Introducing: Sofia Gubaidulina's Offertorium

In her early days of composing, Sofia Gubaidulina was encouraged by Shostakovich to pursue her ‘mistaken path’ after being deemed ‘irresponsible’ by the Soviet state. Today she is one of the biggest names in contemporary classical composition. On Wednesday 6 November, we perform her violin concerto Offertorium, which is considered by many to be her greatest musical achievement. 






Coming from the predominantly Islamic region of Tatarstan, Sofia Gubaidulina gained a dual heritage from her parents: Russian and Tatar, Orthodox and Muslim (though her father was not religious), central and peripheral, western and eastern. Perhaps it was a lot to absorb, for she was slow to get going as a composer. She was thirty by the time she produced her first notable piece, her now much-performed Chaconne for piano, and nearly sixty before her name was known at all outside Russia. Since then, she has more than made up, producing, in startlingly rapid succession, scores that confront the conventional with the exotic, even bizarre, and that dare unhesitatingly to take on weighty matters of life and belief. Offertorium, dating from the first years of her international breakthough, may be her greatest achievement. She composed it for Gidon Kremer, who gave the first performance, Leif Segerstam conducting, in Vienna on May 30, 1981; the final version, adding revisions of 1982 and 1986 to the original 1980 score, followed in London in November 1986, again with Kremer as soloist, now with Gennady Rozhdestvensky on the podium. A recording, made by Kremer in Boston in April 1988, took the piece around the globe.

It was a good place for the world to start discovering the composer. As the title, ‘offering’, might indicate, this is a violin concerto that embodies a sacred drama having to do with sacrifice and regeneration. Moreover, what is offered up comes from Gubaidulina’s revered Bach – from his own Musical Offering, said to have been based on a knotty melody given him by Frederick the Great on the occasion when, in 1747, the great composer was visiting the king’s court. This theme is heard first in Gubaidulina’s score in the orchestration made by Anton Webern in 1934-5, so that the piece focusses on its distant origins by means of the nearer past. 

Continue reading about Offertorium in our online programme

Read the chapter from Alex Ross's The Rest Is Noise on Gubaidulina and her contemporary, Alfred Schnittke

Listen to excerpts of Sofia Gubaidulina's Offertorium, and works by Arvo Pärt, also to be performed on Wednesday 6 November:






Book tickets for 'A Timeless Beauty' on Wednesday 6 November, featuring music by Gubaidulina & Pärt