Maxim Shalygins ‘Symphony for violin solo’ is in every respect the very negation of everything composers like Helmut Lachenmann stand for. But that is by no means a reason to reject it, quite the contrary. Let us have a closer look.
Qua technique, this work distinguishes itself in that, on the one hand, it uses the broad array of virtuoso techniques developed in the tradition of Western violin playing from Tartini to Ysaye (from lyrical singing to multiple stops, arpeggios, pizzicatos, flageolets, glissandos and the whole array of bowing techniques), but, on the other hand, it emancipates them from a subordinate function (glissandos), or makes them sound new through using them in new settings (pressing very hard or with high speed on extremely high notes) or in new combinations (glissando in combination with trills). Thus Shalygin extends the traditional array of playing techniques, not so much by resorting to ‘extended techniques’ like Lachenmann in his string quartets, or Sciarrino in his Sei Capricci per violine, who tend to transform the sound of the violin into something totally unexpected. Rather, Shalygin is out at unfolding the sound of the violin in all its congenial sonority. No academic formulas hence, nor avant-garde radicalisms, but rather a self-conceived scale of playing techniques in its own right that, otherwise than Lachenmanns ‘manuals’, never severs the ties with sonority, and thus allows for maintaining a thoroughly tonal language.
And, that scale of playing techniques is not so much a formal device, as rather an array of expressive techniques, devised for the expression of an equally broad array of expressions: from languorous singing to biting sarcasm or melancholy resignation. Here also, the composer seems to dispose of a whole gamut of moods, tapped from the depths of a fathomless soul.
Qua structure, in a permanent metamorphosis, Shalygin elaborates the elementary motif that first appears as a melody, into ever more elaborated formations of an ever increasing complexity. The composition has something of the development of the sonata condensed with its overall four-movement structure, like with Beethovens ‘Grosse Fuge’, but partakes also of procedures like the variations of Beethoven op. 111 or the chaconne of Bach: an organic structure that unfolds in ever growing diversity through an overarching synthetic bow tending from the beginning to the end.
The quasi orchestral richness conjured up from the mere four strings of a single instrument, as well as the quasi symphonic dimensions of the odyssey through the most diverse regions of the human soul, conjured up from an elementary kernel of sounds, more than justify the pretentions of the work as expressed in its subtitle: ‘a symphony for violin solo’.
The most striking merit of this ‘untimely’ work, however, is that it is drenched with a spirit that totally lacks in many contemporary Western music: a penchant for the transcendent that only succeeds in convincing when it is expressed by a master who sovereignly commands his medium. Therein, Shalygin is an heir to composers like Ustvolskaya (or filmmakers like Tarkowski), who, from a broader perspective, are more akin to Bach, the spirit of whose chaconne resounds in Shalygins ‘symphony’, whereas composers like Lachenmann, notwithstanding their often impressive feats, are only heir to a supposed ”continuous negation of the norm’ by the great masters.
However that may be, there is no doubt that a great composer is coming here. Let us hope that he will live up to the expectations raised by this marvellous work – and that he will be able to remain true to his nature…