ON MUSIC OF GURDJIEFF/DE HARTMANN FROM INTRODUCTIONS TO MISIC SCORES
In the course of his search to understand all facets of human nature, Gurdjieff became convinced that the music of different cultures both preserved and revealed essential characteristics of those cultures and also conveyed deeper meanings rooted in their traditions. He possessed an extraordinary capacity for remembering the intricate melodies he heard during the twenty years he spent living and traveling in Central Asia and the Near East. These “recordings” were essential for the work that was to follow.
The music Gurdjieff encountered descends from aural traditions of ancient provenance. As a rule, this music is not written down but relies on the musician’s exact knowledge of its characteristic melodic movements. As in most monophonic music, a sense of harmony is implied by the melodic intervals themselves, often underpinned by a drone of the tonic, or with the added fifth. In certain styles one also finds a complex rhythmic interaction between melody and accompaniment. The systems of tuning, varying from region to region, are derived from divisions of the octave that result in intervals unfamiliar to Western ears. De Hartmann, a musician of European culture, needed time and a special preparation to become sensitive to a musical language so different from his own, and to be able to hear – in the sense of receive – the essence of the music that was being conveyed to him. He described his first musical contact with Gurdjieff:
In the evenings, he came with a guitar and would play, not in a usual manner, but with the tip of the third finger, as if playing a mandolin, slightly rubbing the strings. There were only melodies, rather pianissimo hints of melodies from the years when he collected and studied the ritual movements and dances of different temples in Asia. All this playing was essentially an introduction for me into the new character of the Eastern music which he wished later to dictate to me.5
It was around this time (1917) in Essentuki that Gurdjieff began to develop extensively his movements and sacred dances. At first he provided the musical accompaniment himself on the guitar, (under wartime conditions no piano was available), while deHartmann had to practice the exercises. In 1919 when Gurdjieff and his pupils went to Tiflis, work on these exercises continued and, with a piano available, de Hartmann was asked to play. De Hartmann wrote: ..
Gurdjieff gave us the different modes of several nationalities, and not only the modes but also . . . details peculiar to the character of each nationality. These modes served later on for the creation of music for a variety of exercises . . ,6
It was also in 1919 that Gurdjieff sent de Hartmann and his wife to Erivan, the capital of Armenia, where the de Hartmanns gave concerts of European music and of theworks of the Armenian composer Komitas Vardapet. As de Hartmann describes:
Mount Ararat was wrapped in a shroud of mist: an unforgettable sight. To accompany this vision there was authentic Eastern music, played on . . . the tar – a kind of stringed instrument. Through this trip to Erivan, . . . Gurdjieff gave us the opportunity of listening to Eastern music and musicians, so that I could better understand how he wished his own music to be written and interpreted.
For the five years between 1919 and 1924, the collaboration of the two men focused on music for Gurdjieff s movements and sacred dances. In 1925 the full intensity of the composing of the music in this edition began:
/ had a very difficult and trying time with this music. Gurdjieff sometimes whistled or played on the piano with one finger a very complicated sort of melody — as are all Eastern melodies, although they seem at first to be monotonous. To grasp this melody, to write it in European notation, required a tour de force. How it was written down is very interesting in itself.
It usually happened in the evening in the big salon of the Chateau. From my room I usually heard when Gurdjieff began to play and, taking my music paper, I had to rush downstairs. Soon all the people came, and the music dictation was always in front of everybody. It was not easy to notate. While listening to him play, I had to scribble down at feverish speed the shifts and turns of the melody, sometimes with repetitions of just two notes. But in what rhythm? How to mark the accentuation? Often there was no hint of conventional Western meters; at times the flow of melody . . . could not be interrupted or divided by bar-lines. And the harmony that could support the Eastern tonality of the melody could only gradually be guessed. Often – to torment me, I think – he would begin to repeat the melody before I had finished my notation, usually with subtle differences and added embellishments which drove me to despair. Of course it must be remembered that this was never just a matter of simple dictation, but equally a personal exercise for me, to grasp the essential character, the very noyau or kernel of the music.
After the melody had been written down Gurdjieff would tap on the lid of the piano a rhythm on which to build the bass accompaniment. And then I had to perform at once what had been given, improvising the harmony as I went}
By this method over 300 piano pieces were worked on during those two years.
What is unique in this music is its specific combination of elements: the ethnic melodies, the ritual music of remote temples and monasteries, and the cadences of the Orthodox liturgy so intimately familiar to both men – all these transformed by Gurdjieff through de Hartmann’s craftsmanship and absolute dedication. What resulted was sometimes distinctly Eastern, often clearly Western, but almost never typically either one. It is as though many of the specific attributes of the sourceswere distilled to leave a music largely free of elaborated structure and decorative detail or of characteristic pianism. The force and clarity of its speech emerge from the underlying intention to speak directly to the listener’s inmost self.
A close examination of the manuscripts yields a revealing insight: there are very few occurrences of rewriting in any of the various stages of notation. From the first dictation of the melodies, through harmonization and addition of rhythm, until the final manuscript, there is no evidence of basic change in compositional structure. In any process of composing this would be unusual, but in a collaboration it is quite extraordinary. The common understanding of the two men and the accelerated pace of their work together led to a fusion of musical thought – resulting in a creation as if from one mind. They became one composer. The period of their musical collaboration ended in 1927. The manuscripts remained in various stages of completion: in some cases the melody alone was noted down, while in others the melodic line was partially harmonized and the piece never finished. This edition contains only those pieces that reached their full and final development. The fair copies produced in the 1920’s by de Hartmann in his impeccable calligraphy generally contain few indications of tempo, dynamics, phrasing, or articulation marks. Only in preparing the manuscripts in the early 1950’s for a limited private edition did he add such indications, formalize the genres, and establish the sequence of pieces in each volume. Therefore, most of the previouslyunpublished manuscripts in this edition appear with few performance indications. It is left to the pianist to explore and find in the music itself the key to their interpretation.
Introduction to Volume I
The music of Asian Songs and Rhythms evokes the atmosphere of the peoples of the Near East and Central Asia, particularly of Gurdjieff’s own Armenian and Greek ancestry. The musical folklore of these ethnic groups, among which he lived and traveled as a young man, was a primary influence on his tonal language. It must be said at once that many of the titles cannot be taken literally. In some cases the music may indeed be an accurate recollection or echo of certain regional melodies Gurdjieff heard on his journeys, which he either quoted directly or recreated in the idiom of the locale.
In other instances, the titles would seem to reflect a personal impression of a place, a people, or an ancient culture, translated into Gurdjieff’s own musical language. A number of pieces were left untitled but clearly belong to the genre of this volume.
Several pieces in this edition, particularly in Volumes I and II, include an additional line for the daff, a Middle Eastern frame drum. Although the part is optional, its inclusion provides a new timbre, giving a quite different impression of the piece as a whole. In some cases it is used to reinforce the basic rhythmic pattern of the piano. In others, a new element is introduced by giving to the daff a meter different from that of the piano, thus creating patterns of contrasting cycles (Vol. I, Nos. 21 and 31, Vol. II, No. 17).
The polyrhythms within the piano part itself present an interesting challenge to the performer. For example, in Vol. I, No. 11, the left hand plays a rhythmic ostinato while the right hand must execute simultaneously the irregularly phrased rhythm of the melody. This creates a demand to play two different rhythmic cycles at once. Here de Hartmann adopted the somewhat unorthodox method of barring only the lower staff. The intentional absence of bar lines in the melody reveals the independence of its rhythmic form.
The pieces collected in this volume are short, sometimes a single page, with only one theme, as if to illuminate a certain idea or evoke a particular feeling. In certain instances, for the essence of a piece to be fully expressed, a Da Capo is indicated. In a sense, each composition can be taken as a moment musical, a kind of “travel sketch,” with an intimation of deeper feeling beneath the surface, waiting to be discovered.
Introduction to Volume II
Of all the works in this edition, the pieces from Music of the Sayyids and the Dervishes reflect most characteristically the musical idiom of the Middle East. Nevertheless these pieces are intended to evoke the spirit of the Sayyids and dervishes rather than to serve as transcriptions of their music. The Sayyids, whether by blood relation or spiritual lineage, are considered to be direct descendants of the prophet Mohammed and are held in high esteem in the Muslim world. But, so far as we know, they have left no music that can be specifically attributed to them. The music of the dervishes, on the other hand, still exists today and has been preserved, for the most part, in its traditional form. Dervishes belong to different Islamic orders or brotherhoods as varied as those in Christianity in which devotional and spiritual exercises are linked to musical forms defined by tradition. The Mevlevi, for example, best known in the West as the Whirling Dervishes, give an important place to the dance, which, along with the music, opens the way to an ecstatic state. In composing the music in this volume, Gurdjieff and de Hartmann frequently employed a two-part form indigenous to many regions of the Middle East, including Azerbaijan and the Turkish coast of the Black Sea. The beginning is a taksim, a free melodic or rhapsodic improvisation based on a particular mode, often underpinned by a drone or pedal point, (represented on the piano by a repeated note or tremolo in the left hand). The second part is a rhythmic dance. Of course this type of binary form is in essence universal, appearing in a variety of guises, from European opera to Hindustani classical music. Nos. 3, 7, and 26, for example, illustrate Gurdjieff s and de Hartmann’s use of the binary form. The improvisational exposition gradually unfolds the essential features of the melody through the development of short motifs. The tone is more personal in nature than that found in theAsian Songs and Rhythms. The second section, based on a dance rhythm, refers directly or indirectly to the motivic material of the first part and often subtly echoes its subjective quality of feeling. Nos. 28 and 36 are representative of the more energetic dances undoubtedly inspired by the rhythmic spiritual exercises of certain dervish orders. In the interpretation of these pieces, the pianist should bear in mind that for the dervishes, this type of dance is not meant to induce a trance-like frenzy, but, quite to the contrary, provides a specific rhythmic support for control of the breath and an inner spiritual awakening.
Introduction to Volume III
In considering the complete musical works of Gurdjieff/ de Hartmann, we find inHymns, Prayers, and Rituals undoubtedly the most profound reflection of Gurdjieff the Master. Although quite varied in form and somewhat in style, these pieces all share the unmistakable mark of the depth of his inner feeling and sensitivity. It is surely this quality which gives Volume 111 its unique tone.
The ethnic and traditional pieces in Volumes I and II clearly emerge from Gurdjieff’s early life-experiences and travels in Asia and North Africa and are suffused with natural human warmth and often with refined personal emotion. The music of Volume III, however, leaves behind all folklorism or any purely subjective expression, to reveal another world.
The exact nature of this collection of pieces is difficult to define. They all evoke a sense of the sacred, but in different ways. Some were given titles, while others are identified only by number. In certain pieces the distinction between a hymn, a prayer, and a ritual is not immediately evident.
The hymns, for example, do not at all correspond to the conventional notion of music sung by church congregations or choirs. They might instead be viewed as expressions of inner states in which man confronts his inmost self – sometimes through a dramatic struggle – to become aware of the different forces which influence both his life and his inner being.
Nevertheless, the echo of the Orthodox liturgy, a tradition in which both Gurdjieff and de Hartmann were deeply rooted, is by no means absent in the interiority of these hymns. In such examples as Nos. 1, 18, 26, 33, and 36, for instance, the characteristic Russian cadences and harmonic idiom are clearly in evidence. The Orthodox influence is also present in a series of pieces related to Holy Week. Included in this group areHymn for Easter Wednesday (No. 42); Hymn for Easter Thursday (No. 41) – perhaps the most deeply questioning of the set; Hymn for Good Friday (No. 28); Easter Hymn and Procession in the Holy Night (No. 51) – a solemn ritual; Easter Hymn (No. 26) – unmistakably Orthodox, a kind of choral ode; and The Resurrection of Christ (No. 50) -a meditation on the theme rather than a musical illustration.
Also heard in certain pieces are the sounds of traditions other than Christian. These are reflected in much of the music found in Volume II, as in the monody of Dervish chants and taksims. Two examples of this intensely searching and contemplative mode areReading from a Sacred Book (No. 19) and Chant from a Holy Book (No. 47). The sound-image is the familiar drone or pedal-point tremolo of a plectral instrument, supporting an unharmonized melody in free rhythm, improvisatory in style, which would be intoned either by the voice (as in the Islamic call to prayer) or perhaps by a wind-instrument such as the ney. These compositions of oriental character are among the most evocative of the Gurdjieff/de Hartmann works. It is as though they illuminate the other side of the sacred mountain, which is, in truth, this body of work, created through the osmotic collaboration of master and pupil.
Elsewhere in these compositions, one senses a certain lyricism and humanity, although always expressed with the inwardness that characterises the entire volume. (Consider, for example, Nos. 2, 7, 10, 31, and 39.) Two of the most touching pieces in this mode are Nos. 22 and 43, prayers of great intimacy, although the personal feeling never approaches the sentimental. In “Rejoice, Beelzebub!” (No. 15), the opening phrases convey a sense of reassurance and hope, reinforced by the use of the major mode, which is found less frequently in the works of Gurdjieff/de Hartmann. But in the penultimate phrase the atmosphere shifts subtly, the tonality becomes minor, and the piece concludes on a more pensive or even melancholy note.
Among the most powerful hymns are those that represent musically the great laws on which Gurdjieff s teaching is based. Certainly the most notable example is Holy Affirming, Holy Denying, Holy Reconciling (No. 17). The piece falls into three sections, in which one and the same theme is each time differently voiced, and in a different register and dynamic, bearing witness to the three elemental forces present in all cosmic processes (the “Law of Three”). In No. 49 we find a similar form, but a different atmosphere. In this piece, the identical musical statement is played three times (according to de Hartmann’s practice). Here, however, there is an austerity in the terse theme which transmits an implacable force.
Finally, certain pieces do not easily fall into a category, although they are essentially related to the music of the entire volume. For example, Prayer and Despair (No. 20), an impassioned journey through the inner depths. Its thematic material could almost have been drawn from medieval chant, and is realised as two interlocking themes, progressing in a counterpoint that is metrically free, while steadily increasing its surge of forward movement. This innovative approach allows the two motifs to expand and return, flowing in and out of each other, mounting to heights of intensity, and descending at the end into a kind of darkness and mystery. Another unusual example isReligious Ceremony (No. 21), which seems to partake of all three qualities – hymn, prayer, and ritual. It unfolds from a theme of a certain gravity in the low register, of which each phrase is followed by a distant quasi-choral response in the high treble. There is a sense of repose as the theme, gradually and without haste, begins to develop, following a kind of upward path, introducing other melodic elements along the way, rising and falling as it explores nearby tonalities. At measure 44, the melody finally returns to the deep A-minor tonic from which it began. At this point, supported by a deep bass tremolo, it begins a new ascent, gaining volume and urgency, denser texture, and more complex harmonic structure, finally arriving at a climactic declamation, somewhat rare in this music. From here it peacefully subsides into a tranquil conclusion.
In some ways the most mysterious composition in this volume may be No. 11. It is almost not music, more like a statement of the soul. This is a page of uncompromising objectivity and starkness, an unadorned skeleton. A searching melody is stretched over a three-voiced harmonic framework in which the open fifth is the most prevalent interval. Although the melody is essentially in harmonic minor, its odd movement of its intervals and the spare accompaniment create an elusive atmosphere; the emotional quality is difficult to define. In this bare and open structure, it is as though nothing can be hidden. It suggests a kind of penetrating inward look, without comment or judgement.
Introduction to Volume IV
1. Hymns from a Great Temple
A major part of the musical оeuvre of Gurdjieff/de Hartmann, – and from a certain point of view perhaps the most important part – is comprised of the Sacred Hymns. It is in these works that one finds, remarkably, the most inward and, at the same time, the most nearly objective expression in all of this body of music. Among these sacred hymns there is a group of ten, which were singled out under the title Hymns from a Great Temple. While the exact significance of this designation remains mysterious, it is clear that in these hymns one discovers an often enigmatic music, which seems to take us directly to the heart of Eastern Christianity. As in all of the pieces called Hymns, the forms of the Great Temple Hymns are not in any way related to the conventional notion of a church hymn. They may be ceremonial or ritualistic in character, but that is merely their exterior guise. Within that form, as in so many of these pieces, even dances or songs, lies a quality of deep interior questioning, a yearning for Truth. In certain of these ten hymns, the quality of the sacred may emerge only after repeated hearings, when the music has been allowed to penetrate beyond our usual associative patterns. And still they may appear cryptic and elusive. Their real meaning seems to remain hidden. And perhaps it is just those hymns that refuse to yield up their secret that finally leave the deepest and most enduring impression. Like silent sphinxes, their essence remains to be received.
2. Fragments from The Struggle of the Magicians
During their early association in Russia, de Hartmann collaborated with Gurdjieff in composing music for a proposed ballet that Gurdjieff was creating, entitled The Struggle of the Magicians, which he intended to stage with his pupils. The ballet was set in the Middle-East and concerned the efforts of a wealthy and jaded young man to win the affection of a beautiful girl he had caught sight of in the midst of a bustling marketplace. The young woman is the disciple of a master, a ‘white magician,’ and is devoted to the spiritual path. The young man, unable to gain her interest, engages the services of a powerful ‘black magician’ to help him achieve his end. The struggle between these two opposing forces and the eventual resolution of the conflict is the subject of this dance-drama.
The ballet was never produced, although a rough scenario survives, along with three highly descriptive paintings of various scenes in the drama by Gurdjieff’s pupil, thecelebrated painter and stage designer Alexander de Salzmann.
Also remaining is a handful of short pieces, in piano form, which are suggestive of certain moments in the unfolding of the plot. In only three of them do we find an indication of the exact scene to which they are related. However, all of them, although somewhat fragmentary, specifically reflect aspects and atmospheres of the story, especially the interior drama and the emotions of the characters. The pieces would, of course, have been orchestrated and certainly expanded in the event of a full theatrical production of the ballet.
3. Four early Pieces
Composed in 1924, these early pieces could perhaps have been included in Volume I,Asian Songs and Rhythms. Their essential character is dance-like. In their simplicity, these heartfelt pieces, (Nos. 11, 12, and 13) seem to suggest a contained, contemplative movement. No. 14, however, could easily accompany a more vigorous dance.
4. The Essentuki Prayer
The Essentuki Prayer holds a special place in the Gurdjieff/ de Hartmann music. It dates from 1918 and is the first known piece composed by Gurdjieff with de Hartmann. It was meant to be hummed or sung without words. The present version is de Hartmann’s setting for piano. As the title indicates, the piece was composed in the Caucasian mountain village of Essentuki, where Gurdjieff lived for a time with his pupils during the difficult days of the Bolshevik revolution. Later, when Gurdjieff established his Institute in Fontainebleau, France, the piece became known as The Hymn of the Institute. De Hartmann produced the only surviving manuscript in 1952, in order to include it in a recording he made of a selection of the music, where it is simply entitled Prayer.
5. Return from a Journey
The title of this piece remains obscure. While it could possibly refer to one of the frequent automobile excursions Gurdjieff made with some of his pupils during thisera, the serious and powerful character of the music rather suggests that it may have been composed in recollection of an event of greater moment. However neither Gurdjieff or de Hartmann ever provided its exact context.
6. The Initiation of the Priestess
As the longest work in the Gurdjieff/de Hartmann оeuvre, this broad scale composition was originally designed to accompany a kind of dance-drama created by Gurdjieff at his Institute.
This dramatic work was in fact one of the numerous sacred dances that represent an integral part of Gurdjieff s teaching. In these dances, today known as the Movements, he trained his pupils, most of whom were not professional dancers, to perform exercises that were often of very considerable difficulty. Although the dances are appealing aesthetically, they were primarily intended to bring about a highly developed quality of attention, leading to the discovery of a new harmony of body, mind, and feeling.
7. The Bokharian Dervish, Hadji-Asvatz-Troov
The Bokharian Dervish, Hadji-Asvatz-Troov evokes an important personage to whom Gurdjieff devotes one of the most important chapters in his epic work, All and Everything: Beelzebub’s tales to his Grandson. Chapter forty-one, “The Bokharian Dervish Hadji-Asvatz-Troov,” describes a number of far-reaching explorations in the realm of sound and vibration. The title page of the manuscript bears the Russian inscription, “After a reading about the dervish Hadji-Asvatz-Troov.” The music itself is unquestionably unique in the Gurdjieff/ de Hartmann ceuvre. The harmony is totally European and the only hint of Eastern musical tradition is the repeated drone on A-flat, which persists in the bass throughout the entire composition. Over this ostinato is spread a simple, rather repetitive melody of limited range, rhapsodic in feeling, despite its short phrases. Supporting the melody is a harmonic structure, mostly in rolled chords, evocative of late nineteenth-century French music and surely reflective of de Hartmann’s cosmopolitan culture. But these technical and stylistic considerations are transcended by the extraordinary quality of feeling the music radiates.