Tbilisi State Conservatoire


Audio Recordings of Traditional Georgian Chants

           Traditional Georgian chant dates back many centuries. It has been the subject of keen interest of scientists or practitioners/performers due to its antiquity, variety, highly developed polyphony, unique harmony, modal peculiarities, and artistic values. This masterpiece of Christian art, together with Georgian folksong are acknowledged by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage of the world.

           According to historical data, Georgian chant reached the highest level of development in the 9th – 10th centuries. This treasure that survived difficult times and was passed down through oral tradition was on the verge of disappearance in the 19th century. Since 1801, two hundred years of domination of Georgia by the Russian Empire has affected the Georgian church singing: canonical three-part hymns were replaced by Russian polyphonic chant. The tradition was preserved only in some churches and monasteries. The number of choristers gradually decreased. Due to this fact, secular and religious leaders made their efforts to use the European stave comprised of five lines, for more than eight thousand chants sung by great choristers in the second half of the 19th century. It was a compromise – five-line stave cannot express non-tempered scale, characteristics of sound order or mode and intonation of Georgian music.

           Due to the above-mentioned, it is especially important to have an archive of live sound recordings of tradition carriers. Appearance of the first chant sound recordings is related to English company “Gramophone” that functioned in Georgia at the beginning of the 20th century.  Only five chants out of these sound recordings have survived: chants of David Gareja Monastery (East Georgia) and Shemokmedi Monastery (West Georgia) schools: We Praise Thee (Apolon Tsimtsishvili’s choir, 1903), Our Father (Sandro Kavsadze’s choir, 1907), Thy birth-giving was shown (Gigo Erkomaishvili, Giorgi Iobishvili, Artem Erkomaishvili, 1907); Thou who, by the Brightness; Love Brought Thee, o Lord (Samuel Chavleishvili’s ensemble, 1909).

           Restored chants were included in an album consisting of four CDs – Georgian Folk Songs. The First Sound Recordings. 1901–1914 (authors: Anzor Erkomaishvili and Vakhtang Rodonaia) released by the Georgian Folk Song International Center in 2006. The later recordings were made in Soviet era, in 1949. There are eleven chants of Shemokmedi School from the archive of the Laboratory of Georgian Folk Song of Tbilisi State Conservatoire. Georgian Chanting. Eleven Pearls represents a book of sheet music consisting of one CD (deciphered and compiled by D. Shughliashvili, Tbilisi, 2004). Performance of chants is characterized with depth, fullness of sonority, straightforwardness and the mood to pray. Choristers remember how chants were performed in church. The unique chants sung by three grandmasters (Dimitri Patarava, Varlam Simonishvili and Artem Erkomaishvili) and aforementioned five chants are invaluable treasure to study issues related to musical system of Georgian chanting, mode, harmonic peculiarities, sound production or performance, etc.

           The only chant – Thou Art a Vineyard dedicated to the Virgin Mary is recorded on CD – Tbilisi State Conservatoire. Field Expedition Recordings. Kakheti–1952 (compiled by Natalia Zumbadze, Ketevan Matiashvili, Tinatin Zhvania, Tbilisi, 2006). The chant is performed by a choir of the village Gurjaani, Kakheti region, which is rich in musical traditions. The choirmaster is Levan Mughalashvili, a talented musician with a good musical taste and deep knowledge of chants and songs of Kartli–Kakheti. He studied chanting at the end of the 19th century. Mughalashvili is a young contemporary of great choristers – the Karbelashvilis. It is likely that, due to this fact the chant dedicated to the Virgin Mary performed by the choir is close to the Karbelashvilis’ version. I think that this unique sound recording is a striking example of preserving tradition and succession of performing chant.

           Sound recordings produced later are related to the so-called secondary performance, when the tradition is disrupted and musicians have to study chants by notes only. All the secondary ensembles usually chant in European tempered manner (experimental recording of Mama Daviti choir is an exception, discussed below).

           At the beginning of the 60s, the ensembleGordela was formed by Anzor Erkomaishvili, a famous musician and choirmaster, and his friends – wonderful musicians, and this ensemble was the first performer of traditional church chants on the stage. It was a demonstration of their civic courage. Seven chants from the repertoire of the ensemble are included in the album dedicated to the 50th anniversary of Gordela (Tbilisi, 2011).

           Since the end of the 60s, the ensemble Rustavi (choirmaster A. Erkomaishvili), which is famous worldwide, promotes chants together with Georgian folk songs, through concerts given in Georgia and abroad, and many sound recordings (i.e. vinyl). Only 14 chants out of this heritage are included in the publication dedicated to celebration of 40 years of activity of the ensemble: Georgian Folk Song. Ensemble Rustavi.The booklet was prepared by Anzor Erkomaishvili, Mikheil Kilosanidze, Vakhtang Rodonaia (Ensemble Rustavi, Tbilisi, 2009) and consists of 8 CDs and a big illustrated album.

           Performance of chants acquired different purpose and esthetics from the stage. They differ from old recordings by sound production, dynamics and the manner of performance (performance manners that are strange for the church art, though are common for the academic choir art), introduction of feelings, decreasing the importance of text compared with music. In 1988 the ancient Anchiskhati Temple built in the 6th century was opened in Tbilisi when a new, important stage of chant history related to choristers (choirmaster Malkhaz Erkvanidze) began. The choir re-introduced traditional church chant in Divine Service practice. The Anchiskhati choristers revived and sang hundreds of five-line stave manuscripts. They chant in European tempered manner, their performance being characterized with acoustic completeness. It fully covers the space of the temple. Sound is directed upward, tempo and dynamics are dictated by public worship. We made sure of it when we listened to their first CD – Sacred Music from the Middle Ages. Anchiskhati Choir (released in Canada, 1998). It includes 28 chants and 2 carols Alilo.

           The next serious step to learn and restore Georgian chants was taken by Tbilisi Mama Daviti Church choir (choirmaster M. Erkvanidze). Results of two-year experience of the choir comprised of Tbilisi Church Chant Higher Institution students (Erkvanidze’s workshop) are presented on the CD named Sacred Music from the Middle Ages. Mama Daviti Church Choir (Tbilisi, 2010). 13 out of 20 chants sung by different chant schools are performed in non-tempered Georgian sound sequence. Some of them were studied from old sound recordings. This is the first serious attempt to practice the results of the study of mode system of old Georgian chant. The comparison of the CD with Eleven Pearls is the proof of it. It vividly displays the hereditary connection between these two recordings.

           It is noteworthy to mention the publication Rule of Reading in Anchiskhati Church (Patriarchy Church Chant Center, Tbilisi, 2009). Rules of traditional Georgian church reading established in Anchiskhati Church at the end of the 80s, and also applied in Mama Daviti Temple are included in the CD. Three types of chanting liturgy are recorded on the CD: Gospel, Apostle, and Prophecy. Psalms are presented by Archpriest Revaz Tomaradze – which is the leader of the church, Archimandrite Nikoloz Ghlonti and chorister and psalm-reader Malkhaz Erkvanidze. Key bases of mood and intonations of church reading are also comprised in the CD. Moreover, chants sung by the church choir are presented. The recording shows an intonation unity of reading and chant. It revives traditional old religious service. Renewal of traditional rule of reading in church is based on heritage (heard and studied from previous clergymen), music manuscripts (Ekvtime the Confessor’s manuscript Q-830 preserved in the National Center of Manuscripts of Georgia), and the professional experience and knowledge of a talented reader (Erkvanidze) with a special instinct.

           Tbilisi Jvaris Mama Choir is the first women’s ensemble, which followed the Anchiskhati Church choir in observing the principles of church performance, and started to perform traditional Georgian chants at the temple. Later on a choir was established on the basis of choristers of Jvaris Mama Church (Sathanao Choir, choirmaster Tatiana Megrelidze), and following these principles it offers the sound recording of Georgian Church and Secular Music (Tbilisi, 2008). The CD includes 9 chants.

           The purpose of some released CDs is to expand and disseminate the less-known chant repertoire. E.g. men’s choir named Aghsavali recorded The Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete (heirmoi and kontakia), being produced by Nino Naneishvili (Tbilisi, 2007). Women’s Choir Ialoni (choirmaster Nino Naneishvili) released Theotokion and Paraklesis Chants Dedicated to the Virgin (Tbilisi, 2010).

           There were several teaching CDs released in the decades of the 21st century. One of them – Traditional Georgian Church Hymns, including two recordings compiled by Nun Martha Chkhikvishvili and Nino Razmadze (Tbilisi, 2010) and attached to the sheet music collection – is intended for women’s choirs. The other one is a compilation of recordings (Traditional Georgian Church Hymns including two self-study recordings, Tbilisi, 2012, 2013; sheet music attached) released by male ensemble Shavnabada and conducted by choirmaster David Tsintsadze. Both albums include simpler patterns of Vesper, Matins and Liturgy chants of Gelati School sung during Divine Service. The peculiarity of the study recordings is that chants are presented in three voices that are followed by emphasizing each voice that facilitates learning the patterns by ear. Both choirs are characterized with simplicity. Performance of women’s choir has internal dynamics, live sonority and accurate interpretation of chants with different performance peculiarities (recitative, avaji – melodic recitative).

           The album Patriarchy Choir of Tbilisi Holy Trinity (Sameba) Cathedral, Georgia, including two CDs (choirmaster Simon-Jiki Jangulashvili), has been released recently. It contains 24 chants, most of them with a melismatic style. On the one hand, the ensemble continues the performance tradition of Rustavi ensemble, and on the other hand, it is a carrier of traits (excessive amount of dynamic nuances, a huge number of choristers that is uncommon for traditional Georgian choir) introduced by Russian partes singing chant in some temples of Georgia.

           It is obvious that the contemporary audio recordings of chant choirs clearly reflect the key performance trends of Georgian chanting.



Ketevan Matiashvili