Upon his emergence in the West in the early 1980s, Alfred Schnittke became one of the most talked-about, recorded, and influential composers of the last decades of the twentieth century. Schnittke was born in 1934 in the Soviet Union to German parents. After living for several years in Vienna, he returned to Moscow to attend the Conservatory from 1953-1958. He returned there to teach instrumentation from 1962 through 1972. Thereafter, splitting his time between Moscow and Hamburg, he supported himself as a film composer. Schnittke composed nine symphonies, six concerti grossi, four violin concertos, two cello concertos, concertos for piano and a triple concerto for violin, viola and cello, four string quartets, ballet scores, choral and vocal works. His first opera, Life with an Idiot, was premiered in Amsterdam (April 1992). Two more operas, Gesualdo and Historia von D. Johann Fausten were unveiled in Vienna (May 1995) and Hamburg (June 1995) respectively. In 1985, Schnittke suffered a series of strokes, but nevertheless entered into the most creative period of his life. From 1990 until his death in 1998, he lived exclusively in Hamburg.
A Jewish-born Christian mystic, Schnittke had philosophical theories that permeated his music. According to his biographer Alexander Ivashkin, he believed a composer "should be a medium or a sensor remembering what he hears from somewhere else and whose mind acts as a translator only. Music comes from some sort of divine rather than human area." (Alfred Schnittke, Phaedon Press 1995).