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Georgia and its Music


Traditional Georgian music was not originally intended for presentation in a concert hall. These centuries-old, orally handed-down songs evolved out of life's important moments within society. Although the concert presentation of Georgian songs now has a tradition going back one hundred years, the archaic connection can still be felt, as indeed, many of these songs continue to have their place in daily life today.

A special notion must be given to Georgian folk songs. Manuscripts of VIII-IX cc. BC gives information that labor, marching songs, and chorales were existent in Georgia. The archaic tunes and pagan texts of the songs that survived till the present make us think that it's true.


The texts and the musical structure of traditional Georgian songs illuminate the specific thoughts and way of life of people with more than two thousand years of history and culture. For example, traditional instrumentation consisting of a collectively sung bass line supporting one or two higher solo lines reflects a characteristic social model, existing between the individual and the group, where everyone is able to participate and no one remains an unengaged listener. The roots of the Georgian music can be sought in the third millennium BC This is confirmed by archaeological findings, such as a three-hole pipe made of the swan shin bone (XV-XIV cc. BC). In the ancient period 7 hole-pipes, lyres, bag-pipes, banduras, drums, etc. were already in use.

Georgian folk music comprises different dialects, each of them representing 1,2, 3, 4-part songs that can be divided into two main groups: West Georgian and East Georgian. East Georgian songs often have two soloistic upper parts and a lower part with flexible drone notes. West Georgian songs are characterized by a pronounced polyphony, which often has a complex melodic structure that disregards harmonic consonance. Stylistic traits such as "yodels" (krimanchuli, unexpected key changes, and dissonance may sound unfamiliar to Western ears. 

One-part songs are performed in solo or choir (e.g. Nana (Lullaby), Urmuli, (ploughman's song), etc. Some of the one-part songs are performed to the accompaniment of musical instruments. Two-part songs are mostly related to mountain regions of East Georgia, Adjara, Samegrelo. Three-part songs are the most popular in Georgia. East Georgian three-part songs are characterized by homophonous and homophonous-polyphonies structure. In the first case, the melody is developed by two high voices in parallel. In the second case, one of the voices (high or low) is leading while another serves as a parallel refrain. This creates a contrapuntal effect. Bass has a harmony function in both cases. There are three-part songs of different structures. characterized by specific dialectic traits, rhythms, and intonations. Unique modulation means of Kartli-Kakheti drinking songs (Mravalzhamier, Chakrulo, Zamtari, etc.) must be specially noted. They represent classic examples of Georgian folk music traditions.

Each of the folk dialects has its specific characteristics: Svan folk songs are as lofty and proud as the nature of this mountainous region (e.g. Lile (Hymn to the Sun), Ordiashu, Voi di voi, Mirangula, etc.). Megrelian songs are in - diverse. Here we meet three-part love songs, genre-art, humorous songs, and cheerful labor songs (Chela, Si Koul Bata, Sisatura, Odoia, etc.). Megrelian songs are characterized by lyricism and refinement.

Folk polyphony is fully displayed in Guria and Adjara region songs. The most specific of the songs is "Krimanchuli" which requires the male singer a very high laryngeal register of voice to perform ornamental, rather difficult grace notes. These songs are characterized by specific melody, improvisation, temperament, and vocal complexity.

City folklore is an integral part of Georgian folk music. There are two trends in it: the so-called old Tbilisi songs, which are the mixture of Georgian folklore and oriental tunes, and another trend which developed under the influence of European music, performed by one, two, or three singers to the guitar accompaniment. After Christianity was proclaimed in Georgia in the 4th century a new genre of church chorales developed which achieved great heights. Musical schools were founded (Gelati, Iqalto - in Georgia; Jerusalem, Atoni mount and Sina mount - in Syria; Petritsoni monastery in Bulgaria). Michael Modrekili (IX-X cc.) collected the hymns of his time in a book where lyrics are accompanied by musical notes). XI-XII cc. scholar Ioane Petritsi reports that Georgian songs and chorales were based on three parts, each of the parties has its definition in the Georgian language which proves their Georgian origin.

The 19th-20th centuries are marked by a vigorous development in Georgian music. The new trends were introduced into Georgian music by M. Balanchivadze, D. Arakishvili, Z. Paliashvili, N. Sulkhanishvili, V. Dolidze.

Georgian music is enriched with the achievements of European music but has never been cut from its national roots. It retained its unique characteristic features until the present.

In Georgian culture, polyphonic singing has been preserved as a vital part of the national identity. Georgian polyphonic tradition is likely to be older than that of Western Europe. In Georgia, it is primarily the men who do the singing. A typical Georgian song is sung a cappella by men, in three voices. However, occasionally the string instruments and "panduri" are used as accompaniment. In 2003 Georgian Church issued an ordinance according to which no more than three-voice polyphony is eligible for official praying in churches and during official ceremonies. The chords are also the subject to be taken into account and singers are asked to avoid modern and innovative harmonic language. According to existing opinion, the Georgian Church tries to preserve the old traditions and unique musical language of Georgian chants which are hundreds of years old.

Polyphonic singing has always had its natural place in Georgian social life, both at festivities and at work. Today, the most common forum for the tradition is the dining table. Not only at banquets but also in common restaurants, one may hear a company of gentlemen singing a beautiful song in chorus. Many Georgian ensembles pass on the tradition in concert form as well.

The Georgian language, one of the four South Caucasian or Kartvelian languages, is very old. It is not related to any other living language, and its original traits are well preserved due to the land being geographically isolated. It has also served as protection from aggressors throughout the centuries.

The most significant feature of the Georgian language is its richness in consonants. Despite this, Georgian singing is never rough or angular. On the contrary, it sounds warm, generous, and marrowy - both when softly affectionate, spiritually sincere, or defiantly proud.

The songs had many functions in a traditional village community:

- Table songs did not only express joy at the festivities. The textual forms of blessing elevated the meal shared with a guest to the level of ritual, which both strengthened the individual participant and the community and further affirmed the existing social norms.

- The songs of the two groups competing against one another during fieldwork (Naduri), serve on the one hand, to organize the work and increase group productivity, and on the other, to transform the physically extremely strenuous days into a festival, where old fertility rites could continue to be celebrated.

- The perkhuli, or circle dance, also performed by two alternating groups, joins dance to words and music. Most of these songs are associated with festivals and customs of a religious nature. One finds them especially often in the high mountain regions, where religious concepts often have no more in common with the Georgian-Orthodox Church than the name.

These peasant songs, sung in region-specific ways, constitute only half of the traditional folk music of Georgia. The embodiment of this advanced Christian civilization was not only to be seen in the leading architecture of its many churches, its frescoes, icons, book paintings, or its religious and secular literature. The spiritual centers of Middle Ages Georgia were also centers of religious vocal art. Here, peculiar within the Orthodoxy, a three-part form of liturgical singing developed, which for the most part, was also handed down orally. Only in the 19th century, when Georgian churches lost their autonomy (Autokephalie) as a consequence of the Russian occupation of 1801, and the services became increasingly Russianized, did the priests and musicians begin to set down the orally-transmitted songs in written form. These constitute an important foundation for the re-birth of this vocal art, almost totally obliterated during the time of the Soviets (1921-1990).

In order, for our visitors would be able to pick up more information below is the list of Internet resources devoted to Georgian music. I would like to emphasize that I am not responsible for the information brought on these websites.  Good article in English about Georgian polyphony.  Good article in English with images about musical instruments in Georgia.