Les Offrandes Oubliées
Length: c. 13 minutes
Orchestration: 3 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum, cymbals, and triangle), and strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: November 7, 1974, Zubin Mehta conducting
In 1930, when he composed Les Offrandes Oubliées, Messiaen, at age 22, was newly graduated from the Paris Conservatory, which he had entered as something of an 11-year-old wonder child. In the year of his graduation, the music of his countrymen had clearly left its mark: the Impressionism of Claude Debussy, then dead for a dozen years, and the very much alive Ravel, and of course his teacher Paul Dukas. These were his country’s reigning composers and he was their beneficiary. Surely he ate of the fruits of their tree, but he was a completely independent spirit and evolved as a new kind of French composer. A man of uncommon attainments (on his own he studied Hindu and Greek rhythm, plainchant, and ornithology), he was also a religionist of deepest devotion. The large boundaries of his music, he tells us, move around three poles: “the theological truths of the Catholic faith (the first aspect of my work... the only one perhaps that I will not regret at the hour of my death); the greatest theme of human love – that of Tristan and lsolde; and nature. All three are summed up in only one idea: divine love.”
In addition to the influences of the French masters, Messiaen studied the ancient music of the Far East; the timbres of conventional and exotic instruments, all of which he used as structural material; what he called “the sovereign freedom of bird song”; and the complex rhythms of Eastern cultures, and of Gregorian chant. Messiaen was, in short, a composer of enormous intellectual and emotional range, a unique Renaissance man in an age of limited specialization. He wrote the following note on Les Offrandes Oubliées:
“The Offrandes Oubliées, written in 1930, was first performed on February 19, 1931, at the Théatre des Champs Elysées in Paris, under the direction of Walter Straram. I had just turned 22. It was my first work played by an orchestra and my first contact with the public at large.
“The work is in three parts:
“The Cross: lamentation of the strings, the sorrowful ‘neumes’ of which divide the melody into groups of uneven duration, cut by long mauve and grey wailings.
“The Sin: presented here as a kind of ‘race to the abyss’ in an almost ‘mechanized’ speed. You will notice the strong flexional ending accents, whistling of the harmonics in glissando, the incisive calls of the trumpets.
“The Eucharist: long and slow phrase of the violins, which rises over a blanket of pianissimo chords, with reds, gold, blues (like a faraway stained glass window), in the light of muted solo chords. The sin is the forgetting of God. The Cross and the Eucharist are the Divine Offerings. ‘This is my Body, given for you – this is my Blood, spilled for you.’ "