Balancing Mathematics and Virtuosity: A Performer’s Guide to Sofia Gubaidulina’s Dancer on a Tightrope

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Sofia Gubaidulina’s Dancer on a Tightrope (Der Seiltänzer, 1993) for violin and piano is an excellent example of the sonic capabilities of both instruments. To convey the balance and uncertainty

Sofia Gubaidulina’s Dancer on a Tightrope (Der Seiltänzer, 1993) for violin and piano is an excellent example of the sonic capabilities of both instruments. To convey the balance and uncertainty of a circus act, Gubaidulina makes ample use of rhythmic variation, flexible melodic gestures, compound meters, dissonance, and indeterminacy in notation of musical time. Due to the intricate nature of both parts, this can be a difficult work to perform accurately. This paper is an accompanying document to the score to explain notations, suggest performance techniques for both instruments, and provide a thorough analysis of the complete work.

Students of Gubaidulina’s music can find numerous studies detailing her biography as a Soviet and post-Soviet composer. There are many dissertations on her string works, including the string quartets and string trio. However, there is no performer’s guide or existing study that would provide insight to Dancer. Most of the existing literature on Gubaidulina is not based on sketches but relies on analysis of published sources.

In researching this document, I drew upon the manuscript collection for Dancer on a Tightrope housed at the Paul Sacher archives in Basel, Switzerland. I compare sketches with the published score and analyze the work’s structure, melodic aspects, harmony, timbre, and practical applications of the extended notation. I will also compare Dancer on

a Tightrope to Gubaidulina’s works from the same period, violin writing, and other chamber music. Many of the rhythmic and pitch ambiguities in the published score will be clarified by a sketch study of the piece. For assistance with piano notation and performance, I suggest techniques for the most careful way to play inside the instrument to avoid damage.

I contextualize Gubaidulina within a Soviet and international context. It is essential to view her work within a broader twentieth-century framework, her life as a composer in the USSR, and in light of broader socio-political trends. Gubaidulina is one of the foremost Soviet composers who has earned international recognition. This performer’s guide will advance and encourage performances of Dancer on a Tightrope and help disseminate knowledge about this work.