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Composed: 1971

Length: c. 12 minutes

Orchestration: 3 flutes, 3 clarinets (3rd=bass clarinet), percussion (suspended cymbal, vibraphone, marimba), harp, piano, and strings

About this Piece

Sofia Gubaidulina is regarded as one of the foremost Russian composers of our time due to her fearless experimentation with alternative tunings, unusual instrumentation, and spiritual themes. Born in the Soviet Union, she became known for creating striking impact by placing dramatic moments of silence between quiet, cascading melodies and intense bursts of harmonic color.

Gubaidulina’s Poema-Skazka was originally composed for a 1971 radio program based on “The Little Piece of Chalk,” a children’s story by Czech writer Miloš Macourek. Gubaidulina describes it as follows:

“I liked the story so much and I found it so symbolic of an artist’s fate that I came to have a very personal relationship with this piece. This story’s main character is a little piece of chalk that people use to write on a blackboard. The chalk dreams that it will draw marvelous castles, beautiful gardens with pavilions, and the sea. But day after day, the chalk is forced to write boring words, numbers, and geometric shapes on the blackboard. And while the children grow bigger every day, the chalk gets smaller and smaller. It gradually despairs and loses hope that it could ever draw the sun or the sea. It soon becomes so small that it can no longer be used in the classroom, and it’s thrown away. After that, the chalk finds itself once again in total darkness and thinks it died. But what seemed to be the darkness of death turns out to be a boy’s pants pocket. His hand takes the chalk out into the daylight and begins to draw castles, gardens with pavilions, and the sea with the sun on the asphalt. The chalk is so happy that it doesn’t even notice that it’s disintegrating as it sketches this beautiful world.” —Piper Starnes