Sofia Asgatovna Gubaidulina

Born 24 October 1931.
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Sofia Gubaidulina: The Rider on the White Horse - Preview Clip

Listen to an excerpt from Sofia Gubaidulina's The Rider on the White Horse.

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Among the most striking attributes shared by the post-Shostakovich generation of avant-garde Soviet composers was the strong core of aesthetic values that enabled them to transcend the stylistic melting-pot that characterised the era.

Of special note was their collective desire to reconnect with the music of the past, the symbolic importance of the Orthodox Church and the need to give due weight to the 'hidden' metaphysical aspect of their art. One of the most remarkable voices to emerge from this turbulent, difficult, yet incredibly fecund period was that of Sofia Gubaidulina.

Born to a Slavic mother and a Tatar father in Chistopol (Tatar Republic), Gubaidulina initially enrolled at the Kazan Conservatory before moving to Moscow in 1954 where she completed postgraduate studies with Shebalin. Together with Edison Denisov and Alfred Schnittke, she came to the forefront of the Moscow avant-garde in the 1960s when, following an early flirtation with 12-tone methods, she soon established her own unique compositional voice.

Resistant to any perfunctory stylistic categorisation and with a harmonic language that alternates freely between the diatonic, chromatic and micro-intervallic (quarter-tones, glissandos), she has tended to find the initial impulses for her works in religious, philosophical or other extra-musical concepts.

An exceptional colourist, she experimented widely in the 1970s with timbre and non-traditional methods of sound production as a member of the improvisation group Astreya. Beginning with the chamber work Perception (1981-3, rev. 1986), and developed in subsequent works including Now Always Snow (1993) and Zeitgestalten (1994), she has become increasingly fascinated by the concept of rhythmic proportion and, by drawing on the ratios of both the "Golden Section" and the Fibonacci sequence, has breathed a ludic spirit into her work. As the very titles of some of her compositions suggest - Vivente Ð non vivente (1970), Rumore e silenzio (1974), Light and Darkness (1976), The Garden of Joy and Sorrow (1980), Stimmen É verstummen É (1986) and Pro et contra (1989) - at the heart of Gubaidulina's aesthetic lies the creative tension generated by the clash of opposing forces and the attempt to reconcile those forces. ("Only connect" encapsulates perfectly her artistic credo.)

Similarly, the central importance of religious expression and its wealth of potential symbolism (the Cross, the Resurrection, the Transfiguration) are revealed in the titles of the piano concerto Introitus (1978), De profundis (1978), In croce (1979), the violin concerto Offertorium (1980, rev. 1982Ð6), Rejoice (1981, rev. 1988), the extraordinary Seven Words (1982), Alleluia (1990), the two cello concertos Aus dem Stundenbuch (1991) and And: the feasting at its height É (1993), and the vast Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ according to St John (2000-01). Writers to whom the composer feels particularly drawn - T. S. Eliot, Marina Tsvetayeva, Rainer Maria Rilke - tend to share this same openness towards religious inquiry and philosophical speculation.

A fascinating compound of intellect and intuition, Gubaidulina's singular output unfailingly engages both head and heart. The recipient of numerous prizes and awards, the composer has lived since 1992 in a small village outside Hamburg, Germany.

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