Monday, January 15, 2018

Sofia Gubaidulina, Part 5

According to a German documentary on her, Gubaidulina's last name is pronounced with the accent on the "du." I don't know if this is the case in Russian as well. We are up to 1965, Gubaidulina is living in an apartment on Leninskii Prospekt in Moscow and working as a free-lance composer. As she refuses to do commissions for the Communist Party, sometimes things are very difficult financially and she largely survives on film score commissions. Her Piano Sonata was completed in 1965 and she also married Nikolai Bokov, a poet and philosopher. Let's have a listen to the sonata, the last of her works to be written, nominally, in a traditional form.

You will certainly hear some jazz influence and extended playing techniques. The second theme in the first movement, for example, has passages where the strings are played directly, not using the keyboard.

Through her husband Gubaidulina had contact with a circle of political dissidents. This was during the reactionary Brezhnev era when underground "samizdat" publications strove to communicate a sense of what was going on in the world outside the constrained world of official truth.

After the Piano Sonata she struck out on a more independent path, as she said in a 1992 interview:
Until then, I had wanted to write for the theater, to compose ballets, symphonies... But then I understood: no, absolutely not. I need to write miniatures, miniatures in a whisper. I picked instruments that have almost no sound. The harp, a quiet, gentle instrument; the string bass is purposely muted; the percussion instruments are also treated the same way, so that the score calls for very few sounds. It was from this moment that I realized that I would pay no attention at all to anybody else. I would do what I liked... That doesn't mean, of course, that afterward I only expressed myself in a whisper.
The piece she is referring to is her Five Etudes for Harp, Double Bass, and Percussion, also from 1965:

It is as if the music is for ritual dances of previously undiscovered peoples living in unexplored regions--and aesthetically, that is pretty much what it is. I hear a bit of jazz, but I also hear passages that remind me of Canarios by Gaspar Sanz, the 17th century Spanish composer for guitar. For Gubaidulina this journey was an inner one, seeking greater depth. Instead of inventing more and more novelties, she saw her role as a filter, rather than a generator.


Will Wilkin said...

Thanks to you, Bryan, I've been giving Sofia Gubaidulina's music the listen I had years ago decided not to give (based then on only 1 or 2 pieces) --and I'm really glad you are bringing me back to her! The piano sonata you embedded above is very fine, lots of different textures (probably I'm not using that word technically correct here...but the word fits), a range of moods from jazzy (in chords and rhythms) to meditative to brooding. Directly plucking or striking the strings is NOT the right way to play a piano, but I saw it done once in a recital hall and here again I get the same surprisingly delightful affect of an intimacy and affection being shown to the instrument, a bit like stroking She was correct to put in just a little of that, the emotional effect lingers. A composer shows strength when they can range over many different instruments and ensembles and styles over their career, and that is something you are giving me a glimpse of in this composer. I now officially like her!

BTW, a good friend of mine who is a highly skilled pianist and collector of recordings and books on music told me just the other night he is enjoying a CD set he bought of her music. I'll have to ask to see and hear it next time I drop in on him.

Bryan Townsend said...

I am very gratified to hear that you are warming to this composer. If I am reading the Bachtrack statistics correctly she is the most-performed female contemporary composer, which is a bit of a surprise. The lesson for me here is that it is not so much the materials a composer chooses as what she does with those materials. Some composers leave me cold because they seem to be seeking out unusual sounds and techniques just for the sake of novelty, but with Gubaidulina, there always seems to be an aesthetic purpose behind it and this is what makes the music a vehicle for human expression.