George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (1866-1949) was born in Armenia, and set out to explore the mystery of human existence at a young age. His search took him from Armenia, to the Middle East, Central Asia, India, and North Africa. The folk music, sacreds, rituals, and dance he absorbed on these travels would come to serve him well. Settling down in the 1920s, Gurdjieff dictated some 300 melodies to his pupil Thomas de Hartmann.
Gurdjieff’s most prolific writing period coincided during the biggest upheavals of modern times, World Wars I and II. Drawing from a variety of world religions, his constant quest was to find a way for man to coexist in a peaceful manner. But maybe all of his writings were for naught, because what he achieved musically seemed to render this goal plausible by itself.
Nowhere can this be better heard than on The Gurdjieff Folk Instruments Ensemble’s Music of Georges I. Gurdjieff. The thirteen-piece ensemble is led by director Levon Eskenian, and play a wide variety of non-traditional instruments. Although Gurdjieff’s music has been recorded by various artists over the years, including Keith Jarrett’s Sacred Hymns in 1980, most have been piano recitations.
The Music Of Georges I. Gurdjieff is much more “authentic” sounding with the use of such traditional instruments as the duduk, blul, oud canon, kamancha and others. All 17 tracks on this album are relatively short, and work in a variety of capacities. For one, there is just the pure enjoyment of hearing many of these ancient, soothing hymns, chants, and songs played as they were meant to be played. There is a “world music” element to this, but not in the pretentious manner that term often connotes. Rather, the pieces are heard in a much more organic way. You see, when Gurdjieff was traveling, he was memorizing these tunes, then having them transcribed later. So none of these ever feel like field recordings.
The second manner in which this Music can be heard is as a wonderful accompaniment to the writings of Gurdjieff. While he loved music and travel, the true quest for him was a spiritual one. It seems his hope was to find either the “one true answer” or construct it out of the various religions he studied.
In any case, he music he returned with, and has been recorded by the Gurdjieff Folk Instruments Ensemble is fascinating, and a great introduction to one of the true Renaissance men of the early twentieth century.
The Music of Georges I. Gurdjieff will be released October 18, 2011.