Collected Works: Music
Symphony No. 6
by Valentin Silvestrov
From the depths of a vast underground cavern, the strains of an orchestra emanate, performing a once-in-a-lifetime, chthonic showstopper arranged for our pleasure. By the time that the sound reaches our ears, it has been refracted, collapsing into a wash of echoes. Yet, rebounded from wall to wall, the music is also amplified, transformed into something immense and overwhelming by the very same process that is tearing it apart.
Valentin Silvestrov’s sixth symphony is an hour-long exploration of memory, a work preoccupied by the gradual distortion and fragmentation of an inchoate gesture. Its shifts occur at the pace of moving tectonic plates, its opening marked by primordial shudders that rise out of the deepest bass tones. These rumbles give way to blurred, diaphanous chains of harmonies, which fade, passing from agitation to peacefulness, into silence.
At this process’s core is a lengthy middle section, in which a violin melody emerges, as if from the innermost recesses of the mind. It is a broken and distant quotation from a Mahler symphony, a faint, near-imperceptible reference point. Just as thoughts have a habit of vanishing from our consciousness the more we try to pin them down, Mahler’s phrases dissolve and dissipate, transformed into nostalgic reverberations of themselves.
That simple tune becomes ever more complex, weighed down with layers of accrued meaning. Magnified through recollections, it grows in significance, before receding into ellipses. Silvestrov’s subterranean journey posits the power of postludes to add to what came before. Its notes may begin as mere shadows dancing on cave walls, but, sheltered by the rising debris of the lost and near-forgotten, they come to scale awesome heights.
Words by Lewis Coenen-Rowe
More to discover
You can listen to a performance of the work by the Mariinsky Theatre Symphony Orchestra here.