The Philosophy of World Harmony in the Symphony by Vakthang Machavariani

Journal "Musika", ¹ 3 (36), 2018
Author Lali Kakulia
A shorter version of a nine-page article

There is a “new” name in the Georgian composer community – Vakhtang Machavariani. Here we refer to him as a “new” name, although he is very well known to the society as an extremely successful orchestra conductor. For over three decades he has been conducting first-class orchestras from various countries of the world, performing symphonic and operatic works of European composers, as well as those of Georgian ones, including the works of his father – a prominent Georgian composer Aleksi Machavariani.

As it seems, the interest of Vakhtang Machavariani in the field of composition began long ago, still in the lifetime of his father. In this article however I would like to call attention to his four-part Symphony #1 Harmonia Mundi, which was composed in 2013 and was dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the birth of Aleksi Machavariani.

The Symphony is marked with extensive structural construction, prolonged and monumental sounding, as well as with the diversity of sonic strata of colours varying in their timbres.

The stylistic and temporal models applied throughout the Symphony, as well as other expressive means of the musical language, are determined by the idea of the composition itself, which is revealed in its title. This however reflects only the generalized concept, rather than the programme.

Vakhtang Machavariani is a well-educated artist and an erudite person. He is a philosophically minded man who, alongside his interest in musical and historic sciences, is well versed in mathematics, the world of numbers and physico-mathematical theories and formulae, as well as in philosophical doctrines which strive for the comprehension of the essence of the Universe. The interrelation of these sciences and the role they play in the process of comprehending the surrounding reality are seen by the author as a kind of key, capable of unlocking the mysteries of the Universe, perceived as the entire living organism; they are seen as the unity of cosmos, the Earth and the human beings. The author is interested in unexplained phenomena, the ways and patterns of the development of the world and the civilizations and so on.

Nowadays, the cosmogonic subjects are very rarely seen from the contemporary perspective, as far as such views do not correspond to the “market demands” of the modern degrading society, which does not need to think about lofty matters and elevated spirituality. Nonetheless, when opposing individualism with total globalization, a thinker more acutely feels the craving for the cognition of the Universe, for the understanding of the models of chaos and harmony, the Cosmos and the Earth and, more generally, of the Universe itself. The Symphony #1 Harmonia Mundi gives clear evidence thereof. It can be regarded as an example of the philosophical-meditational genre.

The tempos of the Symphony’s parts, all four of which are composed in a slow tempo, are also indicative of the philosophical-meditational character of the musical piece in question.

The piece is written in a “mixed technique”, achieving the unique synthesis of national characteristics and various compositional styles and methods, as well as other expressive means and intellectual peculiarities.

Part I is a kind of prologue to the musical piece. The artistic images and the ways of organizing musical material featured therein give a brief outline of the main idea of the piece and of the means of its implementation. Universal cosmogonic concepts find some kind of expression in this part. With respect to their intonational nature, to their attitude towards the space and time, to the tonal structure of the musical material and other cogitational characteristics, the themes of the medial parts of the Symphony are in sharp contrast with Part I and the Finale with their cosmic sounding. While the terminal parts are imbued with the ideas of the macrocosm’s being entire and harmonious, the “area of action” of Part I and Part II is more “grounded”. These parts deal with the microcosm – the Earth, highlighting various stages of the development of civilizations and the problems associated therewith. Part II depicts more na?ve, more primordial and more romanticized stage, while Part III portrays more merciless one, submerged in the vortex of cruelty and violence.

Functionally, Part II is a scherzo; its lyrical current however is so much reinforced by the astonishing lyrical transformations of its agile, mobile theme, that one cannot help thinking about the synthesis of scherzoso, march-like and lyrical genre characteristics, with scherzo having the upper hand, which allows of the multifunctional interpretation of the given Part. Such synthesis of the sign system of the genre is a characteristic feature of the modern symphonic thinking.

The form of Part III reflects the tendency of amalgamation of variational and rondeauesque principles. Functionally, it seems to correspond to the slow part, but also here, and even more than in Part II, we witness a strong drive for the fusion of different genre models. Such polyfunctionality, typical of Mahler’s symphonic cycles, finds its expression in the synthesis of elements of waltz, march and scherzo. Formally however, Part III still remains a waltz, more precisely, the Evil, hiding behind the mask of waltz, expressed grotesquely. It conceals cynicism, aggression and destructive energy.

Regardless of its slow tempo, Part III begins with functionally “unsuitable” and “inappropriate”, asymmetric, syncopated beats of bass drum, reminiscent of some kind of wild, barbarous battle cry. It is against this backdrop, that solo trombone performs the waltz theme. Its raging sound unites aggressive march-likeness and waltzesque motion. High-pitched register, shrillness of timbre, dynamic sounding, chromatic moves and syncopated pulsation of percussion instruments impart a threatening, phantasmagorical air to the music, transforming it into the manifestation of demonic forces. This is the dark side of the human being, a new stage of the civilization, reflecting the devaluation of spiritual and moral principles.

Part IV of the Symphony is the conceptual and dramaturgical centre of the entire piece. It is here, where the main idea of the composition, based on the high ethical values and panhuman problems, is fully revealed. The shift of the dramaturgical centre of gravity to the finales of symphonic cycles, previously encountered only episodically, becoming however a kind of rule in Mahler’s works, finds a peculiar solution in this new opus of the Georgian music. Due to its content, the Finale is not only increased in volume, that is, in the duration of its sounding, but it also gives a summary of all those artistic principles, which were used by the author in the previous parts of his piece. It involves the thematism, the issues of the conceptualization of time-space, serial method, sonorous technique, the use of timbre symbols, the principles of tonal and modal thinking and the synthesis of other language characteristics.

The Finale is complex by its form. It develops slowly and gravely. Its serially organized theme is based on the intonation of the Georgian folk song “Lil?”. All instruments of the orchestra, one after the other, become involved in the “dialogues” of solo instruments, which are reminiscent of philosophical discussions.

Constant development of the music, giving rise to the sense of the endlessness of the Universe, effortlessly generates two episodes, whose fabric represents an organic continuation of the “whole”. Symbolically I would call them “Cosmic Pastorale” and “Cosmic Blizzard”. Sound strata which are at play in “Pastorale”, especially the episodes of solo violin, create the sounding of the unique fineness and are perceived as the symbol of the harmoniousness of the Universe. Even “Blizzard” fails to completely break this harmony. Even when the theme in its extended form passes through the brass choir, its “rage” is soothed by the celestial tones of bells and the basic sounds, after having appeared multiple times in the prolonged cadential alterations, draw us nearer to the positive solution of the problem. Eventually, the consolidation of the lucid C major is perceived as the triumph of humane ideas and the World Harmony.

Orchestral thinking, whereof the author has a virtuosic command, plays a significant role in the presentation of the artistic idea of the Symphony. This is manifested also in the fact that a number of orchestral instruments are interpreted as timbre-symbols. For instance, instruments from the metallophone section, as well as harp and celesta, are expressive of the movements of celestial bodies, planetary lights and the twinkling of the stars (Parts I and IV); shrill, piercing timbres of the brass section – trombone, French horn and trumpet – can be regarded as the symbols of aggression and the dissolution of spiritual values (Parts III and IV); high-pitched timbres of the woodwind section and plastic solos of the violin embody the poetic vision of the Universe (Part II and the pastoralic episodes of the Finale); rhythmic passages of the percussion instruments depict the pulsation of the Universe and its heartbeat, expressing either the calm course of everyday life (Parts I and IV), or asymmetric, turbulent and violent processes (Parts II and IV). Such timbre conceptualization imparts distinctness to the main idea of the piece.

Conceptuality is one of the most substantial parameters within the sign system of the Symphony. It is exactly the conceptuality, which constitutes the Symphony’s main characteristic feature, seen from the viewpoint of the national idea. Our assertion is based on the circumstance that all key moments of the musical piece under review are based on the Georgian musical elements, which creates a beautiful combination of universal and national principles.

By Lali Kakulia

Photo By Stephane de Bourgies


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