Online Reviews of Online Reviews: Alfred Schnittke is the Devil.

Lucid views of hell? Yes, please and thank you.

Lucid views of hell? Yes, please and thank you.


Sometimes the bad reviews make you want something even more than the good reviews. For instance from June 14, 2004, the only 1 star Amazon review of the BIS recording of Alfred Schnittke’s Faust Cantata:

If you love sickness, death, darkness and decomposition, then you MUST have this CD. I bought it because so many people recommended it to me. As with nearly all of Schnittke’s music, I felt so bad after listening to it that it took me a week or so of intensive Mozart, Bach and Faure therapy to recover. It literally feels as if you’ve been gobbled up by a black cloud.

I have no doubt that Schnittke exposes some very brilliant musical ideas here. But to what end? And at the end of the day, who cares if it’s a masterpiece by the Devil, if its effect on you is a lucid experience of Hell and stains of de-composition and decay?

— A Customer

I have no idea what it could possibly mean to be literally gobbled up by a black cloud.

I’ll look past that. Even if I hadn’t been wanting to own a recording of this music for years now, this review would have sold me immediately. In fact, if I had never heard of Alfred Schnittke, I would be doing everything I could to get my hands on ANYTHING by this Schnittke guy after reading this review.

“Who cares if it’s a masterpiece by the Devil, if its effect on you is a lucid experience of Hell and stains of de-composition and Decay?” I care! Seriously? That sounds amazing. How could anyone possibly ask me that with a straight face!? That is exactly what I want all the time. How fast can I download that onto my computer and play it on repeat until my girlfriend makes me stop?

To contrast, here is one of the many 5 star Amazon reviews of the same recording:

This is one of my favorite Schnittke CD’s.

The Ritual has a dramatic crescendo of echoing brass which becomes quiet just as dramatically.

(K)ein Sommernachtstraum begins with an innocent classical theme (Schnittke says it is inspired by Mozart and Schubert), which periodically degenerates (or evolves?) into delectable, hair-raising dissonance at surprising intervals. The humor is similar to that of Haydn’s surprise symphony, but the collapses are less predictable in their frequency and more variable in their form. Schnittke also manages to incorporate the sounds of a small chamber orchestra, a marching band, and a large symphony orchestra. The whole work is delightful.

I didn’t quite appreciate the Passacaglia as much as the other works. It starts with eerie strings, then eerie winds join in. It sounds a bit more academic than the other pieces.

The Faust cantata was a great find. The whole thing is tremendous, with incredible harmonies. Scene VI (track 9) is particularly beautiful, and Scene VII (track 10) is a particularly enjoyable, macabre tango. Is there a theramon in it?”


That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t get me anywhere near as excited about getting my hands on this recording as the 1 star review. Delightful? Where are the devil, and the lucid views of hell? That’s what I want now damn it. That’s all I want now. If the person who wrote the 1 star review is psychologically damaged by listening to Schnittke, then I have to listen to Schnittke. Right now. Delightful you can get anywhere. Music that messed this other guy up for like a week, that’s hard to find.

From now on, if I really, really like something and want other people to try it too, I’m going to pretend it was the most terrible thing that has ever happened to the universe and imply that it could only have been created by the dark one himself. I will call this, The Amazon 1-Star Stratagem.


About Chris Michael

Eating guitars since 2009.
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