Humanity’s resistance to spiritual decay

The composer Sofia Gubaidulina here speaks about her orchestral work »The Wrath of God« commissioned by the Salzburg Easter Festival, which will finally be given its first performance in Salzburg in the Orchestral Concert I in 2023 under the baton of Andris Nelsons.

Sofia Gubaidulina (in conversation with Anastassia Boutsko and Wien Modern), © David Carreno

Sofia Asgatovna, tell us about your work »The Wrath of God«.

This work is dedicated to Beethoven. I have to say that it is not yet finished. It is part of a larger work that has to be completed for Beethoven’s birthday in December 2020. It will comprise two parts: a Prologue, on which I’m working right now, and the Finale, »The Wrath of God«, which you are going to hear soon.

The two parts have a joint title, which is a dedication “To the great Beethoven”. Part One, the Prologue, has the subsidiary title “Must it be?” – as you’ll understand, it is a kind of dialogue with Beethoven and his “It must be”. Part Two, »The Wrath of God«, also has a subsidiary title, which is: “No, it doesn’t have to be thus!”.

It doesn’t have to be – this rise of hatred among human beings! Among people who – it seems to me – are not doing so badly, and are even living quite successful, comfortable lives. I see this in the state of the world, and in the general sense of overexertion in civilisation. People are doing pretty well. And yet hatred is increasing more and more. Why? To me, this is one of the most important questions.

What is the meaning of the title »The Wrath of God«?

I think the title of my work is self-explanatory, with no further comment needed: God is angry. He is angry, full of wrath towards us humans and our behaviour. We have brought guilt upon ourselves!

You speak of two parts, the Prologue and the Finale. Are they perhaps also component parts of an even bigger archipelago of music, as is often the case with you?

Each part of this work can naturally also be performed separately. But essentially, it is about the same topic, one that has been occupying me a lot for a long time now: The dilemma of love and hate. The hate that grows in this world with such power and intensity that it inevitably touches me, as it must every contemporary artist.

My works more or less speak of one and the same thing – whether it’s »Why?«, or the violin concerto »You and I«, and of course my oratorio »On love and hate«. It’s always the same theme – just interpreted differently in each case.

How important is it to you in this regard to have a dialogue with Beethoven, with his “It must be”?

When I think of Beethoven, I recognise that he was concerned with similar questions. Especially in his last quartets – of course, this is just my assumption. But particularly in this Beethoven anniversary year, I feel this assumption to be confirmed, time and again. He also asked himself this question again and again: “How must it be?” Or rather: “Does it have to be?”. In this imaginary dialogue, I sometimes formulate the question differently. Instead of “Must it be?”, I ask “Must it be like this?”. And my answer is: It doesn’t have to be like this!

Would you have liked to know Beethoven, and to have spoken with him?

Oh, yes! But actually, that happens day in, day out, because I’m constantly engaging with his themes, listening to his works and playing his sonatas. I am constantly talking with him.