Music of Legendary Mystic to be Presented in London

On April 7th at Wolf Performance Hall in London, Ontario, the London Gurdjieff Group will present the unique music of legendary mystic G.I. Gurdjieff and Thomas de Hartmann, featuring Cecilia Ignatieff on piano.  The London Gurdjieff Group is aiming to widen the spectrum of live music in London with this presentation, featuring music evocative of the ancient folk traditions and orthodoxy of the East.

A Special Presentation of the music of Gurdjieff / De Hartmann by Cecilia Ignatieff
A Special Presentation of the music of Gurdjieff / De Hartmann by Cecilia Ignatieff

Pianist Cecilia Ignatieff began her Canadian music career as a teenager, when she appeared with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and with the Royal Conservatory Orchestra. As a recitalist, she has played at the National Gallery, the National Arts Centre, and on CBC radio. As a teacher, she has taught music at York University.

George Ivanovich Gurdjieff was born in the late 1800’s in the rich multi-ethnic area of Alexandropol.  Young Gurdjieff’s travels took him to sacred sites throughout Egypt, the Middle East and Asia.

G. I. Gurdjieff
G. I. Gurdjieff

During WW1 in St. Petersburg, Russia, Gurdjieff was teaching a system he referred-to as “the work” when he took Thomas and Olga de Hartmann as pupils. Thomas, a renowned composer and officer of the Russian Army, and Olga, a renowned opera singer. Soon after, Gurdjieff and the de Hartmanns escaped Russia during the Russian Revolution, facing unimaginable dangers along the way.

 

After settling in France, Gurdjieff and de Hartmann composed a staggering volume of music in a short period of time.  The musical impressions during his travels as a young man were ingrained in Gurdjieff’s memory. With the help of de Hartman, Gurdjieff was able to transmit his musical impressions of the East to subsequent generations of people, as they say, inside and outside “the work”.  Ms. Ignatieff belongs to one of the subsequent generations of Gurdjieff’s pupils involved with “the work”.

 

The compositions Ms. Ignatieff has chosen to present at this event are considered special among the catalog of Gurdjieff / de Hartmann and come to us from Gurdjieff’s travels as a seeker.

 

What: Presentation of Gurdjieff / de Hartmann Music for Piano

Who: Cecilia Ignatieff, Pianist. Presented by the London Ontario Gurdjieff Group

When: Sunday, April 7th, 2019

Doors: 1:30pm

Event: 2:00pm – 4:30pm with Intermission

Where: Wolf Performance Hall, Central Library, Citi Plaza, London, Ontario

Tickets:https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/a-special-presentation-of-gurdjieffde-hartmann-music-for-piano-tickets-56053225707

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For event info: events@londongurdjieffgroup.ca

https://londongurdjieffgroup.ca

 

Our Life with Mr Gurdjieff – from gurdjieff.org

Our Life with Mr Gurdjieff

by Thomas and Olga de Hartmann

 

Thomas and Olga de Hartmann, Berlin, 1921

When he was at the Prieuré, Mr Gurdjieff worked with me a great deal on music, but not for Movements. The exercises he showed in August 1924 were the last new Movements he ever gave at the Prieuré. Beginning in July 1925 he began to create another kind of music, which flowed richly from him during the next two years.

I had a very difficult and trying time with this music. Mr Gurdjieff sometimes whistled or played on the piano with one finger a very complicated sort of melody—as are all Eastern melodies, although they seem at first to be monotonous. To grasp this melody, to transcribe it in European notation, required a tour de force.

How it was written down is very interesting in itself. It usually happened in the evening, either in the big salon of the château or in the Study House. From my room I usually heard when Mr Gurdjieff began to play and, taking my music paper, I had to rush downstairs. All the people came soon and the music dictation was always in front of everybody.

It was not easy to notate. While listening to him play, I had to scribble down at feverish speed the tortuous shifts and turns of the melody, sometimes a repetition of just two notes. But in what rhythm? How to mark the accentuation? There was no hint of conventional Western metres and tuning. Here was some sort of rhythm of a different nature, other divisions of the flow of melody, which could not be interrupted or divided by bar-lines. And the harmony—the Eastern tonality on which the melody was constructed—could only gradually be guessed.

It is true that Mr Gurdjieff would repeat several sections, but often—to vex me, I think—he would begin to repeat the melody before I had finished writing it, and usually with subtle differences and added embellishments, which drove me to despair. Of course, it must be remembered that this was not only a means of recording his music for posterity, but equally a personal exercise for me to ‘catch’ and ‘grasp’ the essential character, the very noyau, or kernel, of the music. And, I might add, this ‘catching the essence’ applied not only to music. For me it was a constant difficulty, a never-ending test.

When the melody was written, Mr Gurdjieff would tap on the lid of the piano a rhythm on which to build the accompaniment, which in the East would be played on some kind of percussion instrument. The entire melody, as given, would somehow have to blend with the background of this rhythm, but without ever being changed or adjusted to fit the accompaniment. And then I had to perform at once what had been given, improvising the harmony as I went.

When I began the work of harmonizing the melodies, I very soon came to understand that no free harmonization was possible. The genuine true character of the music is so typical, so ‘itself,’ that any alterations would only destroy the absolutely individual inside of every melody.

Once Mr Gurdjieff said to me very sharply, ‘It must be done so that every idiot could play it.’ But God saved me from taking these words literally and from harmonizing the music as pieces are done for everybody’s use. Here at last is one of the examples of his ability to ‘entangle’ people and to make them find the right way themselves by simultaneous work—in my case, notation of music and at the same time an exercise for catching and collecting everything that would be very easy to lose.

It gradually became Mr Gurdjieff’s custom, when he returned from Paris, to work with me on new music notation. After supper, when everyone was gathered together, the most recently harmonized music was played, then the latest text of Beelzebub was read, after which music was played again.

Mr Gurdjieff’s music had great variety. The most deeply moving was that which he remembered hearing in remote temples during his Asian travels. Listening to this music one was touched to the depth of his being …

Thomas de Hartmann

Here, unexpectedly, Thomas de Hartmann’s writing stopped. He died so suddenly that he had not even read what he had written.

The evening before, he had played with tremendous force his Second Sonata for Piano, dedicated to P. D. Ouspensky’s idea of the fourth dimension, for a group of musical friends who would not be able to attend the concert that was to take place in two weeks.

So I was left with an unfinished manuscript, which my husband felt to be very important—as can be seen from his Introduction. In the first chapters he described in detail a period of Mr Gurdjieff’s Work from which only I am alive. I felt that my husband’s writing should not be left unfinished, but I can continue it only by describing my own experiences.

To be impartial, not too personal and as sincere as possible is a very serious task for me. It has to be an account of our last years with Mr Gurdjieff as seen through the eyes of one of his pupils. I hope Mr Gurdjieff himself will help me to be unconcerned with other people’s judgement of what I write. My veneration of him and of his teaching is profound. So I feel free to say what I judge to be true, subjective as it may be.

Olga de Hartmann

Copyright © 1992 Thomas C. Daly and Thomas A. G. Daly
This webpage © 1999 Gurdjieff Electronic Publishing
Featured: Summer 1999 Issue, Vol. II (4)
Revision: July 1, 1999

 

The Sound of Gurdjieff – from gurdjieff.org

Although in the past few years various recordings of the music of G. I. Gurdjieff have been issued and are generally available, it may still surprise many who are aware of the Armenian-Greek teacher to learn that he was, in fact, the composer of an impressive number of musical works, mainly for the piano.

Gurdjieff’s master-pupil relationship with the Russian composer Thomas de Hartmann has

G. I. Gurdjieff

been affectionately chronicled by de Hartmann and his wife, Olga, but the unusual and surely unique musical collaboration between the two men still remains an uncanny phenomenon, producing a result which would have been patently impossible for either one of them alone.

The sheer volume of work that emerged from this joining of forces attests to the importance which Gurdjieff seems to have attached to music as an element of his teaching, perhaps even as a repository of precise knowledge. His cosmological ideas make extensive use of the language of musical structure and function.

While the earliest and crucially important phase of their collaboration was involved with music for the sacred dances—or Movements, a vital component of Gurdjieff’s method—the compositions included in a recently released four-record album, performed by de Hartmann himself, are not related to the Movements, but are pieces of absolute music, albeit with richly evocative titles. These recordings, made in the 1950s under somewhat casual conditions and with amateur tape equipment, sometimes even without de Hartmann’s knowledge, have now been reengineered with the most advanced techniques. Considering the modesty of the original effort, the results are remarkably good. What we have is a clean, quiet recording of performances which, without a doubt, set the standard for the interpretation of these deceptively simple pieces. As a pianist, de Hartmann was not only a superb technician, but played with great depth of understanding and poetic sensibility; and then, of course, it was his own music. Unlike, therefore, any other recording of these works, this one gives the sense of the pianist-composer going to the very heart of each phrase. The music emerges in all clarity and integrity; the pianist and his personality disappear entirely from the scene. One cannot ask more from any musical rendering.

The greater part of these works was composed from 1924 through 1926 at Gurdjieff’s Institute in Fontainebleau, near Paris. Many of the compositions bear specific dates which indicate periods of a literally daily musical output and suggest the great intensity of the collaborative-creative process, often for weeks at a stretch.

The compositions which comprise the present album have been well chosen, offering a broad view of various aspects of the Gurdjieff / de Hartmann work. There are hymns of a solemn or contemplative nature, quite unlike our usual idea of that form, often drawing from the idiom of the Russian Orthodox liturgy, or else echoing music Gurdjieff remembered hearing in remote Asian temples and monasteries. At the other end of the spectrum are the ingenuous dancelike evocations of simple, ethnic folk melodies. And in between are suggestions of the Near-Eastern improvisation known as the taksim; subjective songs of intimate, personal expression in the music of the Sayyids, proverbial descendants of Mohammed; melodies of great warmth and humanity rather more in the Western harmonic style, such as the Bokharian Dervish, and Rejoice, Beelzebub; and, also, excerpts from the score of Gurdjieff’s unproduced ballet, The Struggle of the Magicians. Thomas de Hartmann

Describing the external forms and styles of this music does not, however, help to illuminate its inner essence, which remains strangely enigmatic. What is the source of its compelling force, its ineffable atmosphere, its capacity to cast a spell on the listener while bringing him more intensely into contact with himself?

To begin with, the genesis of these pieces, the method of their composition, is singular, to say the least. De Hartmann has engagingly adumbrated the process, in which Gurdjieff, who could improvise movingly on the harmonium but was in no way a trained composer, would whistle or pick out with one finger on the piano some characteristically Near-Eastern phrase. This and other melodic fragments were somehow assembled and shaped by de Hartmann under Gurdjieff’s watchful eye. Harmonies would attach themselves, rhythmic patterns would add momentum, gradually a form would appear. Yet despite de Hartmann’s schooled and polished compositional mastery, the influence of Gurdjieff on this “fleshing-out” process seems unquestionable. De Hartmann’s own personal style in his numerous orchestral, chamber, and operatic works reflects the transition from an elegant and charming Russian-French neoromanticism into an early 20th-century modernism, peculiarly related to the contemporary cubist and expressionist schools of painting, with an almost naive use of dissonant tone-clusters, a tendency toward mechanistic rhythms, a taste for ironic or sarcastic harmonic configurations.

With very rare exceptions, none of this appears in the music de Hartmann created with Gurdjieff. Occasional dissonances are transformed into something subtle and mysterious; the entire musical stance is a different one. These works seem, in fact, almost devoid of any device designed for effect. They are characterized rather by a directness of feeling and simplicity of structure, even when the ultimate “meaning” is more recondite. The melodies are often oriental in idiom, occasionally even verging on the trite. The harmonic underpinning (a Western adaptation, nonexistent in Eastern music) is mostly triadic or made of fourths or fifths, or else uses the familiar organ-point or drone. When the harmony is on occasion more complex (de Hartmann’s touch, to be sure) it is rarely with intent to weave elaborate chordal progressions, but rather to make more emphatic, pungent, or poignant, some melodic movement. The rhythms are often almost primitively straightforward. One might say this music, whether it is being lyrically introspective, dancelike or prayerful, always feels stripped down, its bones showing. Textures are of minimal interest, embellishments only for the intensification of expression.

On the other hand, in rare instances, the music may seem, for a moment, awkward, ungainly, taking an incomprehensible turn for no apparent reason, as though some subtle intention is eluding us. What feels at first like a mistake leaves us later not so sure. Has de Hartmann deliberately allowed a touch of Gurdjieff’s amateurism to remain “uncorrected?” Or, finally, is it absurd to apply here the ordinary academic principles of musical procedure? Is Gurdjieff eschewing also, as he did with the “literary,” the “bon ton musical language?”

But leaving aside these relatively subtle points, one might guess that the trained listener will very possibly, on first hearing, instantly dismiss this music as typically folkloristic, indigenous to the ethnic and religious crossroads where Gurdjieff was born and spent his early years, and as a characteristic example of the incorporation of such source material into concert works, so common among Russian composers of this period, for whom this style seemed attractively exotic.

But a deeper contact with the Gurdjieff music will quickly show the error in likening it either to traditional folk or religious music itself or to any trivial popularization of it. The similarity is principally one of vocabulary, all on the surface. Gurdjieff obviously used it because it was quite simply the language he knew, and, as it happens, a language rich in a kind of natural, universal, human expression. But his purpose in music went much deeper.

In Gurdjieff’s view, most art we know is subjective, both in its creation and its reception. He saw objective art—much rarer—as having a specific relationship to the properties of feeling, as emanating precise vibrations which influence the feelings directly, organically, predictably. Objective art, he said, affects all people in the same way.

Unavoidably we are drawn to ask: Is Gurdjieff’s music an example of objective art? Of course it is impossible to say. His various works are clearly on different levels. And yet one may well wonder, for example, when hearing the last composition in this series of records, entitled “Remembrance.” Here is the archetype of the essential Gurdjieffian “sound.” Anything that could evoke sentiment, nostalgia, charm, or sadness, is nowhere to be found. The music is naked, unadorned, and yet not stark or severe. Instead, a profound searching tone follows the questioning single line, an angular, unpredictable melody that seems to find no resting place, hesitating, feeling its way from moment to moment, supported by a three-voiced harmonic base, likewise elusive, curiously unwilling to resolve itself. And all haunted by a deep, indescribable feeling, as though gazing intently inward, without comment. Objective.

To compare this music with other, more familiar, kinds of music, classic or otherwise, is pointless. Although its materials are utterly simple, recognizable, even conventional, it defies classification. It seems to have been created with a special aim, a special intent. It is, finally sui generis. It makes statements and asks questions not to be found elsewhere.

~ • ~

[Laurence Rosenthal is a composer and pianist. His symphonic works have been performed by such orchestras as the New York Philharmonic and under conductors such as Leonard Bernstein and Erich Leinsdorf. He adapted the Gurdjieff / de Hartmann music to the film Meetings with Remarkable Men and has composed the scores for many television miniseries including Mussolini, Peter the Great, Anastasia, The Bourne Identity, and George Lucas’ Young Indiana Jones. Mr. Rosenthal has won 7 Emmys.—G.I.R. Eds.]

Copyright © 1985 Laurence Rosenthal
This webpage © 1999 Gurdjieff Electronic Publishing
Featured: Summer 1999 Issue, Vol. II (4)
Revision: July 1, 1999