Easy/Uneasy Listening

If you aren't listening to Sofia Gubaidulina's Passion and Easter according to the Apostle John... you really should be. It's my new listening side project (because there isn't enough to do?) and creates such an awesome extension of the mystical sound world Gubaidulina creates in Die Sieben Worte and In Croce.

She has taken texts from both the Old and New Testaments mixed with some traditional texts from Russian Orthodox tradition. Her instrumentation is immediate and harsh, utilizing special sounds for different events: betrayal (scraping piano strings), judgement (the organ), heaven (bells), idiophones (chaos/pain); the choir acts as commentary, often interjecting or emphasizing words while the bass narrator (who goes extremely low!) recites the story. Some of their motifs remind me of John Adam's El Niño. One of the most powerful moments, I feel, is the breaking of the seals in heaven followed by the seven angels taking up their seven trumpets and blowing. You'd think there would be trumpets, but Gubaidulina refuses to give us a transparent, literal sound track. Instead we get a naked, stark barrage of wrathful drums.

I've only heard through to the end of the Passion part, the German version. Here's a snippet of the beginning of the piece ("In the beginning was the Word...") in the Russian version. Listen for the word "Slova" and "Bog" (aka "Word" and "God"). Skip to 23:40 for a glimpse of a frighteningly beautiful heaven throne scene.

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