The present essay represents the first attempt to make a brief comparative description of some of the characteristics of two musical cultures: European professional and Georgian folk, with further stating of certain considerations regarding interaction of the above two traditions in the works of Georgian composers. The essay is written for a wide range of readers; that is why, some of the professional notions are simplified.
Development of western European musical thinking reflects the historical way of polarization of two opposite origins: joy and grief. The process of formation of major and minor keys vividly illustrates the above. This is the process of crystallization of the above origins, previously mixed with each other in the musical modes of different ethnicities, from which they were further partially taken to professional music.
Formation of major and minor keys is revelation of the above process of crystallization by formation of musical language. But the process itself was not terminated by occurrence and “victory” (XII-XIII cc) of major and minor keys. Just opposite, it entered the phase of its most interesting accomplishment. That is how, with the lapse of time, was destroyed the constructive balance between major and minor on one hand and the semantic balance between their expression by means of the origins of joy and grief on the other hand. Besides, in the course of the entire process paradigmatic metamorphosis of thee origins also takes place. Grief tends to tragedy, approaching the center of this verbal paradigm closer and closer – to destruction, at the same time getting rid of the necessity to be bond with the key. Such a tend follows the way of further development right up to total abolishment of functional system of major and minor keys and consequently at the new stage of formation of new sources of musical expression. But for better clearness of an idea in the context of the given essay it is better to stop at this stage of historical development of western European music, where joy and grief are expressed by major and minor keys. Key is the system, in which sounds have certain functional inter-relation. Both keys – major and minor – have a center (there are keys with no center at all, or keys with two or more centers).
What does the “key center” mean? Inside the key there are some attractive and repulsive forces between sounds and consonances. All these sounds and consonances are divided into stable and instable. This is how they are perceived by ear – stable and instable. Inside the keys each instable sound tends towards stable sounds and each instable consonance tends towards resolution into stable consonances. There is a hierarchy between stable sounds. Thus, the most stable sound is the center of the key. In case of major or minor keys, this is so called keynote, i.e. sound, towards which all the other sounds tend as to their resolution and from which the whole scale of the key is constructed. For example, in C Dur (doh major), doh is the keynote. The most stable consonance of the key is constructed from the keynote and that is the tonal triad. Triad, like all the other consonances, composed of three or more sounds, is a chord. In addition to individual sounds and chords there are also intervals. Interval is a consonance of two sounds. Intervals, like chords, are divided into two groups: discordant and consonant. Tonal triad is a consonance, as all the intervals composing it – two thirds and a fifth – are consonances. In the functional system of major and minor keys, all the most stable (as well as many of relatively stable) chords have major or minor sounding structure, i.e., they contain the essence of joy or grief. Within the keys there are not only chords, but also intervals, having their own tends towards major or minor keys. Consequently, the entire constructive material of the European music is dualistic and the whole semantics of it is based on division of two opposite origins, morphology of attraction to joy or grief, to bright or tragic, etc.
Now, let’s look at the Georgian folk. Here we have a developed functional system with attractions and repulsion within itself. As a rule, this is a three-part polyphony, although, in some regions of Georgia, there are two- or one-part as well. Whatever diverse the Georgian folk can be according to multiplicity of music genres, nature of sounding and specific, often radically different features, characteristic for the music of individual regions, there still is something in common, integrating the whole diversity. Namely – a common rule of resolution of instable consonances into stable and the notion of the center of the functional system. The development of the musical tissue here tends towards resolution into fifth or unison (there are also other cases of resolution, which, however, do not represent any exception in relation to the reference point, which is the subject of interest in the given case). Earlier, talking about the tonal system of major and minor keys, we described the tonal triad as a chord, composed of three consonant intervals: two thirds and one fifth and we noted, that this chord can be of major or minor nature. The mentioned fifth in the triad is represented by simultaneous sounding of the lowest and highest tones. This interval in itself does not have any tinges of joy or grief, which occur only when the third, middle sound joins these two. The major or minor nature of the triad depends upon the disposition of this third sound. In certain cases, in the key tonal (major or minor) system, addition of this middle sound to the fifth does not break the law and the logic of the functional system itself, although it changes the picture of sounding.
The situation is totally different in the Georgian folk. Here, it is impossible to add any third sound to the fifth, into which the development of the musical idea resolves, without destroying the inner conformity to the musical language. Any attempt to do this will fail and any sound will be excess, unnecessary. The fifth sounds here with its natural clearness. This is an absolute consonance with no tinges of prevalence of any of the two opposed origins: joy or grief. This is a kind of unsplittable core. That is, that the center of the functional system of the Georgian folk music is not split or, better to say – is not split into two opposite poles. The world of this music is the world of the whole spirit. This is not an individual spirit, but the spirit objectively representing some order of the universe, acting in it; where death is a part of the mystery of existence, in which all the powers are represented proportionally and create the integrity of the universe. Of course, this can be objected, as folk is supposed to express something common and this is not inherent only in the Georgian folk. Such an objection would certainly be justified. But it would also be relevant to lend an ear to the European folk or sounding of the antique keys, successors of which to certain extent are the musical keys of European ethnicities.
Indeed, presence of these two opposite origins of joy and grief (even if not clearly separated, but mixed with each other) can be noticed and the rudimentary prospective of their further splitting and dramatic increase of the potential of distancing can be captured.
XIX c is the period when opera was conceived in Georgia. In 1851, in Tbilisi, construction of the Opera House was finished and in 1918 the premier of the first Georgian opera was performed. This was followed by thriving activeness of Georgian composers in opera and other genres of music. Having obtained professional education in Russia, they were all brought up in the traditions of Russian and European music. All they were taught – instrumentation, form construction, counterpoint – was based upon the harmonic major and minor key thinking, upon already established experience of the culture, orientated towards expression of tragic, pain and individual emotional experience: this is the specific state of culture with the formed relation between morphology of language and spiritual content, characteristic for it.
Creation of the Georgian national opera in those times seemed to be the most important issue. Georgian composers, as it was expected, addressed the folk. But no one noticed then what happened and even now it can be understood only by a few professionals. Each folk melody, which was subject to orchestration, bearing its own internal harmonic law, resisted the violence from the part of the major and minor key harmonic systems. And the cultural content of the dualistic European spirit resisted the violence from the part of the “sterile” resolution into “indifferent” intervals. The beginning of the European culture, represented by the major and minor tonal system involved the desire to deliver tragedy, drama, individual meaning and failed to realize own creative fund due to its loss at touching the “intervals of earthing”, with fifth and unison.
To add some more taste to their music, Georgian composers changed and altered the folk material, adjusting it to the requirements of European and wrote triads, where only fifth was supposed to be, but the internal structure of the worked up material showed up, sticking out the sharp angles from the smoothed tissue of the music.
Eventually, the integrate origin of the folk spirit remained wet and sticky with the sweetened water, running down from the eyes instead of tears; and froze in mendacious smile, trying to smile knowing not why. The next generation of Georgian composers did no encounter any of preserved buildings of the national culture, which would be able to survive under the heavy hammer of the times.
© Jemal Tavadse