Sofia Gubaidulina at 80


Well, having missed Steve Reich’s 75th birthday by one day, I realized with alarm a few minutes ago that October 24, 2011 marks the 80th birthday of another composer who has been featured heavily on this blog – Sofia Gubaidulina. Although I’m sorry to say that I’ve failed to meet the deadline in Europe where she herself lives (my guess is that she celebrated the occasion by attending a Dutch performance of her violin concerto for Anne-Sophie Mutter entitled In tempus praesens[1]), I console myself with the thought that for anyone who may be reading this on the U.S. West Coast I still have a couple of minutes to mark the date (and the luxury of a whole three hours for anybody who happens to be following this blog from Hawaii or French Polynesia).

tempus-praesens-score-coverI was alerted by a Facebook post by Eamonn Quinn of the Louth Contemporary Music Society (who hosted Gubaidulina in Ireland a couple of years ago) to an article on the website of Gubaidulina’s publishers Sikorski which contained a typically counter-cultural and outspoken comment recorded by the composer in a recent interview with the Ulmer Nachrichten newspaper:

“We are faced today with a completely different world that is unfortunately not necessarily a better one. People are becoming one-dimensional, since we are losing religion. This lost spirituality is dangerous for art. For the second dimension is the core of human life. Everything today is running according to nothing but the principle of cause and effect: earnings and eating, eating and earnings.”[2]

Sofia Gubaidulina’s work is predicated in its entirety on positing the existence of this ‘second dimension’, thereby flying in the face of materialism in both its Soviet dialectical and Western consumer versions.[3] At a moment of global financial crisis in which the cycle of ‘earnings and eating’ is clearly unravelling in a way that for many is forcing a radical probing of the destructive effects of self-enclosed economic systems, her words are nothing if not timely.


For those interested in reading more about Sofia Gubaidulina’s life and work, you can find three articles on her in the Da stand das Meer archive:

‘Sofia Gubaidulina: a deeper silence and a darker abyss’
‘Sermonizing rant or visionary spirituality? Sofia Gubaidulina and Maria Yudina’
‘The Passion according to Sofia’

For German speakers, Zeit-Online have a substantial article marking the composer’s 80th birthday which can be read by clicking here.


[1] Several video clips concerning the genesis of In tempus praesens (described by Anne-Sophie Mutter as ‘a piece which will change your life’) can be viewed on-line. The most compelling are definitely two trailers: i) the 5-minute trailer to Parsmedia’s documentary concerning the genesis of the concerto, including fascinating footage from Gubaidulina’s own compositional workshop where she shows sketch material detailing the structural outline and mathematical outworking of In tempus praesens and ii) a Naxos excerpt showing Gubaidulina’s meeting with the soloist. In a clip produced by the New York Philharmonic, Anne-Sophie Mutter compares the piece with Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto in terms of its combination of intellectual rigour and personal inspiration, while a Deutsche Grammophon promotional video focuses on the link between Gubaidulina and Bach, including extensive comments from the composer.

[2] Wir stehen heute vor einer ganz anderen Welt, die leider nicht unbedingt besser ist. Die Menschen werden eindimensional, da uns die Religiosität abhanden kommt. Diese verloren gegangene Spiritualität ist gefährlich für die Kunst. Denn die zweite Dimension ist der Kern des menschlichen Lebens. Alles läuft heute nur noch auf das Prinzip von Ursache und Wirkung hinaus: Verdienst und Essen, Essen und Verdienst.“

[3] Ever an unfashionable philosophical Idealist committed to the primacy of the invisible, Gubaidulina’s programme note to In tempus praesens makes a similar point about the intersection of ‘ordinary time’ and ‘lasting present time’ as an experience of eternal reality:

Art is always situated between sleep and reality, between wisdom and folly, between the statics and dynamics of everything that exists.

In ordinary life we never have present time, only the perpetual transition from the past to the future.

And only in sleep, in the religious experience and in art are we able to experience lasting present time.

I think that musical form serves this very function: during its course it undergoes many events. A few of these turn out to be most important. (I call these architectonic nodes of form.) And they can make a kind of generalized shape, the shape of a pyramid, for example. (The episode of ritual sacrifice stands at the pinnacle of the pyramid of “In tempus praesens.”) The integral experiencing of this pyramidal form produces lasting present time. (In tempus praesens, programme notes reprinted on-line at )


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