August 10, 1935 -
born in Tbilisi, Georgia, composed during the Contemporary period
After the fall of the Soviet Union, Giya Kancheli (born 1935) emerged into international fame as one of the country's composers who resisted the official pressure to conform to an approved realist style. Georgia has its own unique religious, folk, and classical music traditions. Georgian composers, and those of other "exotic" republics, were encouraged to add their regional traditions to the approved Russian style of classical music as a way of appealing to the nationalism of all major Soviet regions.
Thus, Kancheli was able to study his musical roots as well as Western techniques when he entered the Tbilisi Conservatory in 1959. He studied composition with I. Tuskiya and remained there until 1963. After graduation, Kancheli began working as a freelance composer. He did not take an academic position or join a Soviet musical organization to support himself. He composed popular music in the Georgian folk style as well as a large amount of film music.
Meanwhile, he developed his own classical and symphonic styles, working toward an ideal that combined avant-garde ideas with elements of the most ancient Georgian religious and folk music, though it should be noted that he never directly quotes material in his concert works.
He wrote at least 38 film scores between 1964 and 1995 for Georgia-Film Studio and for Mos-Film, the main Russian studio. He found that Communist Party arts and music officials did not pay much attention to the style of film scores, and so he was frequently able to use some of his newest musical thought in these works. In addition, he wrote a considerable amount of incidental music for the director Robert Sturua and in 1971 became the music director of Sturua's own Rustavili Theater. His opera, Music for the Living (1984), was written in collaboration with Sturua.
A look at Kancheli's catalogue shows a change in the character of the titles of his compositions. The period ending in 1982 shows abstract titles predominating. Kancheli had joined fellow Russian composers like Shostakovich, Gubaidulina, Schnittke, Pärt, and Artyomov in cloaking his agenda in musical symbolism. But as openness (glasnost) became a Soviet policy, the works gained more overt titles, such as Bright Sorrow and Life without Christmas. In 1990, the first significant Western recording of Kancheli works was released, including the Third Symphony and the Sixth Symphony, both of which were widely praised.
There is a clear influence from Shostakovich in the opening ten minutes of the Third Symphony, including the parody a military march. The Sixth Symphony, which seems concerned with ominous, oppressive silence, had a clear relationship to the long, slow opening movement of Shostakovich's own Sixth. Yet, there was a striving for religious ecstasy that set Kancheli's music apart from Shostakovich's. In addition, there are elements drawn from indigenous and historic Georgian music, with trance-like drones and strange, otherworldly orchestration, often featuring the alto flute, an idea consciously borrowed from American jazz arranger Gil Evans. Kancheli's tendency toward even, treading motions is based on his great fondness for the conclusion of Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms, and orchestrational styles learned from film composers Michel Legrand and Nino Rota are also present in Kancheli's music.
In 1991, following the collapse of the U.S.S.R., Kancheli left the political uncertainties of his homeland and settled for a few years in Berlin, and then moved on to Antwerp in 1995. Like his late colleague Schnittke, Kanchelli uses multiple styles that can often be unpredictable. Prominent performers, particularly Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer, frequently perform his music, and it has been frequently recorded. ~ Joseph Stevenson, Rovi