The First Printed Editions of Georgian Chant Collections

           The greater part of the printed editions of Georgian chant collections represent an old legacy of Georgian chants: plain and ornamented, modal and multi-part (three-parts), these were written down in stave notation at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. They present the specimens of Gelati monastic school (western Georgia), and the so-called Karbelashvilis’ mode, which must have taken its origin at Gareja Mravalmta (Eastern Georgia) spiritual centers.

           The first notated book of Georgian chants was printed in Tbilisi in 1886. It was a publication (Georgian Voices. Ecclesiastical chanting. Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom) by intaglio print making, written down in five-line stave notation by Andria Benashvili. The collection includes Eastern Georgian plain mode chants, which were recorded from the former pupils of Grigol Karbelashvili (1812–1880), a famous chanter.

           Maxime Sharadze, a selfless and loyal figure of Georgian Church chanting, printed a lot of collections at the first musical notation press he had founded in Tbilisi in 1891. Among them are six books of ornamented chants from the Gelati monastic complex: Georgian Chanting. Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (1895); Chants of the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts of Basil the Great, Priest Ordaining and the Holy Matrimony (1901); The Requiem (1899); Easter Chants (1904); The Communion Chants of the Feasts (1906); The Feast Liturgy Chants (1911). The chants mentioned above were written down in five-line stave notation by the famous musician and singer Philimon Koridze (1835–1911). For his great work and devotion he was canonized by the Georgian Church. St. Philimon transcribed the chants from the greatest chanters of Western Georgia: Anton Dumbadze, Dimitri Tchalaganidze, priest Ivliane Tsereteli, Archpriest Razhden Khundaze, Melkisedek Nakashidze and Nestor Kontridze.

           In the 90s of the 19th century the collections including the so-called Karbelashvilis’ mode chants were published, among them: Vespers (1897); Matins (1898); The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (1899); Christmas Chants (1899). The first two of these original manuscripts were written down in five-line stave notation by the priest Basil (bishop Stephane subsequently), the third by the composer Ippolitov-Ivanov, and the fourth by Philimon Karbelashvili. The chants are written down from the chanter priests Basil and Polievktos Karbelashvili, Alexander Molodinashvili and Grigol Mghebrishvili. Since the scale of the Georgian church chants is non-tempered, their accurate transcription in stave musical notation is an insurmountable task. The ideas expressed by the compilers of the collections make it clear how conditional was for them the text, written down in western notation. They hoped that the chanters would be able to interpret the notated chants correctly, according the mode thus correcting the errors made by using the clef and alteration signs. The Karbelashvilis’ mode chants are better adjusted to the stave notation system, than the specimens of the Gelati monastic school.

           The division into proportionate metric units is alien to old Georgian church chants. In spite of this, in the printed collections of Gelati school chants, the musical text is divided into bars, which goes against the natural phrasing, and in some cases the rhythmic line of the original tune is altered, too. In this respect, the collections including the Karbelashvilis’ mode are correct. Here the line and punctuation marks only separate the structural constituent units of the chants.

           In spite of certain shortcomings, the significance of the printed collections of the chants and their original manuscripts is invaluable, for they have preserved a very important part of an ancient legacy, and laid foundation for the revival of the rich chanting traditions. Today, the new editions of the chants present in the first printed collections and numerous manuscripts are being published by the assistance and support of the Church Chanting Centre at the Georgian Patriarchate. These publications are the most significant preconditions of sharing the inheritance of our ancestors, and of proving the expansion of the chanting choirs repertoire.

Magda Sukhiashvli