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Sofia Asgatovna Gubaidulina, ( ,  ) (born October 24, 1931) is a Russianmarker composer of half Russian, half Tatar ethnicity.

Gubaidulina's music is marked by the use of unusual instrumental combinations. In In Erwartung, she combines percussion (bongos, güiros, temple blocks, cymbals, tam-tams,bayan among others) and saxophone quartet. She has written pieces for 17-stringed Japanese bass kotos and four 13-stringed Japanese kotos and Western orchestra and works for zheng.


Gubaidulina was born in Chistopolmarker, in the Tatar ASSR. In her youth she would spend much time praying in the fields near her home that she might one day become a composer. She studied composition and piano at the Kazanmarker Conservatory, graduating in 1954. In Moscowmarker she undertook further studies at the Conservatory with Nikolay Peyko until 1959, and then with Shebalin until 1963. Her music was deemed "irresponsible" during her studies in Sovietmarker Russia, due to its exploration of alternative tunings. She was supported, however, by Dmitri Shostakovich, who in evaluating her final examination encouraged her to continue down her "mistaken path". However, she was allowed to express her modernism in various scores she composed for documentary films, including the 1968 production, On Submarine Scooters, a 70mm film shot in the unique Kinopanorama widescreen format.

In the mid-1970s Gubaidulina founded Astreja, a folk-instrument improvisation group with fellow composers Viktor Suslin and Vyacheslav Artyomov. In 1979, she was blacklisted as one of the "Khrennikov's Seven" at the Sixth Congress of the Union of Soviet Composers for unapproved participation in some festivals of Soviet music in the West.

Gubaidulina became better known abroad during the early 1980s through Gidon Kremer's championing of her violin concerto Offertorium. She later composed an homage to T. S. Eliot, using the text from the poet's spiritual masterpiece Four Quartets. In 2000, Gubaidulina, along with Tan Dun, Osvaldo Golijov, and Wolfgang Rihm, was commissioned by the Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart project to write a piece for the Passion 2000 project in commemoration of Johann Sebastian Bach. Her contribution was the Johannes-Passion. In 2002 she followed this by the Johannes-Ostern ("Easter according to John"), commissioned by Hannover Rundfunk. The two works together form a "diptych" on the death and resurrection of Christ, her largest work to date. Her work The Light at the End preceded Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in the 2005 proms. In 2007 her second violin concerto In Tempus Praesens was performed at the Lucerne Festival by Anne-Sophie Mutter. Its creation has been depicted in Jan Schmidt-Garre's film Sophia - Biography of a Violin Concerto.

Since 1992, Gubaidulina has lived in Hamburgmarker, Germany. She is a member of the musical academies in Frankfurt, Hamburg and Stockholm.


For Gubaidulina, music was an escape from the terrifying socio-political atmosphere of Soviet Russia. For this reason, she associated music with human transcendence and mystical spiritualism. She claims that the socio-cultural leaps made by modernism caused humans to lose sight of their humanity, moving quicker than it was prepared to.

In her view, this manifested itself as a longing inside the soul of humanity to locate its true being, a longing she continually tries to capture in her works. These abstract religious and mystical associations are concretized in Gubaidulina’s compositions in various ways. She is particularly preoccupied with mystical/unusual sonorities and novel uses of instruments.

Her penchant for novel sounds and sonorities can be seen in her early affinity toward film music and improvisation. For Soviet composers, film music offered the greatest freedom from censorship since the governmental focus was on the film narrative itself. The film studio not only offered a safer environment, it also allowed Gubaidulina access to special musical and electronic equipment otherwise off limits. Along with film music, her fascination with novel sounds and textures led to her co-founding of the improvisational group Astreya, of which she is still an active member and performer. The group utilizes folk instruments from various cultures combined with modern techniques to produce creative new sounds.

The influence of electronic music and improvisational techniques is exemplified in her unusual combination of contrasting elements, novel instrumentation, and the use of traditional Russian folk instruments in her solo and chamber works, such as De profundis for bayan, Et expecto- Sonata for bayan, and In croce for cello and organ or bayan. The koto, a traditional Japanese instrument is featured in her work In The Shadow of The Tree, in which one solo player performs three different instrument—Koto, Bass Koto, and Chang. The Canticle of the Sun is a cello concerto/choral hybrid, dedicated to Rostropovich. The use of the lowest possible registers on the cello opens new possibilities for the instrument while the limited use of chorus also adds a mystical ambience to the work.

Another influence of improvisation techniques can be found in her fascination with percussion instruments. She associates the indeterminate nature of percussive timbres with the mystical longing and the potential freedom of human transcendence.

She was also preoccupied by experimentation with non-traditional methods of sound production, and as already mentioned, with unusual combinations of instruments. For instance, Concerto for Bassoon and Low Strings (1975), Detto- I – Sonata for Organ and Percussion (1978), The Garden of Joy and Sorrow for Flute, Harp and Viola (1980), and Descensio for 3 Trombones, 3 Percussionists, Harp, Harpsichord/Celesta and Celesta/Piano (1981).

Concerning influence, Gubaidulina notes that, although she was attracted to a number of composers during various periods of her life, including Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky, Josquin and Gesualdo, the two composers to whom she experiences a constant devotion are J.S. Bach and Webern. Among some non-musical influences of considerable import are Carl Jung (Swiss thinker and founder of analytical psychology) and Nikolai Aleksandrovich Berdiaev (Russian religious philosopher, whose works were forbidden in USSR, but nevertheless found and studied by the composer).

Musical elements of individual style

Being a profoundly religious person, Gubaidulina defines “re-ligio” as re-legato or as restoration of the connection between oneself and the Absolute. She finds this re-connection through the artistic process and has developed a number of musical symbols to express her ideals. She does it through narrower means of intervallic and rhythmic relationship within the primary material of her works, by seeking to discover the depth and mysticism of the sound, as well as on a larger scale, through carefully thought architecture of musical form.

Melodically, Gubaidulina’s is characterized by the frequent use of intense chromatic motives rather than long melodic phrases. She often treats musical space as a means of attaining unity with the divine—a direct line to God—concretely manifest by the lack of striation in pitch space. She achieves this through the use of micro-chromaticism (i.e., quarter tones) and frequent glissandi, exemplifying the lack of “steps” to the divine. This notion is furthered by her extreme dichotomy characterized by chromatic space vs. diatonic space viewed as symbols of darkness vs. light and human/mundane vs. divine/heavenly. Finally, the use of short motivic segments allows her to create a musical narrative that is seemingly open-ended and disjunct rather than smooth.

Harmonically, Gubaidulina’s music resists traditional tonal centers and triadic structures in favor of pitch clusters and intervallic design arising from the contrapuntal interaction between melodic voices. For example, in the Cello Concerto Detto-2 (1972) she notes that a strict and progressive intervallic process occurs, in which the opening section utilizes successively wider intervals that become narrower toward the last section.Rhythmically, Gubaidulina places significant stress on the fact that temporal ratios should not be limited to local figuration; rather, the temporality of the musical form should be the defining feature of rhythmic character. As Gerard McBurney states:
In conversation she is most keen to stress that she cannot accept the idea (a frequent post-serial one) of rhythm or duration as the material of a piece. . . . To her, rhythm is nowadays a generating principle as, for instance, the cadence was to tonal composers of the Classical period; it therefore cannot be the surface material of a work. . . . [S]he expresses her impatience with Messiaen, whose use of rhythmic modes to generate local imagery, she feels, restricts the effectiveness of rhythm as an underlying formal level of the music.

To this end, Gubaidulina often devises durational ratios in order to create the temporal forms for her compositions. Specifically, she is prone to utilizing elements of the Fibonacci sequence or the Golden Ratio, in which each succeeding element is equal to the sum of the two preceding elements (i.e., 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, etc.). This numerical layout represents the balanced nature in her music through a sense of cell multiplication between live and non-live substances. She firmly believes that this abstract theory is the foundation of her personal musical expression. The “Golden Ratio “between the sections are always marked by some musical event, and composer explores her fantasy fully in articulating this moments.

The first work in which Gubaidulina experiments with this concept of proportionality is Perceptions for Soprano, Baritone, and Seven String Instruments (1981, rev. 1983–86). The 12th movement, “Montys Tod” (Monty’s Death), uses the Fibonacci series in its rhythmical structure with the number of quarter notes in individual episodes corresponding to numbers from Fibonacci series.

Numerical mysticism

In the early 1980s, she began to use the Fibonacci sequence as a way of structuring the form of the work. The sequence was especially appealing because it provides a basis for composition while still allowing the form to "breathe". It plays a prominent role in such pieces as Perception, Im Anfang war der Rhythmus, Quasi hoketus and the symphony Stimmen... Verstummen...).Later the Lucas and Evangelist series, sequences derived from that of Fibonacci, were added to her repertoire.

Piano music

Gubaidulina’s entire piano output belongs to her earlier compositional period and consists of the following works: Chaconne (1962), Piano Sonata (1965), Musical Toys (1968), Toccata-Troncata (1971), Invention (1974) and Piano Concerto “Introitus” (1978). Some of the titles reveal her interest in baroque genres and the influence of J.S. Bach.

The Piano Sonata is dedicated to Henrietta Mirvis, a pianist greatly admired by the composer. The work follows the classical formal structure in 3 movements: Allegro (Sonata form), Adagio, and Allegretto. Four motives (pitch sets) are utilized throughout the entire sonata, which also constitute the cyclical elements upon which the rhetoric of the piece is constructed. Each motive is given a particular name: “spring”, “struggle”, “consolation,” and “faith.”

There are two elements in the primary thematic complex of the first movement: (1) a “swing” theme, characterized by syncopation and dotted rhythms and (2) a chord progression, juxtaposing minor and major seconds over an ostinato pattern in the left hand. The slower secondary theme introduces a melodic element associated with the ostinato element of the previous theme.In the development section, these sets are explored melodically, while the dotted rhythm figure gains even more importance. In the recapitulation, the chord progression of the first thematic complex is brought to the higher registers, preparing the coda based on secondary theme cantabile element, which gradually broadens.The second movement shifts to a different expressive world. A simple ternary form with a cadenza–AB (cadenza) A, the B section represents an acoustic departure as the chromatic figurations in the left hand, originating in section A, are muted.In the cadenza the performer improvises within a framework given by the composer, inviting a deeper exploration of the secrets of sound. It consists of two alternating elements– open-sounding strings, stroke by fingers, with no pitch determination, and muted articulation of the strings in the bass register—separated by rests marked with fermatas. The third movement is constructed of 7 episodes, in which there is a continuous liberation of energy accumulated during the previous movement.

Musical expression in this work is achieved through a variety of means. Rhythm is a very important element in the construction of the work, articulating a distinct rhetoric, as well as in the development of the musical material. Exploration of a wide range of sounds, within the possibilities of the instrument, involving both traditional and nontraditional methods of sound productions are another important mean.

Some examples of the nontraditional sounds produced are a glissando performed with a bamboo stick on the piano pegs against a cluster performed on the keyboard, placing the bamboo stick on vibrating strings, plucking the strings, glissando along the strings using fingernail, touching the strings creating a muted effect.

Two distinct aspects of the sonata—the driving force and the meditative state—can be seen through the architecture of the work as portraying the image of the cross. The first movement is related to the “horizontal” line, which symbolizes human experience while the second movement reflects the “vertical” line, which represents man’s striving for full realization in the Divine. The meeting point of these two lines in music happens at the end of second movement, and that reflects transformation of the human being at crossing this two dimensions. The third movement “celebrates the newly obtained freedom of the spirit”.

Selected chamber works

Garden of Joy and Sorrow

Garten von Freuden und Trauigkeiten (Garden of Joy and Sorrow) for flute, harp, and viola (1981) is dedicated to the Austrian poet, Francisco Tanzer. Although the instrumental combination is rather traditional, Gubaidulina’s compositional technique broadens the performance possibilities of each instrument and opens a new path to unique sounds. As the title hints, there are two literary connections between the music and her inspiration: Russian writer Iv Oganov’s poem Sayat-Nova (eastern storyteller, singer) and the verses of Tanzer, a twentieth-century German poet whose poem is to be recited ad libitum at the end of the performance. The lines from Oganov’s poem (The revelation of the rose, the ordeal of a flower’s pain, the peal of the singing garden grew, the lotus was set aflame by music, the white garden began to ring gain with diamond borders) are the answers to the philosophical questions recited at the end of the piece—When is it really over? What is the true end?The number 3 plays an important role throughout the piece, overtly exemplified in the form—ABA. There are three thematic materials: one by the meditative flute moving by semitone; a second by the harp, imitating flute’s semitone movement and using tuning key glissando to add an exotic sound; and a third by the viola’s continuous arpeggio pattern using harmonics on the D string. The bright D arpeggio pattern and semitone movement are relatively symbolic of “joy” and “sorrow.”

String quartets

Gubaidulina’s four string quartets perfectly exemplify her improvisational stylistic quality. Typical analyses of this selection of works have focused on the sectional quality rather than the compositional consistency which unites each individual work.

The very fact that the quartets are composed as single movements rather than the traditional multi-movement construction betrays the experimental quality of these works. The first quartet (1971) exemplifies a “wedge” structure in which pitches series of pitches spiral outward in pitch space from a central axis. This simultaneous ascent/descent combines with additive rhythmic series, either by adding a set duration to each previously established rhythm (à la Messiaen) or by increasing each duration by a set ratio. These compositional procedures inherent in the musical structure create a coherent narrative unifying the work.

The second quartet (1987) exemplifies another compositional process often found in Gubaidulina’s works. This process, known as “gap-fill,” is created when a specific registral gap is formed in pitch space between two pitches and gradually filled in with the intervening tones. This quartet is organized into two large formal sections. In the first, a three-octave gap is established as registral extremes via the wedge technique in a quicksilver texture. The second section, characterized by long sustained sonorities, sees this gap gradually filled.The third quartet (1987) is characterized by a focus on interval classes, in which a dichotomy is established between ic5 (P4/P5) and ic1 (m2/M7). Individual melodic lines and sections are segmented by the interaction between these intervals. It should also be noted how these structural elements correspond to the composer’s aesthetic connections of diatonic vs. chromatic as light vs. dark.

The fourth quartet (1994) is perhaps one of the most experimental works Gubaidulina has composed. The work not only utilizes radical new sounds, in which a hollow plastic ball is loosely attached to the soundboards and allowed to vibrate when each instrument is played, but also incorporates visual elements through the use of colored lights that fade in and out throughout the performance. The quartet is technically a trio of quartets with two ensembles being recorded prior to the performance and played back while the live quartet performs on stage. The taped quartets perform an eight-bar rhythmic ostinato as a canon between the eight voices; however, only the rhythm is canonized since the individual voices maintain individual pitch sets, gradually resulting in a sound mass over which the live ensemble performs un-metered melodic segments. The final section of the work incorporates only the live ensemble as the pitch space is gradually saturated with every possible microtone in three octaves.

Awards and recognition

Gubaidulina has received the Prix de Monaco (1987), the Premio Franco Abbiati (1991), the Heidelberger Künstlerinnenpreis (1991), the Russian State Prize (1992), the SpohrPreis (1995), the Praemium Imperiale in Japan (1998), the Sonning Award in Denmark (1999), the Polar Music Prize in Sweden (2002), the Great Distinguished Service Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (2002) and the Living Composer Prize of the Cannes Classical Awards in 2003.

In 2004, she was elected as a foreign honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.


  • Quintet for piano, two violins, viola, and violoncello (1957)
  • Piano Sonata (1965)
  • Night in Memphis cantata (1968)
  • Musical Toys fourteen piano pieces for children (1969)
  • Vivente - Non Vivente for electronics (1970)
  • Concordanza for chamber ensemble (1971)
  • String Quartet No. 1 (1971)
  • Ten Preludes for solo cello (1974)
  • Rumore e silenzio for percussion and harpsichord (1974)
  • Hour of the Soul poem by Marina Tsvetaeva for large wind orchestra and mezzo-soprano/contralto (1974), for percussion, mezzo-soprano, and large orchestra (1976)
  • Sonata for double bass and piano (1975)
  • Concerto for bassoon and low strings (1975)
  • Hell und Dunkel for organ (1976)
  • Two Ballads for two trumpets and piano (1976)
  • Trio for three trumpets (1976)
  • Lied ohne Worte for trumpet and piano (1977)
  • Duo sonata for two bassoons (1977)
  • Lamento for tuba and piano (1977)
  • Misterioso for 7 percussionists (1977)
  • Introitus concerto for piano and chamber orchestra (1978)
  • In Croce for cello and organ (1979), for bayan and cello (1991)
  • Jubilatio for 4 percussionists (1979)
  • Offertorium (Жертвоприношение) concerto for violin and orchestra (1980, rev. 1982, 1986)
  • Garten von Freuden und Traurigkeiten for flute, viola, harp and narrator (1980)
  • Perception for soprano, baritone (speaking voices) and 7 string instruments (1981, rev. 1983, 1986)
  • Descensio for 3 trombones, 3 percussionists, harp, harpsichord and piano (1981)
  • Rejoice, sonata for violin and cello (1981)
  • Sieben Worte for cello, bayan, and strings (1982)
  • Quasi hoquetus for viola, bassoon, and piano (1984)
  • Hommage à Marina Tsvetayeva for a capella choir (1984)
  • Stimmen... Verstummen... symphony in twelve movements (1986)
  • String Quartet No. 2 (1987)
  • String Quartet No. 3 (1987)
  • Hommage à T.S. Eliot for sopran and octet (1987)
  • String Trio (1988)
  • Jauchzt vor Gott for mixed choir and organ (1989)
  • The Unasked Answer (Antwort ohne Frage) collage for three orchestras (1989)
  • Alleluja for mixed chorus, boy soprano, organ and large orchestra (1990)
  • Hörst Du uns, Luigi? Schau mal, welchen Tanz eine einfache Holzrassel für Dich vollführt (Слышишь ты нас, Луиджи? Вот танец, который танцует для тебя обыкновенная деревянная трещотка) for six percussionists (1991)
  • Aus dem Studenbuch on a text of Rainer Maria Rilke for cello, orchestra, male choir, and a woman speaker (1991)
  • Gerade und ungerade (Чет и нечет) for seven percussionists, including cymbalom (1991)
  • Silenzio for bayan, violin, and cello (1991)
  • Lauda for alto, tenor, baritone, narrator, mixed choir, and large orchestra (1991)
  • Stufen for orchestra (1992)
  • Tartarische Tanz for bayan and two contrabass (1992)
  • Dancer on a Tightrope (Der Seiltänzer) for violin and string piano (1993)
  • Jetzt immer Schnee (Теперь всегда снега) on verses of Gennadi Aigi for chamber ensemble and chamber choir (1993)
  • Meditation über den Bach-Choral "Vor deinen Thron tret' ich hiermit" for harpsichord, two violins, viola, cello, and contrabass (1993)
  • Рано утром перед пробуждением for three 17-string Japanese bass kotos and four 13-string Japanese kotos (1993)
  • Allegro Rustico: Klänge des Waldes for flute and piano (1993)
  • And: The Feast is in Full Procession (И: Празднество в разгаре) for violoncello and orchestra (1993)
  • String Quartet No. 4 with tape (1993)
  • In Erwartung (В ожидании) for saxophone quartet and six percussionists (1994)
  • Ein Engel for alto and double bass (1994)
  • Figures of Time (Фигуры времени) for large orchestra (1994)
  • Aus der Visionen der Hildegard von Bingen for alto (1994)
  • Music for Flute, Strings, and Percussion (1994)
  • Impromptu for flute (flute and alto flute), violin, and strings (1996)
  • Quaternion for cello quartet (1996)
  • Galgenlieder à 3 fifteen pieces for mezzo-soprano, percussion, and contrabass (1996)
  • Galgenlieder à 5 fourteen pieces for mezzo-soprano, flute, percussion, bayan, and contrabass (1996)
  • Concerto for viola and orchestra (1996)
  • Ritorno perpetuo for cymbalom (1997)
  • The Canticle of the Sun of St Francis of Assisi for cello, chamber choir, and orchestra (1997)
  • Im Schatten des Baumes (В тени под деревом) for koto, bass koto, zheng, and orchestra (1998)
  • Two Paths: A Dedication to Mary and Martha for two viola solo and orchestra (1998)
  • Johannes-Passion for soprano, tenor, baritone, bass, two mixed choirs, organ, and large orchestra (2000)
  • Risonanza for three trumpets, four trombones, organ, and six strings (2001)
  • Johannes-Ostern for soprano, tenor, baritone, bass, two mixed choirs, organ, and large orchestra (2001)
  • The Rider on the White Horse for large orchestra and organ (2002)
  • Reflections on the theme B-A-C-H for string quartet (2002)
  • Mirage: The Dancing Sun for eight violoncelli (2002)
  • On the Edge of Abyss for seven violoncelli and two waterphones (2002)
  • The Light of the End (Свет конца) for large orchestra (2003)
  • Under the Sign of Scorpio variants on six hexachords for bayan and large orchestra (2003)
  • Verwandlung (Transformation) for trombone, saxophone quartet, violoncello, double bass, and tam-tam (2004)
  • ...The Deceitful Face of Hope and Despair for flute and orchestra (2005)
  • Feast During a Plague for large orchestra (2006)
  • The Lyre of Orpheus for violin, percussion, and strings (2006)
  • In Tempus Praesens concerto for violin and orchestra (2007)
  • Ravvedimento, for cello and guitar quartet (2007)
  • Glorious Percussion concerto for percussions and orchestra (2008)
  • Fachwerk, concerto for bayan, percussion and strings (2009)

Film scores

A more complete list of her scores for animated films may be found on her profile at



  1. " Sofia Gubaidulina: Johnnespassion". Retrieved on 06 September, 2008.
  2. Sax, Mule & Co, Jean-Pierre Thiollet, H & D, Paris 2004. 129
  3. Quoted in Composer to Composer: Conversations About Music, ed. by Josiah Fisk (St. Leonards, NSW, Australia: Allen & Unwin, 1993), 460
  4. Vera Lukomsky, ”‘The Eucharist in my fantasy’: Interview with Sofia Gubaidulina”, Tempo, New Series No. 206 (Sep. 1998):33
  5. Vera Lukomsky, “‘The Eucharist in my fantasy’: Interview with Sofia Gubaidulina,” 33.
  6. Vera Lukomsky, “‘The Eucharist in my fantasy’: Interview with Sofia Gubaidulina,” 34.
  7. Vera Lukomsky, ”‘Hearing the subconscious’: Interview with Sofia Gubaidulina,” Tempo, New Series, No. 20 (Jul. 1999):27.
  8. See Vera Lukomsky,”‘Hearing the subconscious’: Interview with Sofia Gubaidulina,” 27–31.
  9. Sofia Gubaidulina and Vera Lukomsky, “My Desire is Always to Rebel, to Swim Against the Stream”, Perspectives of New Music 36, no. 1 (Winter 1998): 5–41, citation on p. 11. See also Hakobian, 287.
  10. Claire Polin, “The Composer as Seer, but Not Prophet,” Tempo 190 (Sept. 1994): 15–16.
  11. Vera Lukomsky, “‘The Eucharist in my fantasy’: Interview with Sofia Gubaidulina,” 34.
  12. Gerard McBurney, “Encountering Gubaidulina,” The Musical Times 129, no. 1741 (March 1988): 123.
  13. Vera Lukomsky, ”‘Hearing the subconscious’: Interview with Sofia Gubaidulina”, 29
  14. The preceding analysis is taken from Ivana Ćojbašić, “The ‘Piano Sonata’ of Sofia Gubaidulina: Formal Analysis and Some Interpretation Issues," Organizacija 15 (2000): 103–117. For a more detailed discussion, see Ćojbašić ‘s dissertation: “Content and Musical Language in the ‘Piano Sonata’ of Sofia Gubaidulina,” DMA diss., University of North Texas, 1998.
  15. Fay Neary, “ Symbolic Structure in the Music of Gubaidulina,” DMA diss., Ohio State University, 1999. Also a copy here
  16. This topic along with analyses of the individual quartets are taken up in Joseph Williams, “ Discontinuous Continuity?: Structural Analysis of Sofia Gubaidulina’s String Quartets,” MM Thesis, University of Cincinnati, 2007.

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