ersten Blick von meinen eigentlichen Werken unterscheiden; darum gehören sie nicht in mein Werkverzeichnis.

Im Werkverzeichnis sind nur fünfundzwanzig Werke angegeben...

G.U.: Sophokles sagte einmal, daß ihn drei Verse drei Tage kosten. "Drei Tage!" rief ein mittelmäßiger Dichter aus, nachdem er diese Worte gehört hatte. "Ich könnte in dieser Zeit hundert Verse schreiben!" – "Ja", antwortete ihm Sophokles, "aber sie würden auch nur drei Tage existieren".

Überarbeiten Sie Ihre Kompositionen nach einiger Zeit? Gibt es Werke, die in verschiedenen Versionen existieren?

G.U.: Nein. Die von mir komponierten Stücke habe ich lange Zeit liegenlassen. Wenn sie mich danach nicht befriedigten, habe ich sie vernichtet. Ich mache keine Rohentwürfe. Und ich komponiere ohne Instrument am Schreibtisch. Alles wird mit solcher Sorgfalt durchdacht, daß es nur noch aufgeschrieben zu werden braucht. Ich bin immer in meine Gedanken vertieft. Auch die Nächte verbringe ich mit intensivem Nachdenken und schaffe es darum nicht, mich zu erholen. Die Gedanken zernagen mich. Ich habe eine ganz eigene Welt und verstehe alles von meinem eigenen Standpunkt aus. Ich höre, sehe und handle anders als alle Menschen. Ich lebe mein einsames Leben.

Ist es vorgekommen, daß Sie an einer besonderes gelungenen Interpretation Ihrer Musik etwas Neues entdeckt haben?

G.U.: So etwas kann es bei mir nicht geben.

Einer der Autoren, die über Sie geschrieben haben, erinnert an Schopenhauers Wort, daß die Selbstgenügsamkeit, die Fähigkeit, Interesse und Vergnügen im Umgang mit sich selbst zu finden, das exquisiteste Merkmal für eine Persönlichkeit ist, Hören Sie sich gern Musik anderer Komponisten an? Lesen Sie gern?

G.U.: Unter den Schriftstellern habe ich immer nur Gogol bevorzugt. Ich bin der Meinung, daß er seinerzeit nicht verstanden worden ist und auch heute noch nicht richtig verstanden wird. Ich analysiere Musik nicht gern. Ich habe immer ein – ich glaube altgriechisches – Sprichwort im Gedächtnis: "Viel Wissen gibt keine Weisheit". Für mich ist etwas anderes wichtiger: die Natur, die Stille, die Ruhe. Nur keine Leute. Ich würde gern unter einer Birke sitzen – wie beim Komponieren der Zweiten Symphonie. Mehr brauche ich nicht. Einsamkeit ist das Beste. Weil ich in der Einsamkeit zu mir selbst finde, und das gibt mir eigentlich das Leben.

Hat sich Ihre Wahrnehmung der Zeit in der Musik, an der sie heute arbeiten, und jener, die sie vor dreißig, vierzig Jahren geschrieben haben, verändert?

G.U.: Überhaupt nicht.

Gibt es unter den musikalischen Strömungen und Stilen etwas, das Sie als Ihrer Musik nahestehend oder verwandt bezeichnen könnten?

G.U.: Für den, der meine Musik gut kennt, ist diese Frage irrelevant.

Man bezeichnet Sie als Kompositionsschülerin Schostakowitschs.

G.U.: Der Kompositionsklasse von Schostakowitsch war ich formal zugeordnet. Während des Vorspiels der Schülerkompositionen ging Dmitri Dmitrijewitsch nervös im Zimmer hin und her, rauchte "Belomor" und ging oft hinaus, ohne ein Wort zu sagen. Wie es mir scheint war er ein neidischer Mensch... Praktisch unterrichtete er Instrumentation gar nicht, und ich strebte das eigentlich auch nicht an. Als ich als berufsuntauglich aus dem Konservatorium entfernt werden sollte und dies im Dekanat der Fakultät diskutiert wurde, sagte Dmitri Dmitrijewitsch kein Wort zu meiner Verteidigung, stand auf und verließ den Raum. Michail Fabianowitsch Gnessin verteidigte mich und erreichte meine Wiederaufnahme... Ich will, daß sich endlich die Wahrheit über Schostakowitsch als Komponist und Mensch durchsetzt. Es ist an der Zeit, jenen langjährigen unerschütterlichen und bornierten Standpunkt gegenüber der Persönlichkeit von Schostakowitsch aufzugeben. Die Persönlichkeit von Dmitri Dmitrijewitsch hat meine besten Gefühle belastet und getötet. Ausführlicher werde ich nichts mehr dazu sagen. Die Einzelheiten würden zu weit fuhren.

Die Fakten der persönlichen und schöpferischen Sympathie Dmitri Schostakowitschs Ihnen gegenüber sind bekannt.

G.U.: Dmitri Dmitrijewitsch lud mich zu seinen Konzerten und Proben ein. Natürlich konnte ich nicht ablehnen. Es kam vor, daß ich während eines ganzen Konzertes stehen mußte, weil sich bei Schostakowitschs Konzerten im Großen Saal der Philharmonie das Publikum wie Sardinen in der Büchse drängte. Mit großer Mühe hielt ich die Konzerte durch, denn die Musik zerschnitt mir die Ohren, die Seele tat weh. Ich wäre gern gegangen, aber nach dem Konzert mußte man Schostakowitsch und Mrawinski die Hand drücken. Schostakowitschs Musik hat mich immer deprimiert. Wie konnte, und, so scheint es, kann man immer noch eine solche Musik genial nennen? Mit der Zeit wird sie verblassen. Vielsagend war auch die folgende Episode. Etwa um 1940 oder 1941, noch vor dem Krieg, kam Schostakowitsch zu mir und erzählte, daß er seine Siebte Symphonie fast fertiggestellt hätte. Er hätte nur noch die Coda anzuschließen und einige überarbeitungen vorzunehmen. Er erwähnte, daß er sich unsicher sei, wie er die Symphonie besser überschreiben solle: "Lenin-Symphonie" oder "Leninsche Symphonie". Dmitri Dmitrijewitsch schätzte Wladimir Iljitsch Lenin sehr und wollte ihm immer irgendeines seiner Werke widmen.

Was würden Sie zur Musik und zur Persönlichkeit von Sergej Prokofjew sagen?

G.U.: Nichts! Seine Musik gefallt mir nicht.

Sind Sie mit Igor Strawinsky einverstanden, der behauptete, daß es unmöglich sei, die Konzeption des Komponisten voll und ganz durch die Notation darzustellen?

G.U.: Voll und ganz ist das unmöglich – es ist wirklich so. Ideal wurde meine Musik, die Zweite Symphonie zum Beispiel, noch nie aufgeführt. Andererseits spreche ich nicht gern über meine Musik. Es ist sehr schwer, über eigene Werke zu sprechen. Meine Fähigkeit, Musik zu komponieren, stimmt leider nicht mit der Fähigkeit überein, über sie zu schreiben. Außerdem gibt es die Meinung, daß das eine das andere ausschließe...

Und dennoch: Welchen Interpreten würden Sie favorisieren? Wessen Spiel scheint Ihnen am gelungensten zu sein?

G.U.: Reinbert de Leeuw, Mstislaw Rostropowitsch, Alexei Ljubimow und Frank Deniers. Anatoli Iwanowitsch Wedernikow hat als erster meine Zweite Klaviersonate von 1967 glänzend aufgeführt – damals, als alle alles fürchteten und mich einfach in den Schmutz traten. Er hatte keine Angst, meine Musik zu spielen.

Wenn irgend ein unbekannter Dirigent oder Pianist Sie darum bitten würde, ihm die Partituren und Stimmen und die Erlaubnis zur Aufführung Ihrer Musik zu geben, wie würden Sie reagieren?

G.U.: Ich würde ihm die Noten geben.

Man streitet oft darüber, zu welcher Gattung Ihre Werke gehören.

G.U.: Der innere Gehalt meiner Musik schließt den Begriff "Kammermusik" aus. Darum soll man meine Kompositionen entweder zur symphonischen Musik – wie die Symphonien und das Klavierkonzert – oder zur Instrumentalmusik rechnen – wie die übrigen Werke für ein, zwei oder mehrere Instrumente.

Wie ist Ihre Einstellung zur "Mode der Religiosität", die in den letzten Jahren Interpreten, Dirigenten, Chorleiter und auch die Komponisten erfaßt hat?

G.U.: Negativ.

Halten Sie sich für einen gläubigen Menschen?

G.U.: Ja.

Ihre Musik nennt man nicht selten religiös...

G.U.: Das ist ein großer Irrtum. Ich habe mich ja schon mehrfach dazu geäußert.

Und der Begriff des Nationalen? Halten Sie Ihre Musik für spezifisch russisch?

G.U.: Wie fassen wir denn die Kunst von Leonardo da Vinci, von Rembrandt, Bach, oder Beethoven auf? Ist das denn italienische, holländische oder deutsche Kunst? Das ist das Höchste. Wenn es sich um höchste Kunst handelt, wenn dieses oder jenes Werk alle anderen übertrifft, ist es für alle Nationen das Höchste. Ich akzeptiere nur solche Werke in allen Kunstgattungen.

Galina Iwanowna, viele Sankt Petersburger Musiker können Sie als ihre Lehrerin bezeichnen.

G.U.: Ich habe lange in der Musikfachschule gearbeitet, ungefähr dreißig Jahre. Aber ich habe nur unterrichtet, um meinen Lebensunterhalt zu verdienen und glaube nicht, daß ich Dutzende bekannter Komponisten ausgebildet habe – dafür war das Konservatorium da. Die Studenten verhielten sich mir gegenüber sehr gut. Als man mich aus dem Lehrkörper der Schule wegen der Aufführung meines Klavierkonzerts – es war verboten – entfernt hatte, organisierten die Studenten neben der Schulverwaltung einen Protestposten mit dem Plakat "Bringen Sie uns Ustwolskaja zurück". Und tatsächlich kam ich zurück.

Was würden Sie künftigen Komponisten raten?

G.U.: Begabter und kürzer zu komponieren.

St. Petersburg, 1998

Source: Olga Gladkowa "Galina Ustwolskaja: Musik als magische Kraft"

Interview from 2000, questions by Olga Gladkova

Galina Ivanovna, how often do you meet the performers of your music? Do you consider it necessary to explain the scores?

G.U.: I meet the performers rarely. I do not consider it necessary to explain the scores.

Which of the artists you would like to mention? Whose performances seem the best to you?

G.U.: Reinbert de Leeuw, Mstislav Rostropovich, Alexei Lyubimov, Frank Denyer, Marcus Hinterhäuser.

Do you remember your first premiere? Where was it? Which work was performed?

G.U.: I remember the premiere of "Dream of Stepan Razin" in the Grand Philharmonic Hall. The conductor was Yevgeny Mravinsky.

Your music is often compared with the work of Tarkovsky, the paintings of Malevich, and the prose of Kafka. How do you feel about these parallels?

G.U.: The work of Tarkovsky and Malevich is unknown to me*.

You have been called a student of Shostakovich, and your personal and creative sympathy with Dmitri Shostakovich is well known. Have you kept the letters from Shostakovich, and the manuscripts of his works he presented to you?

G.U.: I did not keep the letters, and I passed the manuscripts in my possession to the Paul Sacher Foundation in Switzerland.

Tell us a little about your family. Were there musical roots there?

G.U.: My family had no musical roots.

Do you consider yourself a believer?

G.U.: Yes.

Which of your works, in your opinion, would be better heard in the temple than in the concert hall?

G.U.: All of them.

The wooden cube was used in two of your works: the Second Composition and the Fifth Symphony. Tell us about how this unique instrument was created.

G.U.: I gave the dimensions to the artisan, and he knocked up a cube.

Questions by O. Gladkova, June 2000.

Source: audio tape in Russian

* K. Bagrenin recalls that she was indeed unaware of their works.

See also Thoughts about the creative process

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