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Alexander Knaifel


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    In Air Clear And Unseen: 2. An Autumn Evening - Oleg Malov, Keller Quartett
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    In Air Clear And Unseen: 1. In Some Exhausted Reverie - Oleg Malov, Keller Quartett
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    Svete Tikhiy (O Gladsome Light): 2. The Song Of The Most Holy Theotokos - Tatiana Melentieva, Andrei Siegle
On the one hand, Russian composer Alexander Knaifel (Knayfel'), who was born in the city of Tashket in Uzbekistan in the autumn of 1943, seems a throwback to an age gone by.
In an era during which composers and academic institutions -- universities, colleges, and conservatories -- are sewn together to a sometimes unhealthy degree, a composer who, like Knaifel, maintains no faculty position, nor even a less formal teaching post, is bound to stand out. But in many significant ways, Knaifel and his music represent modernism of a most uncompromising kind. One can often hear little, sometimes virtually nothing, of the composers that Knaifel himself loves and admires in Knaifel's massive musical essays. The landmarks by which the traditionally-inclined composer orients himself -- melody and harmony (whether tonal or atonal) -- are essentially absent.
Knaifel was introduced to his profession by his musician parents, both of whom taught at the Leningrad Conservatory. Strict training began at age seven with cello lessons at the Rimsky-Korsakov College of Music (an affiliate of the Leningrad Conservatory), and then in 1960 he entered the class of the legendary Rostropovich at the Moscow Conservatory. But a career as a cellist was not in his cards -- injury-plagued and frustrated, Knaifel abandoned his cello studies to pursue a course in composition back at the Leningrad Conservatory (1963 - 1967). He has since then worked and lived in that city (now St. Petersburg).
Knaifel is something of a musical metaphysicist, one inclined towards both undefined abstraction and deep spiritual-religious sentiment. (He is a confirmed member of the Russian Orthodox Church.) He reduces music to its most basic building blocks: sound as sound, and for the sake of sound. But basic does not mean short, and Knaifel has written many pieces that last several hours (only one of which, The Canterville Ghost of 1966, is an opera and might thus be expected to be of great size). He does not apply traditional, generic titles (like "symphony" or "quartet") to his pieces, preferring instead either pseudo-descriptive ones, like Bezumie (Madness, 1987), or liturgical ones, like Agnus Dei (also 1987), and he has divided his energy almost equally between instruments and the human voice.


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