Symphony No 6 “Amirani” / “Prometheus” /
Symphony No 6 “Amirani” / “Prometheus” /, created at the peak of creative maturity of the composer, is a kind of continuation of the consistent gigantic epic conception, the beginning of realization of which was marked by the creation of symphony No 5 “Ushba”. Such inextricable connection between the two seemingly independent voluminous symphonic opuses is evidenced by greatly significant arguments of chronological, architectural-compositional and dramaturgic aspects, which it would be desirable to examine individually and in more detail.
Chronological analyses shows that while the time interval between the coming into the world of symphonies No 4 and No 5 is equal to 3 years (1983 to 1986), the orchestral score of symphony “Amirani” emerged from under the composer’s pen immediately after “Ushba” in 1987, without any major “intermediate” works. This fact leads us to the conclusion that a certain basic epical idea, conceived by Matchavariani as early as within the period from 1983 to 1986, only partially embodied in his early, although already rather monumental opus “Ushba”, haunted his mind, subliminally urging its full completion and eventually resulted in literally immediate emergence of the subsequent symphony No 6.
Architectural-compositional structure of the two symphonies seems no less impressive. Both are one-part pieces, but neither in respect to the total time of their sounding, nor in respect to their dramaturgic intensity, they are by no means inferior to symphonies of Mozart, Beethoven and some other composers of genius from the symphonic genre, created according to all classical canons. In both symphonies, the musical events seem to emerge from the immeasurable cosmic expanses of outer space and to dissolve into the same expanses in the end. “Indivisibility” of the two symphonies into separate parts is determined by the necessity to preserve inviolable integrity of epic dramaturgy. Compositionally, the prologue of epic narrative about Amirani is organically connected with the epilogue of “Ushba”, the latter being no less antique by its nature, which fact is indicative of the continuity in symphony No 6 of the abovementioned global concept.
Dramaturgic commonality of the two works of the composer is also manifest in the similarity of numerous musical means of expression. Speaking about the associative commonality of the dramaturgy of these two symphonic summits, we must mention that the hero of Georgian national epic “Amirani”, as a punishment for his disobedience to the deities, was, according to one of the versions of the myth, chained exactly to the cliffs of Mount Ushba. The composer, fascinated by its overwhelmingly magnificent beauty, might have associated the tragedy of the antique Titan with this specific mountaintop in Svanetia, which eventually resulted in close congeneric mergence of the two masterpieces into the single unprecedented two-act performance – “Ushba - Amirani”.
Descriptivity of this symphony is more specifically expressed than that of “Ushba” and, in accordance with the scenario conceived by the composer, includes, in addition to the prologue and finale, six scenes: “Ten Mortal Sins of the Mankind”, “Eclipse”, “Prometheus and the Girl”, “Divine Enclave”, “Stealing Fire by Prometheus”, and “Epilogue”.
“Prologue” of the symphony, by the effect of its almost five-minute long relentless crescendo – from scarcely audible pianissimo of five-tone menacing footstep of stringed basses to the all-powerful fortissimo of the entire orchestra with frantic cries of trumpets, claps of cymbals, resembling flashes of lightning and mighty rolls of thunder, and with rumble and glissando of kettledrums – is almost unparalleled in the global symphonic repertoire and, to a certain extent, may be compared only with the colossal effect of the 800-bar introductory part of the “Nazi invasion” of the famous 7th ‘Leningrad’ symphony by D. Shostakovich. Such beginning of “Amirani” symbolizes merciless force of evil destiny and inevitability of retaliation for any attempt to thwart it. Reaching the highest degree of its all-crushing intensity, the music is suddenly interrupted by a general pause, by its effect comparable to a sudden fall into abyss.
Special artistic impact of the first scene of “human sins” consists both in the refined laconism of its artistic presentation, and in the author’s amazing skill in expressing his profound philosophical ideas by means of sophisticated grotesque. During this short although extremely eventful scene lasting only two and a half minutes, the sequence of ten mortal sins passes before our eyes, represented by ten different orchestral groups.
The philosophical summary made by the author allows of no two interpretations. There can be only one interpretation: careless, although naive, idleness and nonchalance are fertile ground for the emergence of the endless series of new mortal sins. Does not this philosophic maxim of the great Georgian composer from the end of the 20th century bear resemblance with the maxim of the great Spanish painter from the 18th-19th centuries, Francisco de Goya, who created his acutely grotesque Caprichos under the motto “The sleep of reason produces monsters”?
The next scene symbolizes a solar eclipse, inflicted on the mankind by the gods as retaliation for its mortal sins. Creating the atmosphere of total desolation of men doomed to eternal dark and cold, Matchavariani completely rejects any effects of group sounding and uses exclusively the hues only of some solo wind instruments of orchestra, including saxophone. In this scene, Matchavariani sounds his profound personal empathy with the fate of wretched doomed ones, with their hopeless lot.
The scene depicting Prometheus and his girl is profoundly choreographic; consequently, dream-like images of Prometheus and his beloved girlfriend are presented specifically in choreographic setting. This is only too natural, for Alexi Matchavariani, as a brilliant master of the genre of ballet, by means of specific beauty of this scene inadvertently associates within our imagination the lyrical imagery of the 6th symphony with numerous unforgettable images from his world-famous ballets.
Stage for the forth scene is set on the Mount Olympus, where the Divine Enclave has assembled. This sacred act is represented by the composer in reserved and calm tones, suitable to the magnificent decency of the Lords of the World. Contemplative atmosphere of the whole scene is creatively rendered by the author by means of reboant sounding of Bachian allemande on the one hand and old Georgian chorale on the other. Superseding and complementing each other, both musical themes, which are contrasting by their very nature, signify deep and wise truth that, irrespective of the epoch, the music of any nation is a common heritage belonging to the entire humanity.
The scene of stealing fire is depicted by Matchavariani in the form of impetuous fugue, skilfully expressing emotional state of Prometheus who is determined at any price to bring light and warmth to human beings, to save them from perishing in dark and cold. Initial theme of the fugue is written in the form of the Georgian bellicose folk dance Khorumi, whose specifically characteristic syncopated articulation does create a heroic atmosphere. Continual introduction of new wind and percussion instrument groups of orchestra, enriched to the maximum by sophisticated rhythms and technical passages, symbolizes incredible concentration of inner energy of the hero. Then there follows abrupt change in the character of music and phantasmagoria of the fugue is superseded by the swift extravaganza of Prometheus’s running, getting away with stolen fire.
Epilogue of the symphony is heralded by the tolling of bells against the background of the funeral procession of the entire orchestra with the heavy footsteps of brass wind instruments. Here the composer quotes old Georgian musical theme – “You are the Vine” with subsequent short quotation from the most ancient melody of Svanetia – “Lileo”, symbolizing the region of Georgia, where Amirani - Prometheus was chained to the cliffs of Mount Ushba.
“Finale” of the Epilogue together with the love duet of Prometheus and the Girl may be regarded as on of the most vivid lyrical climaxes of the symphony. The end of the symphony, dissolving into eternity, symbolizes undying memory of the mighty Titan who sacrificed himself in the name of love to the mankind. It is filled with incredible tenderness and grateful reciprocal love towards Prometheus, expressed with extreme touchingness by the sounds of solo violin, tenor violin and alto flute, with entreaty and hope, rising to the skies, in the beginning, and in the end – with downward cascade of prolonged sounds of profound and eternal peace.
The second and not unimportant point is purely performance-related aspect of musical recording of both symphonies by two different orchestras. The two recordings are united by the supreme quality of international level, which is due to general musical direction provided by conductor Vakhtang Matchavariani. While the recording of the 5th symphony was carried out by the Symphony Orchestra of the present-day Mariinsky Theatre, which fact I have already mentioned in the analysis of “Ushba”, Prometheus was recorded by Georgian State Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra. Listening to the recordings of both symphonies again and again, I invariably come to the conclusion that there are no bad orchestras if conductor’s stand is occupied by a master of his craft. The sound of the Georgian orchestra is marked, in the first place, by its intonational sophistication, absolute ensemblic unity and unlimited virtuosity both of individual soloists all orchestral groups. Artistic skill of this magnificent team of musicians is further attested by faultless mastery of the richest musical palette, enshrine by the composer in the orchestral score and most masterfully reproduced by his son – the inheritor of his artistic skills.
By Stephane de Bourgies