The symphony is written in a single movement of 22 variations and is approximately 45 minutes in length. Ronald Weitzman writes, "The form of Schnittke's Fourth Symphony [is] at once cross-shaped and spherical.... The composer draws musically on the three main strands of Christianity—Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant—while underlying this is a three–note semitone interval motif representing synagogue chant, thus symbolizing the Jewish source of Christianity." The result, Ivan Moody writes, is that Schnittke "attempts to reconcile elements of znamennïy and Gregorian chant, the Lutheran chorale and Synagogue cantillation ... within a dense, polyphonic orchestral texture" A tenor and a countertenor also sing wordlessly at two points in the symphony. Words are saved for a finale in which all four types of church music are used contrapuntally as a four-part choir sings the Ave Maria. The choir can choose whether to sing the Ave Maria in Russian or Latin. The programmatic intent of using these different types of music, Schnittke biographer Alexander Ivashkin writes, is an insistence by the composer "on the idea ... of the unity of humanity, a synthesis and harmony among various manifestations of belief."

Date of composition 1983
Premiered 1984, April 12th in Russia, Moscow
Type Symphony
Approx. duration 45 minutes
Instruments Orchestra
Voice (Tenor)
Voice (Countertenor)
Autotranslations beta Alfred Schnittke: Symphonie n°4
Al'fred Garrievič Šnitke: Sinfonia n. 4
Alfred Schnittke: Sinfonie Nr. 4