Music in the Soviet Union: Sofia Gubaidulina’s Flute works

Creative Commons License

Kara Z. E.

Scholars’ Press, Berlin, 2019

  • Publication Type: Book / Vocational Book
  • Publication Date: 2019
  • Publisher: Scholars’ Press
  • City: Berlin
  • Bursa Uludag University Affiliated: Yes


In this book, the music policies of the Soviet Union, Soviet avant-garde music

and the works of Sofia Gubaidulina (1931-) are examined. The purpose of this

study is to analyze selected flute works of Gubaidulina from a technical and

aesthetic point of view, and to explain how she uses timbral features, Fibonacci

numbers, and symbolism in her work. In addition, since the analysis of the

works of Garden of Joy and Sorrow (1980) and Quartet for Four Flutes (1977)

provides detailed information of their content and structural features, this study

constitutes a source for flute students, musicologists, and performers.

In this research, the hypothesis is that the rigid policies of the Soviet government

directly affected Gubaidulina’s music and philosophy of life by leading her to

spiritualism and it can be observed in her flute works. In order to illuminate the

effect of the regime’s restrictions and censorship in art – on Gubaidulina’s

works in particular – the policies applied to music and musicians since the

foundation of the Soviet Union are examined in detail in the first part of the

study. In this part of the research, descriptive and historical research methods are

used to examine the evolution of Soviet music and the effects of politics on

music. Accordingly, the most accurate and reliable sources available have been

referred to, and previous experiences have been examined. As a result of the

research, it is seen that the historical processes in Soviet music directly affected

Gubaidulina’s sense of composition and her oppositional stance. One of the

most important reasons for Gubaidulina being one of the most prominent

composers of our time is her ability to create a distinctive and unique style for

the country and the time that she has been brought up in, and her ability to make

skillful use of spiritual elements in her work. The third part of the study focuses on Gubaidulina’s works, her composing

styles, and her experiences as a female composer living in the Soviet Union.

Inspired by religious and mystical elements, literary works, and the composers

she admired such as J. S. Bach and Webern, Gubaidulina often concentrates on a

particular subject and depicts it in her works. Unlike the philosophy of abstract

art, Gubaidulina believes that music must establish a connection between the

divine and the earthly, and composes all of her works with religious feelings.

For example, the fact that the instruments make glissandos in opposite directions

in a crisscrossing manner is a method used by Gubaidulina to symbolize the

Cross and the Crucifixion. Gubaidulina uses similar symbolism in many of her

works, including the two flute works analyzed in this study.

One other distinctive characteristics of Gubaidulina’s work is the use of

elements that contain dichotomies (e.g. legato against staccato, or

chromatic/microtonal against diatonic). As can be understood from the titles of

her works including Light and Darkness (1976), Garden of Joy and Sorrow

(1980); Vivente-Non-Vivente (1970, Living-Non-Living), in many of her works

she symbolizes the connection between life and death, in other words, the divine

and the earthly.

The formal structures of Gubaidulina’s works are often related to numbers.

Although she is known to use the Fibonacci numbers which symbolize the

harmony of the universe, and some other numbers containing mystical meanings

in her work, since the works examined in this study are among her early works,

such formal structures have not been encountered.

In the fourth chapter of the study, Allen Forte’s pitch class set theory is used to

analyze Garden of Joy and Sorrow (1980) and Quartet for Four Flutes (1977).

In the set theory, one octave is numbered by dividing it into twelve chromatic

pitches, where the note C corresponds to zero. This definition does not differ for

enharmonic sounds, meaning that it is represented as C/B#=0, C#/Db=1, D=2,

and so on. The main purpose of using this method is the mathematical calculation of the pitch spacing. For example, the E-G# interval consists of 8-

4=4 semitones. The plus (+) or minus (-) signs are used to indicate descending

or ascending intervals in the melodic structures. Analyses showed that the

general melodic line of Garden of Joy and Sorrow (1980) consists of ICs +1+4-

1-4, and its inversions. Similar symmetrical interval sets (+1-1) are also found in

Quartet for Four Flutes (1977). This shows that symmetrical structures are

another important element of Gubaidulina’s musical aesthetic.

Another method used in the analysis section is that of expression parameters

(EP). This method was developed by Gubaidulina’s schoolmate, the

musicologist Valentina Kholopova, and aims to explain the elements of

dichotomy in her music. Kholopova divides the EPs into five groups in the form

of (1) articulation and sound production methods, (2) melody, (3) rhythm, (4)

texture, and (5) composition writing. Since each parameter is used as dissonance

and consonance in itself, a method called Parameter Complex consisting of ten

parameters has emerged. In this study, Kholopova’s method was applied to both

flute works and presented in the form of tables.

In analyzing the work of Garden of Joy and Sorrow (1980), the literary works

that create inspiration, and the use of certain symbolism with proven accuracy,

are also focused on. For example, in this work, Gubaidulina is inspired by a

poem by Francisco Tanzer and a book by Oganov entitled Sayat Nova. Based on

this, it is concluded that the work contains an east-west synthesis. In the light of

the information she provided in some interviews, it is also concluded that the

expression of Joy and Sorrow symbolizes the joy in the sky and the sorrow on

the ground. Here, too, a reference can be made to the divine and the earthly.

Quartet for Four Flutes (1977) has an abstract structure which is uncommon in

Gubaidulina’s works. Thus, this work is analyzed by prioritizing the formal

structure, the timbral qualities, and the use of advanced techniques. In this

work, Gubaidulina’s idiosyncratic sonority conception usually involves the use

of multiphonics, microtonality and chromaticism. In conclusion, the contributions of Gubaidulina to the flute field are revealed,

and the findings related to the composition techniques, and aesthetics of her

flute works are interpreted. This work is important in terms of creating resources

for students, composers, performers, and musicologists who are interested in

Soviet avant-garde music and, in particular, Sofia Gubaidulina.