Born on August 10, 1935, in Tbilisi, Georgia. Education: Graduated from Tbilisi Conservatory, 1962. Addresses: Record company--ECM Records, Postfach 600 331, 81203 Munich, Germany.

Composer Giya Kancheli is the most important Georgian composer of the past 50 years, and one of the most significant international composers of the past century. He is noted for the strong dramatic structure of his ambitious orchestral works, many of which contain deeply spiritual themes. His richly textured music is imbued with influences from Georgian folk music, American jazz, and twentieth-century Russian composers, with musical phrasings that alternate between sparse and climactic. Along with other Soviet-era composers such as Arvo Pärt, Erkki-Sven Tuur, Alfred Schnittke, and Sophia Gubaidulina, Kancheli was determined to dramatize the oppression endured by artists under Soviet rule, while finding solace and strength in spirituality.

Kancheli was born on August 10, 1935, in Tbilisi, Georgia. Originally intending to study geology at Tbilisi University, he switched to music instead, attending Tbilisi Conservatory from 1959-63 and receiving a state stipend for his academic accomplishments. In 1962 he won a prize at the All-Union Young Composers Competition, but alienated many potential supporters and angered many Soviet politicos with his acknowledged love of American jazz. Because of this, his Concerto for Orchestra received harsh criticism. He joined the Tbilisi Conservatory faculty in 1970, and was named musical director for the city's Rustaveli Theatre the following year. His 20-year tenure at Rustaveli infused theatrical elements into many of his subsequent compositions, including his opera Music for the Living, which he wrote with Rustaveli director Robert Sturua.

With the breakup of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Georgia was plunged into a violent rebellion against Moscow. The strife convinced Kancheli to emigrate to Germany in 1991 (some sources say 1992). He later relocated to Antwerp, Belgium. After emigrating, his works became known internationally, and he has since been recognized as one of the most important composers of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

Kancheli completed his Symphony No. 1 in 1967 and his Symphony No. 2: "Chants" three years later; both reflect the influence of Russian composer Igor Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms. Symphony No. 2 also displays the deep impact of Kancheli's reading of the 1968 publication of Church Songs, a compendium of Georgian polyphonic folk and religious music.

Symphony No. 3, completed in 1973, was written for a human voice as well as musical instruments: the Georgian tenor Gamlet Gonashvili. Kancheli's Symphony No. 4: "In Memoria di Michelangelo" commemorating the quincentary of Michelangelo's birth, was honored with a U.S.S.R. State Prize in 1976. Its theme of youthful idealism thwarted by adult realities was expanded by Kancheli in 1977's Symphony No. 5, a work that he dedicated to his parents. The music contrasts passages of melody with chaotic dissonance that some critics identify as evocative of film dialogue--a reflection of Kancheli's experience as a composer of soundtrack music to more than 30 Soviet films.

Symphony No. 6, written in 1979 and 1980, is a musical outcry against repression of the human spirit by tyrannical government, a desperate situation mitigated by an acknowledgment of a higher spiritual power as well as the persistence of human values and traditions. According to composer Alfred Schnittke, quoted on the Music under Soviet Rule Website of Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, Symphony No. 6 "is permeated and bound together by the refrain of two solo violas, simultaneously a symbol of permanence and the recurrent link in a sequence of contrasting episodes: the wavering rhythm of breath; a moment of deep meditation; a sudden convulsion; the tramp of an approaching cortège; the onslaught of a nameless force of evil; a whispered intimation; a terrifying eruption of blind power; the proud stoicism of resignation." Schnittke concludes, "Nevertheless, it is impossible to deny the truthfulness of this strangely beautiful, slow-flowing music, and inevitably we return to it to grasp what we failed to grasp the first time, to hear what we failed to hear the first time." Unfortunately, Kancheli's Symphony No. 7: "Epilogue," completed in 1986, failed to garner the critical approval lavished on Symphony No. 6.

Explaining his creative process in the 2000 ECM New Series compact disc liner notes for his 1994 composition, Magnum Ignotum, Kancheli stated: "When I compose I do not think particularly about using one specific means or another. I sketch out the basic themes, the dramatic design of the whole piece, and then progressively, note by note, I construct a musical argument that will remain in the listener's perception and will perhaps convey a sense of beauty, of eternity, of radiant light streaming upward--a sense of the broadly understood religiosity that informs all of the music that is precious to me." Cello player Mstislav Rostropovich, collaborated with Kancheli on the 1997 release, explained the meaning behind "Simi," one of the album's tracks, in the liner notes: "In Georgian 'Simi' means a string. A trembling string. A string of the soul. And since we are speaking of about one string that may break, it is a very personal, sacred, organic piece." In 1999 Jansug Kakhidz conducted a recording of Kancheli's 1995 composition, Lament: Music of Mourning in Memory of Luigi Nono. The piece was inspired by the twentieth-century poet Hans Sahl's poem "Strophes" (Stanzas), which ECM producer Manfred Eicher had given to Kancheli.

Since his emigration to the West, Kancheli's music has reached a wider audience and won nearly unanimous praise. Kancheli has written that he considers his work a cohesive whole. "But sometimes I have the impression that everything I write is part of a single work I began in my youth, one that will only be complete when I finally depart from this life or am no longer capable of composing," Kancheli wrote in the CD liner notes for Magnum Ignotum. "The flow of thoughts in this one work the length of a lifetime corresponds to a mental state which continually changes while remaining essentially the same. Grief, regret, the repudiation of violence. Hope predominates over happiness and joy."

by Bruce Walker

Giya Kancheli's Career

Composed Wind Quartet, 1961; composed Symphony No. 1, 1967; joined faculty of Tbilisi Conservatory and composed Symphony No. 2: "Chants," 1970; named musical director of the Rustaveli Theatre in Tbilisi; composed musical The Pranks of Hanuman and Symphony No. 3, 1973; composed musical The Caucasian Chalk Circle and Symphony No. 4: "In Memoria di Michelangelo," 1975; composed Symphony No. 5, 1977; Symphony No. 6, 1979-80; opera Music for the Living, 1982-84; Symphony No. 7: "Epilogue," 1986; Life without Christmas, I: Morning Prayers, 1990; moved to Berlin, composed Life without Christmas, II: Daytime Prayers and Life without Christmas, III: Evening Prayers, 1991; Life without Christmas, IV: Night Prayers, 1992; Magnum Ignotum, 1994; Lament: Music in Mourning of Luigi Nono, 1995; And Farewell Goes out Sighing, Rokwa, Styx, 1999; Ergo, 2000.

Giya Kancheli's Awards

Prize winner, All-Union Young Composers Competition, 1962; State Prize for Symphony No. 4: "In Memoria di Michelangelo," 1976.

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