A leading avant-garde composer, a Russian of German descent (Jewish on his father's side and Volga-German on his mother's). He was born on 24 November 1934 at Engels, and died in Hamburg, where he had lived since 1990, on 3 August 1998.

He studied piano, composition, and conducting in Moscow from 1948 to 1961, and taught instrumentation at the Moscow Conservatoire between 1962 and 1972. Between then and 1984 he mainly lived by composing film scores, but by the 1980s he had become famous in the West.

He composed three operas: Life with an Idiot (premiered Amsterdam 1992), Gesualdo (Vienna 1995), and Historia von D. Johann Fausten (Hamburg 1995). Schnittke also wrote nine symphonies, four violin concertos, two cello concertos, and six concerti grossi. His first concerto grosso in 1977, performed by his long-time chmapion Gidon Kremer, contributed significantly to his renown. He has also written works for other performers including Mstislav Rostropovich, Yuri Bashmet, Natalia Gutman, and Gennady Rozhdestvensky.