He began private music lessons at age 15. He studied piano at the Kiev Evening Music School from 1955 to 1958, then at the Kiev Conservatory from 1958-1964; composition under Borys Lyatoshynsky, harmony and counterpoint under Levko Revutsky.
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, qualities which he suggests are otherwise sacrificed in much of contemporary music. "I do not write new music. My music is a response to and an echo of what already exists," Silvestrov has said.ECM
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 traced his eventual rejection of avantgarde back to his years in the Kiev Conservatory. When presented one of his radical works Lyatoshynsky asked him: "Do you like this?", and while he replied affirmatively "that question became ingrained in my soul".
Silvestrov's Symphony No. 5 (1980-1982), considered by some[who?] to be his masterpiece, may be viewed as an epilogue or coda inspired by the music of late Romantic composers such as Gustav Mahler. "With our advanced artistic awareness, fewer and fewer texts are possible which, figuratively speaking, begin 'at the beginning'... What this means is not the end of music as art, but the end of music, an end in which it can linger for a long time. It is very much in the area of the coda that immense life is possible."[This quote needs a citation]
Silvestrov's recent cycle for violin and piano, Melodies of Instances (? ), a set of seven works comprising 22 movements to be played in sequence (and lasting about 70 minutes), is intimate and elusive - the composer describes it as "melodies [...] on the boundary between their appearance and disappearance".
Elements of Ukrainian nationalism occur in some of Silvestrov's works, most notably in his choral work Diptych. This work sets the strongly patriotic words of Taras Shevchenko's 1845 poem Testament (?), which has a significant national status in Ukraine, and Silvestrov dedicated it in 2014 to the memory of Sergey Nigoyan, an Armenian-Ukrainian who died in the 2014 Hrushevskoho Street riots and is believed to have been the first casualty of the events that led to the Euromaidan.
Silvestrov's principal and published works include nine symphonies, poems for piano and orchestra, miscellaneous pieces for (chamber) orchestra, three string quartets, a piano quintet, three piano sonatas, piano pieces, chamber music, and vocal music (cantatas, songs, etc.) Some of his notable pieces are: