The Symphonic Juncture

A [Symphonist]: "The one who is not afraid to raise the primal force."

- Boris Asafiev (1917)

True Symphonism: Giya Kancheli's Symphony No. 2

A sensing of the innate human experience in all its intrepid temperamentality, sweet fluidity, anguished lethargy, stoic formulaicity; The dirty breakages of the routine placidity for something far greater than any singularized conscious experience may gestate, all directed by a natural force present and yet not present, metaphysically predetermined and yet naturally derived. When Asafiev had coined the term ‘Symphonism’ in 1917 to describe his understanding of the synthesized unification of a composer’s intuitive recognition of a malignantly psychological disquietness with his mortal existence and the intellectually generated, concrete ‘sounding current’ of externalized musical artistry, the way in which organized sonic events [closed complex of sounding] were to be judged radically changed.

He broke down the reigning assumption that presented form, the ‘tangible’ structure of choice tones in certain temporal/spatial placements, and its content, arranged sonic objects, had a mutually exclusivity and one was formally substantiated through the presence of the other. Neither were present without the reciprocity of the other and even then, music’s form is but a useless metric for the ‘conscious contemplator’ whose intellectual acumen is primed to hear well past the schematics of formal order. An intrinsic aspect of sensing the symphonic calibre of a musical work, or restated the ‘becoming’ nature of each antecedental moment in a music’s unfolding narrative which contributes to its unfettered mirror-image of a composer’s interactions with life, is the recognition that each work is a wholly unique edifice promised no initial body, “it [form] is grasped only in the process of formation as the law of becoming.” This evolutionary solidification from the inside-out is the basis for a symphonic perception of an art form with no ‘form,’ and Giya Kancheli’s Symphony No.2 is ne plus ultra.

The sumptuous osmosis of the real and the imaginary unwaveringly co-mingle in this meditatively explosive personification of the decision posed to the human mind when presented with the option of transcending the physical for something far greater than the base pleasures of mortal life. As the name clearly indicates, the ouroboric undulations of this orchestrally Dionysian ‘prayer’ is modeled, at least in part, after the dedicated beckonings of an galvanized orator stoically charged with a predetermined yet not fully developed understanding of his own placement in life’s order. This ‘symphony,’ or better put 'continuum of intoned becoming’ navigates the tenuous line between incidental music, or atmospheric music [‘ambient music,’ ‘furniture music’] constructed to situate outside the general, perceptional consciousness, and diegetic music, or ‘storytelling music’ which creates a protracted sonic event specifically geared towards the perceptional listener.

[PC: ECM Records]

In this juncture of purposeful, Stravinskian combustibility and cacophonic persuasion meets subversive landscapes of Impressionist hues and their undisclosed kinetic tension, Kancheli’s remarkable ability to stratify and render null and void the traditional ideas of what a Symphony’s constituent parts look like, for that matter what a Symphony based on a trajectory of instigating, surging, apexing, subsiding, and reforming [self-reflexive ‘micro/macro’ relationships] could sound like, is palpably expressed by the power of what he calls ‘holy minimalism.’

Popularized in the late 1960s with the rise of post-tonalism and serialistic approaches, many composers sought to infuse their works with religious and mystical attributes like modal groups, slower more ruminative tempi, repetition [ostinati], and nebulous textures copying the piousness of Renaissance/Medieval liturgical harmonies. Kancheli had referred to his usage as a way to zoom out of the human experience and reveal something about the experience of living in the third-person, “When I compose music, I don't focus on the everyday collisions of life. I want to see it as a bird in flight, from a height, from an angle.”

The work revolves around three main points of development, although in actuality the work has no real sectionalism and defies the confines of form, thus I ascribe the title of ‘true Symphonic work’ with the utmost reverence and awe, on par with many of the best ‘symphonic’ works like Beethoven’s stupendous 9th Symphony, Scriabin’s Op.60 ‘Poem of Fire,’ Tchaikovsky’s fateful 6th, [personally] Holst’s Planets, Vivaldi’s Seasons, Bach’s fugual masterpieces, and [again, personally as Asafiev would disagree] Borodin’s eternal masterpiece of Russian greatness, the ‘heroic’ 2nd Symphony. In all of these unparalleled acts of devotion to the swirling reality of life and that which lies beyond, what is seen is a divine providence given to the ‘tissue’ of the musical body, meaning there is a reason for every note, every seemingly inconsequentiality that is heard in the works in question and this Symphony is just the same. Each section lasts close to 10 minutes and epitomizes Kancheli's adroit ability for orchestral texturalism and consistently evolving ‘frugal fugal’ meticulousness [variationalism with limited pallet], adding merit to Rodion Shchedrin’s appraisal of the composer’s mindset, “an ascetic with the temperament of a maximalist.”

There is also a lurkingly hedonistic aspect to them, the pursuit of pressure release and Petrushkian ecstaticism lying underneath the surface and boiling over only after the internal temperature has become too great. It is within each beginning portion of every ‘movement’ that one of the many ‘micro’ realms in the entire piece is clearly seen, the overall shape of each potent vignette forming a gradually enlarging dynamic charge which, every two minutes is released and the ‘micro’ in the ‘macro’ is refreshed. However, the larger form ‘micro’ is the entire movement itself, as each temporal couple forms a grosser, instable exestuating lying right under the surface of the indulgent, cinematic scoring to which Kancheli has become so well known for. The Stravinskian erraticism of the final death of the sacrificed ‘lamb’ [girl] in Rite of Spring and the neurotic episode of of the trapped doll [Petrushka] in Petrushka come into full bloom within a 10-minute portion, taking place in the transient place between the second and third ‘movements,’ conveniently right where the Golden Mean [the apex of a composition which naturally occurs by way of the Fibonaccian sequence] is said to be housed [read more here].

The second Symphony, written three years after his first which was based in/around a stark dichotomy of militaristic forward-motion and cool deference to universal belonging with hints of Georgian folksong mannerisms, was a direct manifestation of Kancheli’s fondness and love of his Georgian folk heritage, even though he admits he knew not how to showcase this esteem, “The mysterious spirit alive in the traditions of Georgian folk music is probably what is closest to me, and yet I lack the power to comprehend and disclose it." The entire symphony, despite all of its dissonant idiosyncrasies, jarring chromaticism and abrupt combativeness, is reverently dedicated to the ongoing ‘journey’ towards one’s enlightenment from mundane to universal, as Georgian Musicologist Nino Sakvarelidze ahd written. Whether you believe or not that human consciousness can transcend the physical for a wholly supra alternative, the beauty of simplicity lies in the stripping away of excess for the required nutrients underneath it. Not for the body, but for the soul.