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  • Ensemble Georgika - Traditional Music of Georgia

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P & C December 1998
- Face Music / Albi

- last update 03-2016

more information Ensemble Georgika

The Caucasian nation of Georgia has a highly developed tradition of part-singing which has been handed down orally. The polyphony is not the result of an arrangement for the concert performance, it forms part of the essence of this music in which the harmony is often more important than catchy melodic formulae. There is an almost inexhaustible variety of Georgian vocal music. Each region of this widely varied country between the high mountainous region of Caucasia and the Black Sea has its own style, which realizes the possibilities of polyphony in its own way.

For the past hundred years traditional Georgian songs could also be heard in concert: the first performing group was established in 1885 and by 1907, recordings were already being made. Ensemble Georgika, founded in 1989 is, among the many such groups presently performing in Georgia, one of the youngest, and after 70 years of Soviet rule, one of the first to survive without state support and patronage. Its 14 singers and 3 instrumentalists wish not only to continue the existing concert tradition, but based on archive recordings and instruction from authoritative village elders, also strive to preserve its diversity and vivacity.

- latest CD: "FM 50011 - Vol. I", "FM 50013 - Vol. II", "FM 50015 - Vol. III"

Traditional Georgian music was not originally intended for presentation in a concert hall. These centuries-old, orally handed-down songs evolved out of life's important moments within society. It is still kept alive by the inhabitants of rural areas.

The texts and the musical structure of traditional Georgian songs illuminate the specific thoughts and way-of-life of a people with more than two thousand years of history and culture. For example, traditional instrumentation consisting of a collectively sung bass line supporting one or two higher solo lines, reflects a characteristic social model, existing between the individual and the group, where everyone is able to participate and no one remains an unengaged listener.

The songs had many functions in a traditional village community:

-Table songs did not only express joy at the festivities. The textual forms of blessing elevated the meal shared with a guest to the level of ritual, which both strengthened the individual participant and the community, and further affirmed the existing social norms.

- The songs of the two groups competing against one another during field work (Naduri), serve on the one hand, to organize the work and increase group productivity, and on the other, to transform the physically extremely strenuous days into a festival, where old fertility rites could continue to be celebrated.

- The perkhuli, or circle dance, also performed by two alternating groups, joins dance to words and music. Most of these songs are associated with festivals and customs of a religious nature. One finds them especially often in the high mountain regions, where religious concepts often have no more in common with the Georgian-Orthodox Church than the name.

These peasant songs, sung in region-specific ways, (see map sketch), constitute only half of the traditional folk music of Georgia. The embodiment of this advanced Christian civilization was not only to be seen in the leading architecture of its many churches, its frescoes, icons, book paintings or its religious and secular literature. The spiritual centers of Middle Ages Georgia were also centers of religious vocal art. Here, peculiar within the Orthodoxy, a three-part form of liturgical singing developed, which for the most part, was also handed-down orally. Only in the 19th century, when Georgian churches lost their autonomy (Autokephalie) as a consequence of the Russian occupation of 1801, and the services became increasingly Russianized, did the priests and musicians begin to set down the orally-transmitted songs in written form. These constitute an important foundation for the re-birth of this vocal art, almost totally obliterated during the time of the Soviets (1921-1990)

- map sketch Georgia

Most Georgian singing consists of three voices singing more or less independent of one another. Georgian musicologists have categorized the various forms of their interplay into three exemplary basic forms:

1. A more or less fixed bourdon, which makes do with a small number of tonal steps, is overlaid by one or sometimes two higher voices. This is the predominant form used in Kartli, K'akheti, and the eastern Georgian mountains.
2. The middle voice, usually that of the soloist of damts'qebi, forms an independent contrast to the two outer voices singing in parallel (Svaneti, Rach'a, and Samegrelo).
3. All three move in accordance with their own rules. This free, athematic polyphony reaches its highest point in the songs of Guria and from the Black Sea coast of Ach'aras.

None of the three ever appear in a pure form, but the one or the other will dominate in each musical dialect, the variety of which is thus all the greater.

It is not only these structural elements that have contributed to the diversity of the traditional music in this small country. The oral tradition of music is in a constant state of flux. There is no such thing as the original text; every performance is an original. In some songs the proportion of improvisation is so great that it is less correct to refer to individual songs than to models given new life with each performance.

The variety and diversity of the Georgian landscape has perhaps contributed to the diversity of its music. This tiny country, wedged between the Caucasian mountains and the Black Sea, is blessed with fertile valleys, mountainous regions, and dry, steppe-like areas. The climate in the west is as hot and wet as the sub-tropics, but in the south and east there is a dry, continental-type climate. The tumultuous history of the country has also favored the formation of a number of different ways of playing, even if they have a common basic structure. Georgia's history has been largely dominated by a centuries-long struggle for independence from the neighboring great powers: the Persian, the Osman, and finally the Russian empires. In addition to periods of high flowering, particularly at the height of the Middle Ages, Georgia has also known times of decline and internal schism.

Thomas Häusermann

watch profil in:

- published by Green Man Review
- published by Kaukasische-Post
- published by WOZ - 1993
- published by Der Landbote - 1993
- published by Wieland Musikblatt - 1993
- published by Dotek Czech Republic - 1995
- published by Wieland Musikblatt - 1995
- published by Jazz thing -bluerhythm - 1995
- published by Planeta - Brazil - December 1996
- publshed by New Rpm Musical Magazine - Spain
- published by WorldMusic Italy - 1996
- published by Rambler - 15-1-2005

- published by NZZ - 1996 - Traditioneller mehrstimmiger Gesang - Zeitfragen - Thomas Häusermann, Zürich