Valentin Silvestrov: Hymn


Composed in 2001, Valentin Silvestrov’s heart-wrenching Hymn is scored for string orchestra. Described as a ‘noble song of praise’, Hymn works with textures and atmospheres to create a cohesive piece of music. Silvestrov writes this at the front of the score:


“My Hymn is enveloped in silence although it appears like a customary string setting on the outside. The paradox of Cage’s 4’33, is also present in latent form, but this is the ‘silence of new music.’ All melodic content from my other compositions can also be found here. A rest does not only constitute a lack of sound, but is also a state of retardation and paralysis or a suspension of time. In early music, there was an occasional need for silence, but here it is a fundamental feature.”


The Music

Silvestrov’s rich and sonorous string writing is really at the heart of Hymn. The lower strings and viola theme at the beginning create a deep timbre that is accentuated by the cello lines. The slow-moving theme begins to unravel and the nobility of the piece is laid out for the listener to hear. The piece fans out its texture through Silvestrov’s harmonic language, which uses nuanced dissonances to keep the music moving along. 

As the upper strings enter the mix, a solo violin begins to emerge. Here, the soloist accentuates and further develops the main melody, this time playing it an octave up. There is a sense of melancholy in the piece and this is further accentuated by this emotional violin solo. Due to the way that Silvestrov writes this work, there is an element of staticism and paralysis as chords over-hang across bar lines and suspensions are held left, right and centre. 

Hymn comes to its conclusion after a visit back to the opening material, which has now been developed. The dissonant ending is supported by a drone in the lower strings, which adds a foreboding character to the end. The piece ends quietly and peacefully. 


Final Thoughts

Valentin Silvestrov’s Hymn is a rich textural work that tugs at the heartstrings at just the right moment. His use of harmony and texture blend to create this atmospheric work for string orchestra.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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