is a concerto
A concerto is a musical work usually composed in three parts or movements, in which one solo instrument is accompanied by an orchestra.The etymology is uncertain, but the word seems to have originated from the conjunction of the two Latin words...
for violin and orchestra composed by Sofia Gubaidulina
Sofia Asgatovna Gubaidulina, is a Russian composer of half Russian, half Tatar ethnicity.Gubaidulina's music is marked by the use of unusual instrumental combinations...
in 1980 and revised in 1982 and 1986. It was dedicated to Gidon Kremer
Gidon Kremer is a Latvian violinist and conductor. In 1980 he left the USSR and settled in Germany.-Biography:Kremer was born in Riga to parents of German-Jewish and Latvian-Swedish origins. He began playing the violin at the age of four, receiving instruction from his father and his grandfather,...
, who in touring with it around the world brought Gubaidulina to international attention.
The story of Offertorium
’s commission started with a chance cab ride between Gubaidulina and Kremer, whose playing skills Gubaidulina thoroughly enjoyed. Though virtually unfamiliar with Gubaidulina’s work, Kremer was impressed by the works he did hear and made an offhand request for a violin concerto. This request stuck in the head of the composer, though Kramer soon forgot due to his whirlwind success and allowance to play outside of the Soviet Union for two years. She began working on the piece in the summer of 1979, taking musical advice from Pyotr Meshchaninov
Pyotr Meshchaninov is a Russian pianist and conductor specialized in Russian contemporary music. He premiered Sofia Gubaidulina's Concerto for bassoon and low strings back in 1976, and was dedicated her 1981 Descensio.-References:* *...
, and finished the work in March of 1980.
From that chance encounter, Offertorium
was born. Gubaidulina drew inspiration from Kramer’s performance style. In particular, she took advantage of his handling of opposites and their transitions and his tone, which she recognized as expressing “total surrender of the self to the tone.” Thus, Offertorium
is an example of a piece crafted both for and from the person to whom it was composed and dedicated. Like many of her other pieces, Offertorium
contains religious elements. Even the name Offertorium
is a reference to the section of a Mass (performed right after the Credo
A credo |Latin]] for "I Believe") is a statement of belief, commonly used for religious belief, such as the Apostles' Creed. The term especially refers to the use of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed in the Mass, either as text, Gregorian chant, or other musical settings of the...
) that is sung while the priest offers up prepared bread and wine. The piece takes as its overarching theme the concepts of sacrifice and offering: the sacrifice of Christ during the Crucifixion
Crucifixion is an ancient method of painful execution in which the condemned person is tied or nailed to a large wooden cross and left to hang until dead...
, God’s offering in creating the Earth, the sacrifice of the performer to the tone, the sacrifice of the composer to the art, and the sacrifice of the main musical theme to disintegration and, later, reconstruction.
The work is centered around the royal theme of Frederick the Great in Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach was a German composer, organist, harpsichordist, violist, and violinist whose sacred and secular works for choir, orchestra, and solo instruments drew together the strands of the Baroque period and brought it to its ultimate maturity...
's Musikalisches Opfer (BWV 1079)
. Gubaidulina orchestrates the theme using a Klangfarbenmelodie
Klangfarbenmelodie is a musical technique that involves distributing a musical line or melody to several instruments, rather than assigning it to just one instrument, thereby adding color and texture to the melodic line...
technique reminiscent of Webern
Anton Webern was an Austrian composer and conductor. He was a member of the Second Viennese School. As a student and significant follower of Arnold Schoenberg, he became one of the best-known exponents of the twelve-tone technique; in addition, his innovations regarding schematic organization of...
, passing it around various instruments to exploit their various timbres. The introduction presents the theme almost whole—it lacks only the last note. The soloist then enters, beginning a series of variations which deconstruct the theme note by note. After the theme's demise a free rhapsodic interim follows. In the final section, the theme is rebuilt, note by note, from the middle note, until it resembles a Russian Orthodox hymn. The theme as a whole appears only at the very end, with the solo violin ending the piece on the high last note.
In uniting her twin inspirations Webern and Bach, and in the deep Christian symbolism of the theme's "death" and "resurrection", Offertorium
is a representative work of Gubaidulina's mature period.
The performance of Offertorium
was a tenuous affair—the person to whom it was dedicated and given to perform, Kramer was at odds with the Moscow government for refusing to return to the Soviet Union after his two-year allowance of worldwide performances ran out. Gubaidulina was worried that her piece would never be performed by Kremer, who instead chose to stay in the West. Offertorium
’s subject matter was also a barrier to it being performed, as religion was a touchy topic at the time. (In fact, Gubaidulina was unofficially criticized by Tikhon Khrennikov
Tikhon Nikolayevich Khrennikov was a Russian and Soviet composer, pianist, leader of the Union of Soviet Composers, who was also known for his political activities...
for her heavy use for religion as inspiration). Faced with such bleak circumstances, Gubaidulina asked her publisher Jürgen Köchel to smuggle the score to Kremer through the All-Union Agency on Copyrights. While this was happening, Gubaidulina attempted to get the chorale from Offertorium
used in a film (The Great Samoyed
by Arkady Kordon) for which she was scoring music but was rejected by the director. The score, however, did finally reach the West and Kramer, who found a venue, the Wiener Festwochen, and the necessary materials to perform the forty minute piece.
After the premiere, Offertorium
was lauded for its striking beauty, but was asked to be cut in half. Though it is the subject of debate as to whether the piece actually needed cutting; but nonetheless, the cuts did not take away from the work. The revised edition spread around the globe and brought Gubaidulina worldwide notice.
The piece was first performed in 1981 in Vienna by Kremer and the ORF
Österreichischer Rundfunk, ORF, is the Austrian national public service broadcaster.Funded from a combination of a television licence fees and revenue from limited on-air advertising, ORF is the dominant player in the Austrian broadcast media...
SO, directed by Leif Segerstam
Leif Segerstam is a Finnish conductor and composer.He studied violin, piano and conducting at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki and conducting at the Juilliard School in New York with Jean Morel....