Music of Georgia

Folk music
Georgian folk music possesses what is the oldest tradition of polyphonic music in the world, predating the introduction of Christianity.

Tuning
Scales used in traditional Georgian music have, like most European scales, octaves divided into seven tones (eight including the octave), but the spacing of the tones is different. As with most traditional systems of tuning, traditional Georgian folk music uses a just perfect fifth. Between the unison and the fifth, however, come three evenly-spaced notes, producing a compressed (compared to most European music) major second, a neutral third, and a stretched perfect fourth. Likewise, between the fifth and the octave come two evenly-spaced notes, producing a compressed major sixth and a stretched minor seventh. This system of tuning renders thirds as the most consonant interval after fifths, which resulted in the third being treated as a stable interval in Georgia long before it acquired that status in Western music.

Some consider the Georgian scale a “quintave system” (as opposed to the octave-repeating “octave system”). Due to the neutral tuning within the quintave system, the eighth degree or octave is slightly widened, which often results in a rise in pitch from the beginning of a song to the end.

Because of the influence of the Western music and its different system of tuning, present-day performances of Georgian folk music often employ Western tuning, bringing the seconds, fourths, sixths, and sevenths, and sometimes the thirds as well, closer to where they would lie in a Western scale.

Musical literature and traditions
Georgian folk songs are often centered on feasts called supra, where songs and toasts to God, fatherland, long life, love and other topics. Traditional feast songs include “Zamtari”, which is about winter and is sung to commemorate ancestors, and “Mravalzhamier”, a joyous hymn. Work songs are also widespread. The orovela, for example is a type of work song found in eastern Georgia. There is also a distinct and rich tradition of Georgian sacred music, both settings of hymns for the Orthodox Church, and folk hymns and ritual songs that contain a great deal of “pagan”? imagery. There are, in addition, many lyric love songs, dance songs, lullabies, and travelling songs, among others.

Choirs are generally entirely male, though some female groups also exist; mixed-gender choirs are rare, but also exist (An example of the latter is the Zedashe ensemble, based in Sighnaghi, Kakheti).

Varieties within the country
Georgia is a small country, but it is very mountainous. For this reason, folk music styles from different regions of Georgia differ very widely, which makes it difficult to speak of characteristics of “Georgian folk music” as a monolithic whole.

Table songs from Kakheti in eastern Georgia usually feature a simple, drone-like bass part with two soloists singing the top two parts. Kakhetian melodies sound like recitative part of the time (with great emphasis on the words, which are highly poetic), and then break into series of ornate, cascading ornaments. The two melody parts do play off each other, but there is not the type of complicated back-and-forth between the parts that one hears in Gurian trio songs. Perhaps the most well-known example of music in Kakhetian style is the patriotic “Chakrulo”, which was chosen to accompany the Voyager spacecraft in 1977.

In Rach’a and Ajara, male singers accompany themselves on bagpipe. Dissonance is prominent in the west, in Mingrelia and Guria, which also features high pitches and outrageous, yodelling-like vocals called krimanchuli. Svaneti’s traditions are perhaps the oldest and most traditional due to the region’s isolation. Svan harmonies are irregular and angular, and the middle voice leads two supporting vocals, all with a narrow range. The 20th century has seen professional choirs achieve renown in Georgia, especially Anzor Erkomaishvili’s Rustavi Choir.

Contemporary Georgian music
Georgia is home to a form of urban music with sentimental, lovelorn lyrics, as well as a more rough and crude urban music featuring clarinets, doli and duduks.

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