History and Tradition
Sacred music exists in all cultures and can be traced through the ages. The Incas had sacred chants that were used in their temples. Tibetan monks still sing their sacred hymns with special singing techniques, resulting in the magical overtones. And the Western Christian World has its Gregorian chants, which enjoy an enormous popularity at present.
The ritual and sacred songs of Georgian music are an example of another special form of Western Christian music: the polyphonic choral heritage of Republic of Georgia.
Sacred music appeals to the inner self, it is a way of connecting oneself with a deeper source of existence. The repetitive chants and rhythms in sacred music create a positive attraction, taking the listener away from small worries and attachments. Sacred music furthermore creates a breathing pattern that unifies the body and the soul.
Georgia has a great and highly distinct tradition of polyphonic choral singing. The folk and church songs are an inseparable part of the Georgian treasury and Georgia deservedly is proud of it. In the 1st century, Christianity became known in Georgia and in 337 King Mirian declared it the state religion. So Georgia, as an oldest Orthodox country, has a great tradition of sacred music. This tradition has been preserved as a vital part of the national identity.
The Georgian polyphonic tradition is likely to be oldest than that of Western Europe, and it is characterized by special voice techniques and the use of tones which are very close to each other. By oral tradition the songs and the music pass on from generation to generation.
It is primarily the man who do the singing in Georgia. A typical Georgian song is sung a cappella by men, in three voices.
Polyphonic singing has always had its natural place in Georgian social life, at festivities as well as at work.
Many Georgian ensembles also pass on the tradition in concert form. There are basically two groups of songs: East Georgian and West Georgian. The East Georgian song often has two solo upper parts and a lower part with flexible drone tones. West Georgian songs are characterized by a pronounced polyphony, which often has a complex melodic structure that disregards harmonic consonance.
Georgian church songs (chorals) 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 Orthodox Churches and Monasteries as well as in Georgian cultural centres abroad – on Sinai, Athos and in Palestine – a great impotence was attached to the art of choral singing. At the same time there appeared books on hymnography – such as collections of eight-voice chants (models of chorales). In collections of church chorales of the 10th and 11th centuries there is mention of such hymnographers as Joane Minchkhi, Mikael Modrekili, Joane Mtbevari, Evtime and Giorgi Mtatsmindeli, Efrem Mtsire and others who not only translated from the Greek texts of chorales but often themselves composed new works.
Chorales recorded in neumatic notation of the first half of the 10th century have, too, reached our times. Graphically Georgian neumes differed from Greek and Latin ones, their system of notation remaining undecipherable up to the present day. It should be studied in comparison with the early Byzantine system used in Greek chants since initially Georgian church singing developed on the basis of Georgian texts. Later it acquired traditional features of folk polyphonic singing.
At the beginning of this century church chorales were studied and performed by the specialists who inherited this priceless legacy from the previous generations. Today, Georgian Orthodox Seminary and Academy among with a several Folk Ensembles continues a tradition of Georgian church chorales and delivers us a beauty and harmony of the Georgian polyphony. There are several web sites on the Net concerning of Georgian Sacred and Ritual music, some of them are presented as “mid” and “real audio” format.