George Ivanovich Gurdjieff was a Greek-Armenian mystic who was active the early 20th century. He was widely known as a spiritual teacher and organized various schools to teach his methods in Europe, most notably in Fontainebleau, France, where he welcomed pupils from around the world.
His work in spiritual dance was an integral part of his method; the first contact for those unfamiliar with his work was often through public dance “concerts”. Several of these concerts were presented in Europe, most likely with composers Stravinsky and Prokofiev in the audience, among other important cultural figures. To accompany his dance exercises, Gurdjieff composed original music in close collaboration with the Russian composer Thomas de Hartmann, a spiritual disciple. They collaborated on works not only for the dance performances, but also for ensemble and for solo piano which at first glance seem to follow the musicologist/documentarian/composer movement that included Brahms (Hungarian Dances), Bartok (Rumanian Folk Songs) and Kodaly. But in fact, Gurdjieff/De Hartmann’s music is entirely original, inspired by Gurdjieff’s exposure to many sources of Middle-eastern and central European music, and amalgamated by his personal spiritual outlook, and shored up by De Hartmann’s impeccable Russian musical training.
The program here is made up of two distinct sets of pieces for solo piano. The Music for Dervishes is a large collection of original melodies and accompaniments that take their inspiration from various Middle-eastern traditions. Notated by de Hartmann from performances by Gurdjieff himself and carefully reworked to evoke the open harmonies and dissonances of the various regional scales, the Dervish pieces were destined for performance on a piano tuned to the well-tempered scale. However, the melodic profiles point to specific modes – Persian, Hijaz, Esfahan, etc. – that underscore the emotional content of each work. For this program, the piano is actually tuned based on these ancient scales. The unusual effect of hearing a piano play “out of tune”, and yet in a totally idiomatic way, touches the listener in a subconscious and profound way, with prolonged exposure.
Alternating with the Dervishes are pieces from the collection Hymns of a Great Temple. These works paint spiritual moods that are more familiar to our Western ears, and are performed in a well-tempered scale.
Through a carefully choreographed alternation of Dervish pieces with Western Hymns, the listener is gently guided back and forth between the East and the West, in and out of a state of hypnotic concentration created by the spare intensity of these works; through the tension and release of the unexpected changes in modes, one experiences an emotional inhale/exhale on a long timeline, an extended musical breathing.
In developing this program, I owe a large debt of gratitude to the amazing qanun virtuoso, Julien Weiss of the group Al-Kindi, for opening me up to the possibilities of tuning. Also to composer Michael Harrison, a pioneer in “just intonation” who developed the tunings for certain pieces based on ancient traditions.
Thank you to Alain Kremski, whose enthusiasm for the project, given his first-hand knowledge of the Gurdjieff/de Hartmann music, gave me great inspiration to pursue this project.
Special thanks to all my Kickstarter supporters. Your confidence and support made this project come to life.
Bob Alexander, Charles Alvis, Phil Amalong, Clay Andres, Nicholson Baker, Alain Barker, Heidi Basarab, Joshua Bell, Daniel Bertram, Patricia Brophy, Andrew Celentano, Bernice Chao, Nancy Cheng, Cornelius Chiu, Loretta Chiu, Victor Chiu, Dana Chivers, Marian & TS Chou, Angela & Jennifer Chun, Theresa Crisci, Karen Curtin, Genevieve Daniels, Wanda de Guebriant, Linda de Nazelle, Diane de Vogue, Charly Dimston, Deborah Dressler, Jacques Drillon, J Walter Driscoll, Ann DuHamel, Thor Eckert, Richard Epstein, Jeanine Esposito, Tom Fitzharris, Christina Florkowski, Paul Folin, Norman Fortenberry, Heidi Frederick, Mark Fuller, John Gardecki, Peter Giles, Tom Gilson, Richard Glazier, Rene Goiffon, David Gonzalez, Tim Goodell, Pat Guralnik, Elizabeth Hainen, Arthur & Louise Hillman, Therese Hu, Noah Johnson, Jane Jones, Barbara Kapp, Barry Katz, Chase Kimball, Craig Knudsen, Chris Koh, Lucy Krupenye, Roger Lipsey, Richard Lipton, Aileen Louik, Sander Louis, Suzanne Lubell, Connie Lyman, Sevan Melikyan, Mike Miller, Richard P. Milner, Sung Hoon Mo, Beth Moeller, Sandra S. Murphy, Ricardo Odriozola, Chia Yao Pan, Lawrence Pan, Corinne Peterson, David Pocock, Stephen Prutsman, Oliver Prygotzki, Matti Raekallio, Ian Reclusado, Richard Replin, Andrew Resnick, Robert Rifkin, Marion Robinson, Esfir Ross, Jane Ross, Janet Rost, Andrew Russo, Timothy S. Needler, Richard Salmon, Alexandra Sauron, Paul Schliffer, Art Schoeller, Michael P. Scott, John A. Seest, Karen Shaw, Chia Chang Shih, Chia Hui Shih, Connie Shih, Dan Shih, Birthe Shwisha, Naomi Smidt-Afek, Sandra Smiley, Paul Sontag, Tom Spears, Jason Stern, Alex Suczek, Adam Tendler, Claire Tomlinson, Lisa W. Parker, Brian Walker, Cynthia Wallace, Margaret Watanabe, Charlotte White, Maureen Whiteman, Ransom Wilson, Glen Winston, Margaret Wu, Todd Zeidenberg, Torolf - Alchemist of the Obsidian Order & Woo
And of course thanks to Victor Sachse and Centaur Records for their enthusiasm and confidence.
Produced and edited by Philip Amalong
Recording Engineer: Ian Schreier
Mastering Engineer: Brent Lambert
Recorded at Manifold Studios in Pittsboro, NC, December 13-15, 2012
Piano technicians: Richard Ruggero and John Ruggero
Website: www.HymnsandDervishesCD.com and www.FredericChiu.com
Piano: Yamaha CFX