September 01, 2021

Sofia Gubaidulina

Sofia Gubaidulina
Gubaidulina in Finland, 1981. Dmitry Smirnov

Listening to the intensely chromatic compositions of Sofia Gubaidulina can be challenging. You wouldn’t put her music on to relax or to be energized. As with any avant-garde work, taking it in can feel like work.

And yet, Gubaidulina is widely considered one of the most important Russian composers of the second half of the twentieth century. The composer Ellen Reid recently wrote that “Sofia Gubaidulina’s music speaks to my soul. Her compositional palette is expansive — muscular and delicate, psychological and spiritual.”

Born 90 years ago in the remote Tatar town of Chistopol, Gubaidulina enrolled as a small child in music school in Kazan, capital of the Tatar Republic. What was it about her that made her head (or her heart?) a wellspring of music that compelled the great Shostakovich to tell the twenty-year-old Sofia: “I would wish for you to continue down your ‘incorrect’ path”? He said this knowing full well that, in the Soviet Union, going down any “incorrect” path – be it a literary, artistic, or musical path – was very, very difficult. After all, his own groundbreaking compositions had made him the target of several waves of persecution and attacks.

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