Talking tough concertos, why does no-one play the Schnittke Beethoven cadenza?

Talking tough concertos, why does no-one play the Schnittke Beethoven cadenza?


norman lebrecht

September 04, 2016

While we’re enjoying the chat about concertos with difficult openings, consider the mysterious disappearance of a wonderful cadenza that Alfred Schnittke wrote for the Beethoven violin concerto.

It’s a tour d’horizons of great concertos, with snatches of  Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Ysaye, Schoenberg, Berg, and Schnittke himself.

Gidon Kremer recorded it on Philips around 1981 and hardly anyone has touched it since, nor has it ever transferred to CD or download.

Why not?


  • AndyHat says:

    Looks like it’ll be disc 4 in this upcoming box (listing at Tower Japan, but the catalog number looks like it’ll be international):

    Tower did a Japan-only pressing in 2014 as well, coupled with the Schnittke 2nd:

    Arkiv also has an ArkivCD of just the Beethoven concerto, so I assume it was a real Philips release at some point:

  • John Edward Bain says:

    The audacity of Kremer, and Phillips, was met by fierce FLAK and censure. Phillips delisted as quickly as decently possible. When he recorded the concerto again as part of Harnoncourt’s Beethoven cycle, he concocted a cadenza by Beethoven himself, originally for his piano version. As if in approval by Ludwig himself there is a piano obbligato ( offstage ? ). Or is Gidon sneaking in a Schnittke touch?

    Good News: the long missing first recording is currently available on Newton Classics: Catalogue No:8802064. (Presto Classics)


    Kremer was also touring the Paganini Fourth concerto with what sounded like a Schnittke cadenza.

    • Christopher Culver says:

      “Phillips delisted as quickly as decently possible.”

      Things weren’t quite so drastic. After the Philips catalogue was bought by Universal or whoever controlled DG before, this recording was reissued by DG in one of their midprice lines. That’s how I discovered the Schnittke cadenzas.

  • Mikey says:

    Maybe exactly because “It’s a tour d’horizons of great concertos, with snatches of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Ysaye, Schoenberg, Berg, and Schnittke himself.”

    Who knows, maybe violinists don’t want to play pastiche cadenzas.

    • Richard says:

      I hear Bartók there. In any event, a good lawyer representing those holding the copyright to some of those works could create quite a headache. I suspect that is one reason this cadenza is not played more often. I personally like it. If we are going to get all prissy about stylistic consistency, there goes the Kreisler cadenza and many others as well.

      • Richard Zencker says:

        Definitely quotes the Bartók. I suspect the legal considerations to which you refer are the real reason this cadenza is not played more often. That goes for the Kreisler as well, I think.

  • Michael B. says:

    The Kremer performance of the Beethoven Violin Concerto, with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields conducted by Neville Marriner, has in fact been released on CD. The original CD release was on Philips. There have been at least two re-releases of that recording, one on German Eloquence (Decca) 4801746 (I have that recording in my CD collection), and one on Newton Classics. Although out of print, both the Philips and the Newton are readily available on Amazon USA for under $5 US.

  • Jerome Hoberman says:

    Sasha Rozhdestvensky played it several years ago in Hong Kong.

  • Bruce says:

    Maybe because it clashes stylistically with the piece. I can understand getting bored with the ubiquitous Kreisler cadenza, but it’s a marvel of disciplined creativity. (Kreisler’s voice is in there, but only to say “Make way for Beethoven.”) IMHO the concerto doesn’t benefit from the hey-look-at-what-I-can-do form of “creativity,” in interpretation or in the cadenza. An experiment now and then is fine, but nobody should be surprised if audiences don’t like them, or if the violinist him/herself gets tired of it and goes back to the Kreisler.

  • John says:

    Ruggiero Ricci recorded the Beethoven with several different cadenzas – Auer,
    Busoni, David, two by Joachim, Kreisler, Laub, Milstein, Saint-Saëns, Schneiderhan, Schnittke, Vieuxtemps, Wieniawski, and Ysaye – for Biddulph years ago. Fascinating CD, with each cadenza separately tracked so you can choose your own version.

  • Beaumont says:

    Shouldn’t the question rather be, why nobody plays Schnittke any more?

    • Christopher Culver says:

      In the West, Schnittke’s status as a Soviet dissident attracted widespread interest, leading to lots of commissions and performances. Now that the West is twenty-five years removed from those Cold War polemics (there is geopolitical tension again today, but it has a different feel), Schnittke doesn’t have that selling feature.

      In Russia, many of the musicians who championed him have retired, died, or gone from overt dissident status like Schnittke to programming choices more in common with perceived audience tastes or state-directed aesthetics. Schnittke’s role as a Soviet dissident is increasingly problematic among widespread nostalgia for the Soviet Union. As long as Putin is alive, for instance, I cannot imagine any performance of Жизнь с идиотом by a state ensemble – its “Vova” (Vladimir Lenin) would be seen as an attack on another “Vova” (Vladimir Putin).

  • Edoardo Saccenti says:

    Lisa Batiashvili played the Schnittke’s cadenzas in Berlin Konzerthaus on 09 Apr 2014 with Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. I was there and revied the concert. Schnittke’s cadenzas are pretty impressive, so it was Lisa Batiashvili’s playing and interpretation.

    • norman lebrecht says:


    • Daniel F. says:

      She also played it with the Minnesota Orchestra (Vanska conducting) in Carnegie Hall in their last appearance there prior to the lockout: not certain of the year. LB played conventionally in the first movement v. Vanska’s urgent & brisk approach, but somehow after playing the Schnittke, she got wound up and caught on to the kind of performance Vanska was getting from the orchestra. The larghetto was played at a convincingly “moving” and the finale had an enormous lift to it. The Schnittke is wonderful and even inspiring, and like NL I wish other violinists would give it a whirl.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Well, it sounds like a joke. Very badly written, and a ridiculous interruption of the music. And much, much too long, to say the least. As Bruce said earlier: “Maybe because it clashes stylistically with the piece.” It is an intrusion of the piece, not a contribution to it, what a cadenza should be.

  • Nick says:

    I only heard Kremer play the Schnittke cadenza for the Brahms. Stuck out like a sore thumb!

  • ANDREW BEER says:

    Good question. My personal answer would be that the Kreisler cadenza is just so very outstanding – can’t get past it.

  • Joan says:

    I remember in the early 2000s when he played the Beethoven concerto (with the Schnittke cadenza) in Barcelona. What a wonderful performances! I still think about them. Since then, the Schnittke cadenza became a favorite of mine. They should defintely be played more (in schools, competitions and concert halls).

  • Michael B. says:

    I forgot about the Arkiv Music re-release in their Arkiv CD burn-to-order program. Also, a check of Amazon Germany indicates that there have actually been two German Eloquence re-releases, the one that I have (that includes some other Beethoven music for violin soloist and orchestra) and another one that includes just the concerto with the
    Schnittke cadenzas. That makes a total of four re-releases for that recording. If the curious (or masochistic) are interested, it is readily available.

    I agree that interest in Schnittke has diminished somewhat since his death. However, that opera Жизнь с идиотом (“Life with an Idiot”) is an important member of a line of Russian satirical operas that probably began with Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Golden Cockerel” and continued with Shostakovich’s “The Nose” and Rodion Shchedrin’s “Dead Souls.” The most recent opera in this line is Leonid Desyatnikov’s “Rosenthal’s Children,” a recording of which is to be released this month. Regarding “Life with an Idiot,” my Russian grandfather probably knew all of those Russian curse words in that opera, but probably never expected to hear them sung from an opera stage.

  • Paul Unger says:

    I love Schnittke but I have to agree with Nick. His cadenza on the Beethoven sticks out like a sore thumb. It is a great piece in its own right, though.

  • Lawrence Price says:

    I have tried to find the music for it without much success. If it were more readily available maybe it would be performed more.

  • Michael Collins says:

    I heard Kremer play the Beethoven/Schnittke in D.C. around 1980. It was electrifying.

  • Cecylia Arzewski says:

    The reason no one plays the Schnittke Cadenza is because it’s an insult to Beethoven!!!!!

  • Larry Katz says:

    Sorry Norman, but maybe nobody plays it because it stinks?

  • Whoever says:

    If anyone thinks the Schnittke cadenza is a bit out-of-place-sounding, try listening to Gille Apap’s own cadenza to the 3rd movement of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 on YouTube. The amazing thing about Apap is that the performance keeps you riveted because you wonder “what the heck is he going to come up with next” (though I surmise some people will think “when will it ever end”)?

    In a way, isn’t that the whole point about cadenzas? The soloist is supposed to surprise ad delight the audience with his/her technical and artistic skills beyond what the concerto contains. It was thus in Mozart’s and Beethoven’s time, so why not in ours?

    We all know the various cadenzas by Kreisler, Joachim et al. because we’ve been listening to them ad nauseam for the last 100 years. By now, they hardly surprise us with their technical demands, nor do they seem particularly innovative musically (many “composed” cadenzas are stylistically incorrect anyway, especially when it comes to baroque and classical concerti).

    If anything, I would ask where is there a recording of Benjamin Britten’s cadenza for Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in C? Or Stockhausen’s cadenzas for Mozart’s flute and clarinet concerti? And what about Richard Strauss’ vocal cadenza for Mozart’s “Exultate Jubilate”?

    PS Yes, I know where those cadenzas are, who performed them and who recorded them. The above paragraph was what’s called a “rhetorical question,” so please spare me any musicological or audiophile knowledge-pontification.

    • hm says:

      Good on you, Whoever. I grow tired of the sanctimonious pronouncements of so-called purists whose claims of legitimacy are backed by multiple exclamation points at the ends of their definitive proclamations.

      Beethoven was an iconoclast who sought to push the limits of composition ever outwards, until the very end. I would never dare speak for what he would have liked or disliked, but both Schnittke and Kremer are iconoclasts in the best way. There’s something of that maverick spirit in all three of them.

      When I was a grad student, a winner of the concerto competition played the Beethoven with the Schnittke cadenza on the first movement, Kreisler on the second, and his own on the third. It was as exciting a performance of that work as I’ve ever heard.

      • John Borstlap says:

        It is a misunderstanding to project 20C modernist ideology on Beethoven’s work. He extended the classical language and infused it with his unbridled fantasy, but he always kept strictly to the language’s norms and dynamics – merely reinstated them on a much grander scale than Haydn and Mozart, and used the language freer than they had done.

  • Paul says:

    I hated that Schnittke cadenza and gave the disc to a friend – with what I thought were clear warnings. 30 (or so) years later, I discovered that since that was the first recording they had heard, they were so used to that cadenza they had trouble dealing with other recordings. Just saying………..

  • Hein Storm says:

    Schnittke’s cadenza was also played and recorded by Gidon Kremer and Nikolaus Harnoncourt, several times. It’s a fantastic cadenza, particularly the way that Kremer plays it.