About the composer
Galina Ustvolskaya’s entire life (17.VI.1919—22.XII.2006) is tied up with one and the same city. She was born on June 17, 1919 in Petrograd (now Saint Petersburg). From 1934 to 1937 she studied cello at the Leningrad Capella, and from 1937 to 1947 (with a break during the war) attended Dmitri Shostakovich's composition class at the Leningrad Conservatory. Ustvolskaya particularly wanted to study under Shostakovich as she thought him the only composer able to teach her anything. As the years went by, however, and she came to know the man and his music better, her opinions were dramatically revised. Her composition teacher, who seldom praised his students, valued Ustvolskaya’s work very highly and said of her: "I am convinced that the music of G. I. Ustvolskaya will achieve worldwide renown, to be valued by all who perceive truth in music to be of paramount importance." On several occasions Shostakovich supported her in the Union of Soviet Composers against opposition from his colleagues. He sent some of his own as yet unfinished works to Ustvolskaya, attaching great value to her comments. Some of these pieces even contain quotations from his pupil's compositions; for example, he employed the second theme of the Finale of her Trio throughout the Fifth String Quartet and in the Michelangelo Suite (no. 9).
On graduating from the conservatory Ustvolskaya was at once admitted to the Composers' Union and from 1947 until 1950 honed her skills as a graduate student. In 1948, Ustvolskaya began teaching composition at the Leningrad Rimsky-Korsakov College of Music, and continued to do so for around 30 years. According to the composer, she taught "only to subsist on it", and did not see herself as the creator of any of well-regarded composers: "They were educated at the College". In general, she expected her students to work to the same high standards she set for herself and, despite reports to the contrary, she never singled out any of her students for special praise.
Genuine recognition came to the composer only in the late 80's when a concert in Leningrad was attended by Jürgen Köhel, the director of the largest music publishing house "Sikorski" and Elmer Schönberger, the Dutch musicologist. Mr. Schönberger was so stunned by the music that he did everything in his power to ensure that this concert was heard in Europe. Soon, a series of international Ustvolskaya's music festivals was organised (1995, 1996, 2005, 2011 – Amsterdam, 1998 – Vienna 1999 – Bern, 2001 – Warsaw, 2004 – Båstad), and Mr. Köhel acquired the rights to publish her works. She unambiguously dismissed subsequent proposals that she should emigrate from Russia: all her life had been connected with St. Petersburg, which she left only a few times in order to attend festivals of her music. Galina Ustvolskaya led a solitary life, thinking over the new works until her last days. "My music is my life" – she said.