Mikheil Shugliashvili (1941-1996) Grand
Chromatic Fantasy (Symphony) for three pianos (1974 /
Tamriko Kordzaia, Tamara Chitadze and Nutsa Kasradze (pianos)
He apparently loved Bach, but which musician doesn’t? Apart
from that only sparse biographical data has been passed on.
Encyclopedias don’t know about him, internet searches produce
only very few results: Mikheil Shugliashvili, born 1941 in Tbilisi,
Georgia, passed away 1996, in Georgia. He started making music at the
age of 10, playing cello. It was already too late to start the piano.
Soon he was recommended to study at the Moscow Gnessin Institute, again
cello. There was no composition class for teenagers. At the age of 15
he returned to Tbilisi, to finally start studying composition with
Andria Balanchiwadze. He flunked out of school twice-his music was
judged to be cacophonous.
A person like this however finds his own way. In the sixties and
seventies, his most productive years, his works ranged from solo to
large orchestra. Although he was supported by some faithful friends and
performers, many of his works were never performed, as is the case with
the piece on this CD, the Grand
Chromatic Fantasy (Symphony) for three pianos from
1974/1976-78 (two contradicting dates exist, possibly suggesting an
extended composition period). The piece has not been published. It only
received its premiere on October 4, 2013 in Tbilisi by Tamriko
Kordzaia, Tamara Chitadze and Nutsa Kasradze. Three weeks later they
performed it again in Zürich. It was nothing less than an
event, albeit a late one.
In the eighties, far off from the official music world, Shugliashvili
worked mainly as a music teacher. Here too, little wonder, he developed
his own method and established a small private school. In the nineties
he founded a studio for computer music within the Kwali Film Studios in
Tbilisi, for which he had some new ideas. But they could not longer be
From this distance the Grand
Chromatic Fantasy (Symphony) now joins the important
minimalist works of the seventies. But in advance of any comparison of
this music (processes unfolding in time through repetition and
layering) with the music of Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Arvo
Pärt or Simeon ten Holt, its unique and almost forbidding
character instantly appe- ars. In the course of nearly an hour a
singular erratic block comes into existence, like the best we know from
Morton Feldman or Galina Ustwolskaja. And yet the sound material is not
at all unfamiliar. It was – even in those days –
hardly novel. What Shugliashvili did with it, however, goes far beyond
the usual, and far beyond Middle Europe.
The piece starts with straightforward descending chromatic scales.
Gradually they expand downwards, overlapping, here and there with pedal
held down, allowing an aura to arise, and then thinning out again. And
thus it descends for five minutes. Then, similarly, it ascends for a
little while. Soon it goes both ways simultaneously, growing denser and
denser. After a quarter of an hour this leads to an intense climax,
erupting into fierce clusters. A long rhythmical passage follows,
played by knocking on the keyboard lids.
Again, cascades of scales or repetitions of muted tones. At times the
elements get combined; iridescent fields, swarms of sound emerge ...
Apparently this composer understood already very early how sound
material can be emptied, hollowed out by repetition, which allowed him
to find and invent new potentials and to build new architectures of
time. Thus we are guided through the minutes by the always rigorous
composition, sometimes into the light, at other times into darkness;
through garlands and near standstills. Because all this happens on
three pianos, movement and stillness are staggered in space; cubes of
sound and time come about. Since the pedal is mostly down, the sound
fields ring for a very long time. Shugliashvili’s music is
expansive, but not relaxed, let alone lacking tension. Rather it is a
sharply contoured constructive painting of magnificent simplicity and
But where does this gargantuan toccata lead us? It actually has a
destination: after a good three quarters of an hour the piece
eventually lands where the title already directed our thoughts:
Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy (though without its Fugue). Its
well-known passages burst ferociously into an aleatoric counterpoint of
sorts. They pause, then run around each other, sounding almost like an
organ. And importantly: we are indeed in a „concert
church”, a sacred art space. After almost an hour the work
ends with powerful low range key drumming, ebbing away over a long
period of time. Or is it bells?
Meyer (translation: Antoine Beuger, Michael Pisaro)
About the performers:
Tamriko Kordzaia, Tamara Chitadze and Nutsa Kasradze all come from
Georgia and have studied at different times at the Tbilisi
Conservatory, partly with the same teachers – Nodar Gabunia,
Nana Khubutia, Tengiz Amirejibi and Svetlana Korsantia.
After the opening of the borders in the nineties many Georgian artists
decided to leave the country. Amongst them, Tamriko Kordzaia and Tamara
Chitadze went to Switzerland, more precisely at the Winterthur
Conservatory, where they studied with Hans-Jürg Strub.
Today, Kordzaia and Chitadze are still living in Switzerland, Kasradze
in Georgia. All three of them have won international competitions and,
as soloists and chamber musicians, maintain a broad repertoire from
classical to contemporary music.