Ukrainian composer and pianist Valentyn Silvestrov is considered one of the leading figures of the Soviet avant-garde in the 1960s. Born in 1937 in Kyiv, Silvestrov began private music lessons when he was 15. He studied piano at the Kyiv Evening Music School from 1955 to 1958 whilst at the same time training to become a civil engineer. He attended the Kyiv Conservatory from 1958 to 1964, where he was taught musical composition by Borys Lyatoshynsky, and harmony and counterpoint by Levko Revutsky. He then taught at a music studio in Kyiv. Silvestrov was a freelance composer in Kiev from 1970 to 2022, when he fled from Ukraine following the Russian invasion in February. He lives in Berlin.
His early experimental orientation meant that his work received official criticism in the Soviet Union and, despite prizes and some prominent works, recognition in his homeland and beyond was hard won. In 1974, under pressure to conform to both official precepts of socialist realism and fashionable modernism, and likewise to apologise for his walkout from a composers’ meeting to protest the Soviet Union invasion of Czechoslovakia, Silvestrov chose to withdraw from the spotlight. In this period, he began to reject his previously modernist style. Instead, he composed Quiet Songs (1977), a cycle intended to be played in private. Later, after the fall of the Soviet Union, he also began to compose spiritual and religious works influenced by the style of Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox liturgical music.
Silvestrov is perhaps best known for his post-modern musical style; some, if not most, of his works could be considered neoclassical and post-modernist. Using traditional tonal and modal techniques, Silvestrov creates a unique and delicate tapestry of dramatic and emotional textures. Since the beginning of the 21th century, Silvestrov has been working with small forms, composing more than six hundred pieces, mostly for piano, including waltzes, lullabies, postludes, pastorales, serenades.