Gubaidulina: The Seven Last Words

Reader Felicitas Birckenbach enjoys a performance of Gubaidulina's religious work for Passion Week


Friday 27 March offered the chance to experience The Seven Last Words by Sofia Gubaidulina in Colognes'  "Großer Sendesaal" music hall, alongside two early works of Franz Schubert, the Ouverture in C minor (D8) and his "Stabat Mater" in F minor for Soli, Choir und Orchestra (D 383).

Gubaidulina created her work (1982) in respect to the great religious tradition, and thus incorporated into it a musical quotation from Heinrich Schütz's famed Baroque setting of the same text, and also from Joseph Haydn's contemplative work on this subject. The Seven Last Words of Christ for solo cello, bayan (the Russian button accordion) and string chamber orchestra refers to the seven short phrases uttered by Jesus on the cross, but expresses these without any word from the human voice. Instead, the solo cello played by Oren Shevlin, and the bayan played by Elsbeth Moser, sustain the musical performance of this scene from the Passion with new artistic expressions of their instruments. Symbolism plays a fundamental role in this work and assumes a concrete form in the cello and bow plainly representing Jesus at the cross, and the bayan standing for the world of God with its metaphorical gestures.

The longest movement is the central  ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’-  a powerful and deeply affecting invention. Starting very calmly, it develops with an expressive crescendo and ends with very intense but faintly shimmering chimes. After that with ‘It is accomplished,’ and ‘Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit,’ the music leaves the earthly world by ending with the tender playing of the cello, diminishing and becoming transparent. Enthusiastic applause for great musicians with an exceptional attunement into the Passion week.


Felicitas Irene Birckenbach, Cologne


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