Sofia Gubaidulina: Garden of Joy and Sorrow

Program Note

Garden of Joy and Sorrow is a one-movement piece for harp, flute and viola. It was conceived under the strong influence of two directly contradictory literary phenomena: 1) the work “Sayat-Nova” by Iv Oganov (Moscow), about the famous Eastern story-teller and singer, and 2) verses by the 20th-century German poet Francisco Tanzer. Vivid Eastern color was counterposed to a typically Western consciousness. But both of these works had significant inner similarities: their contemplativeness and refinement. 

Such phrases in Iv Oganov – “the ordeal of a flower’s pain,” “…the peal of the singing garden grew…,” “…the revelation of the rose…,” “…the lotus was set aflame by music,” “…the white garden began to ring again with diamond borders…” – impelled me to a concrete aural perception of this garden. 

And, on the other hand, all this ecstatic flowering of the garden was expressed naturally in the sum reflections of the F. Tanzer about the world and its wholeness. 

At the basis of the musical rendering of the form of this piece is the opposition of the bright, major coloration of the sphere of natural harmonics against the expression of the intervals of minor second and minor third. 

—Sofia Gubaidulina

Sofia Asgatovna Gubaidulina was born in Chistopol during Stalin’s reign and graduated from the Kazan Conservatory in 1954, one year after Khrushchev assumed power. In 1959, partway through her continued studies of composition and piano at the Moscow Conservatory, she met Dmitri Shostakovich and played for him the symphony she had recently written as her final examination. Empathizing with the challenges posed by subverting the strict parameters of the Soviet-approved realism style, Shostakovich praised the young composer’s work and told her to “continue along your mistaken path.” Following his advice expectedly worsened the shadow of the Soviet authorities, which escalated dramatically after the end of Khrushchev’s Thaw in 1964. In 1979, the Union of Soviet Composers blacklisted her as one of the Khrennikov Seven for writing “noisy mud instead of musical innovation, unconnected with real life.” However, Gubaidulina took the denunciation in stride, enduring the poverty that arose from the subsequent lack of paying commissions in order to take advantage of the creative liberty it afforded her.

Gubaidulina’s Russian Orthodox faith pervades her work, but she qualifies her intentions: “I understand ‘religion’ in the literal meaning of the word, as ‘re-ligio’, that is to say the restoration of connections, the restoration of the ‘legato’ of life. There is no more serious task for music than this." The motif of simultaneous, bidirectional glissandi in two instruments often appears in her work, forming a sonic symbol of the cross with their opposing trajectories. As in Garden of Joy and Sorrow, the composer often employs unconventional techniques alongside spiritual themes to bolster the restoration of connections which she seeks. Many of these tendencies were inspired by experimentation in the mid-1970s with Astreia, her improvisatory folk ensemble. 

Despite the best efforts of the Soviets, Gubaidulina has enjoyed a prominent and celebrated career. She garnered international attention through her violin concerto, Offertorium (1980) which was championed by Gidon Kremer. Her work Light of the End (2003) was given the honored program slot before Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at the BBC Proms. Anne-Sophie Mutter and the London Symphony Orchestra recorded her second violin concerto In Tempus Praesens (2007) under Valery Gergiev. Her 80th birthday in 2011 was commemorated by many organizations worldwide, including a series of three weeklong Gubaidulina Festivals in Kasan, Hanover, and Moscow. During the festivities, the composer premiered her Percussion Concerto; her revised Bayan Concerto; A Pilgrimage of Four for violin, piano, bass, and percussion; and a work for twelve solo celli, Labyrinth. Gubaidulina has lived in Hamburg since 1992, the year after the fall of the Soviet Union.

—Josh Davidoff