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Traditional Eastern Orthodox Chant Documentation Project

Regional Chant Systems: Georgian Chant

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INFORMATION (History, Theory, Practice, Notation, etc.)

Georgian Chant: Introduction
Historical Overview
(also discussing historical periods and any significant regional traditions)
The Regional Folk Singing Traditions of Georgia
The Regional Sacred Singing Traditions of Georgia


Georgian sacred and secular music has a rich and complex history, relatively little of which is documented in any depth in English. Very strikingly, Georgian music uses an ancient system of polyphony, usually in three parts, and a unique tuning system conceived outside of what the western ear is used to. It makes a great use of parallel motion and dissonance (and usually ending in a unison pitch). Therefore, you are hearing tone pairings that speak a different musical vocabulary.

There are many Georgian music sources, however, realized in western notation. And, there's a lot of Georgian music as well -- volumes and volumes -- which varies depending on where you are in Georgia, and so forth. Most Georgians are not crazy about us singing the music using even-tempered tonality and with an overly "polite" tone (i.e. a "cultured" sound).

The Georgian Church, its music, and the culture that surrounds it, I believe could be our next most popular field of study and inquiry in terms of Orthodoxy. And, there are many of us, myself included, who are very enthusiastic about this rich cultural and musical tradition.

-- adapted from a public posting by Mark Bailey on the Orthodox Psalm Yahoo Group


The sacred music is usually in three parts. There are very few pieces in four or five parts, but they are not currently performed. According to Prince John (18th c.), during the festal services singing in six parts was a practice, but it became obsolete because of the lack of trained chanters. Four, five or six parts doesn't mean that there were female chanters; the choirs were all-male. Modern practice is either all-male or all-female choirs.

There are two main "branches" of the Georgian chant: Eastern and Western varieties which are derived from the same origin: Georgian musical culture, but it's not to say that they are the same.

-- adapted from a public posting by Shota Gugushvili on the Orthodox Psalm Yahoo Group


"You don't have to know the theory to enjoy the music, but here's a brief and incomplete sketch: In general, in music with true three-part polyphonic independence and a small melodic range, fifths will be more important than octaves. The fifth will replace the octave as the unit of structural stability and pitch equivalence, and the scale will repeat at the fifth instead of the octave. We can usefully speak of such music as being built around the "quintave" rather than the octave. In a scale based on the quintave, furthermore, the tendency will be to subdivide the fifth not into whole and half steps but into four intervals more nearly equal in size, blurring or erasing the sense of major and minor. Those intervals produce a lowered second, a near-neutral third, and a raised fourth--which, when projected by a fifth, results in a raised eighth degree, a wide octave. The effects of this tendency vary by region in proportion to the tradition of true three-part polyphony, but some form of quintave tuning is common to almost all Georgian music."

-- from the Kavkasia web site

Note: The "quintave" concept often makes it necessary to have different key signatures in the lower and upper vocal ranges in traditional Georgian singing, as one will notice in the collection of handwritten scores presented above.

Although Georgian culture and music can be generally divided into Eastern and Western traditions, there are several regions of the nation which have their own distinctive musical styles.


Georgian church songs, which reached the highest point of their development in the 10th-11th centuries, are an "outstanding monument of Georgian music". Academician Ivane Djavakhishvili believes that already in the 9th century, if not earlier, there existed in Georgia a theory of church singing which was called "the science of voice study". In Georgia's churches and monasteries, as well as in Georgian cultural centers abroad on Sinai, Atho, and in Palestine a great importance was attached to the art of choral singing.

At the same time there appeared books on hymnography, such as collections of eight-voices chants (models of chorales). Hymnographers Joane Minchkhi, Mikael Modrekili, Joane Mtbevari, Evtime and Giorgi Mtatsmindeli, Efrem Mtsire and others are mentioned in the collection of church chorales of the 10th and 11th centuries. They not only translated Greek texts of chorales, but often themselves composed new masterpieces.

Chorales were recorded in neumatic system of the first half of X century. Graphically Georgian neumes differed from the Greek and Latin ones. They are not decrypted till now. They should be studied in comparison with early Byzantine system used in Greek chants since initially Georgian church singing had been developing on the basis of Georgian texts. Later it acquired traditional traits of folk polyphonic singing.

At the beginning of the 20th century church chorales were studied and performed by the specialists who inherited this priceless legacy from the previous generations. During the centuries chorales were passed orally. Both in Western and Eastern Georgia there were schools where young people were taught choral singing. Graduates were sent to various monasteries and churches.

There were two main types of chorales in Georgia: so-called Gurian which were spreaded mostly in Western Georgia and Kartalinian-Kahetian in Eastern Georgia. Late in the XIX and in XX centuries musicians recorded on the phonograph and notated hundreds of rare old Georgian chorales. You can listen to some of them online from this web-site.

adapted from Best Georgian Music Online


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