Zara Alexandrovna Levina, born 1906 in Alexandrovsk (Ukraine), witnessed two world wars, the Revolution as well as the collapse and totalitarian reconstruction of her homeland. She was under the constant ideological pressure of the existentially threatening state censorship, which was particularly exerted by the notorious RAPM (Russian Association of Proletarian Musicians) in the 1920s and 1930s, driving her to the brink of a creative and health disaster. However, Zara Levina was able to retain her own and unmistakable voice in her music.
The late Alfred Schnittke has, after his death, been accused of writing too much music of variable quality. This debate is still raging although suffice to say that the Eighth Symphony truly is one of his greatest works and indeed, one of the great symphonic works of the latter twentieth century. The charge of oppressive asceticism laid against the Sixth and Seventh symphonies can hardly be held up to this expansive and frankly emotional work. It is as if Schnittke relaxed the skeletal sounds of his previous essays in the genre and, while not quite returning to the dazzling orchestral pyrotechnics of the Fifth Symphony (Concerto Grosso no. 4), creating a work of great sincerity and beauty. The first movement is an obsessive repetition of a wide-ranging (in pitch, not rhythm) melody, seemingly effortlessly varied to touch on all sections of the orchestra.