Saturday, December 30, 2017

Sofia Gubaidulina, Part 1

I've been collecting resources for a series of posts on Sofia Gubaidulina. The most useful so far is the biography by Michael Kurtz, translated from the German by Christoph K. Lohmann and published by Indiana University Press.

 I'm just in a couple of chapters but it seems a very well-researched effort, current up to around 2005. I have also run across an interesting analytical article by Valeria Tsenova that examines Gubaidulina's use of mathematical proportions in structuring her music. So, armed with both these and whatever else I can discover, as well as my own examination of the music, we should be able to get a sense of this composer.

A few days ago I played the early Serenade for some friends and they really did not "get" what was going on in the music at all! So most listeners will likely need to be introduced to Gubaidulina's music in a fairly thorough way.

The great Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich wrote a foreword to the biography. Here is an unusual piece that she wrote for him, the Canticle of the Sun for cello, chamber choir and percussion based on a text by Francis of Assisi:

Let's end with a quotation from Gubaidulina that appears at the very beginning of the Kurtz biography:

It is not my desire to express an idea, but to give
expression to the spiritual form of an emotion
steeped in life itself.

It does not matter to me whether or not I am modern.
What is important is the inner truth of my music.

I have no doubt that women think and feel differently
than men, but it is not very important whether I am a
woman or a man. What matters is that I am myself and develop
my own ideas strictly toward the truth.

--Sofia Gubaidulina


Will Wilkin said...

My son Justin just commented that the cello C string is tuned low because he heard a low A. Anyway, regarding Canticle of the Sun, it got more and more intolerable as it went on. I quit after 28 minutes, couldn't finish it. To me, it doesn't sound good, it doesn't feel good, and it doesn't hold my interest. The only other piece I know of hers I have on a CD of Soviet composers, including Denisov, Schnittke and Mansurian. Her piece on the disc is called "Concordanza" and I never listened to it much because I never liked it. There's no accounting for taste....

Bryan Townsend said...

Yes, the lowest string on the cello gets tuned down very low, then tuned back up. I honestly can't say why I am fascinated with the music of Gubaidulina because it certainly uses a lot of the technical devices and sounds that I usually find are the markers of music I am NOT interested in. But somehow in Gubaidulina's music, these devices seem to be driven by a genuine aesthetic and expression, not just weird sounds for the sake of weird sounds. Hopefully we might turn up a piece that will interest you! Kudos for lasting 28 minutes!

Jives said...

This composer is quite a character, glad you're focusing on her. Like you Bryan, I hear something very thoughtful and considered in her music, as if she is listening very closely and writing from the heart. I get a similar impression from Pauline Oliveros, the 'deep listener'. Following along with the score of G's string quartet, her use of patterning is clear. They are obscure, odd patterns, but nonetheless, she short-circuits my usual complaint (about much Modern music) of endless meandering chaos and lack of motivic development. That said, my admiration is totally intellectual. There are fascinating moments (around 6 and 8 minutes in the Canticle) but this music doesn't elicit much feeling on my part. The harmonic language seems grumpy and sullen, but not tortured. Though I think it would be worthy of study and analysis. On the downside, there is a slack quality to the dramatic tension of her music, I didn't make it past 5 minutes of the Canticle or the Quartet. It's not meandering, but it's brittle, and keeps retreating into silence, a gesture which has to be handled carefully.

Will Wilkin said...

What you wrote is very similar to how I describe John Adams' being the one "minimalist" composer I like despite my not liking them generally:

"...these devices seem to be driven by a genuine aesthetic and expression, not just weird sounds for the sake of weird sounds."

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks Will and Jives for your comments. I find Gubaidulina's music quite a challenge myself, but one I am drawn to for some reason. I think there is no question she is a very serious composer. So, let the exploration continue!