Alexander Raskatov: Monk’s Music

Program Note

Alexander Raskatov (b.1953)
Monk’s Music, Seven Words by Starets Silouan
(In memoriam Mieczyslaw Weinberg) (2005)—North American premiere

“The idea of this work came to my mind in 2005 in Moscow while working with the Borodin Quartet. While talking with the quartet’s cellist, Valentin Berlinsky, I mentioned that I would like to compose seven slow movements (the model, of course, was Haydn’s masterpiece Seven Last Words). Berlinsky was very enthusiastic about my idea and “blessed” me to start writing. I selected my own “Seven Last Words” from the writings of Starets Silouan. Monk’s Music was finished at the end of 2005, but then suddenly Berlinsky fell very ill and could not play anymore. After his death, Monk’s Music was not performed until 2013, when the Carducci Quartet premiered it in Dundalk, Ireland.” —Alexander Raskatov

Alexander Raskatov was born in Moscow, the son of a writer for the satirical Soviet publication Krokodil. He attended the Moscow Conservatory and studied under Albert Leman, graduating in 1978. Coinciding with the fall of the USSR in the early 1990s, the composer’s late 30s led him away from, in his words, “the forgotten Romantic idioms” which he had been exploring in his early work. He began to think of structure in a new way, as a “static non-action” which generated “weaker or relaxed musical forms.” During this period, Raskatov employed avant-garde syntax that was usually utilized as a tool to explore dissonance. In Raskatov’s toolbox, they instead serve to create effects that bear more resemblance to “a symbol of the naïve world of a child” than to the thornier tonalities of his contemporaries. In a 2010 interview, Raskatov expressed that “the modern world’s sound environment reminds me of childhood illusions and requires some escape from the limits of serious academic music making.”

—Josh Davidoff

The Russian word “starets” means “elder”, and is used in the Orthodox Christian tradition to denote a monk of exceptional spiritual discernment and wisdom. Starets Silouan, born Simeon Antonov in 1866 in a village in the Tambov Province of Russia, was such a man. Silouan was canonized in 1987 as St. Silouan the Athonite.

As a young man, Antonov had a dream in which he heard the voice of Mary, the Mother of God, reprimanding him for his debauched way of life and, after completing his military service at the request of his father, he entered the Russian Monastery of St. Panteleimon on Mount Athos in 1892. Constantly engaged in what in the Orthodox tradition is called spiritual warfare, his teachings and observations on the spiritual life, as well as his poem Adam’s Lament were recorded by his disciple, Archimandrite Sophrony.

—Ivan Moody