Ethnomusicological works

Evsevi (Kukuri) Chokhonelidze

The Modal Characteristics of Georgian Folk Song

Georgian folk musical culture has a century-old history. Until today the Georgians have preserved songs from various historical times. It looks like the people of Georgia have passed these songs to the present-day generation from the distant past, the fact which raises great scholarly interest. Georgian folk song has absorbed diverse musical-stylistic streams, all of which reflect the musical thinking of various historical epochs.

Research into the most fundamental components of the ancient Georgian folk musical language has always been central to Georgian musicologists; Many important hypotheses have been expressed. However, there are many issues that remain unexplained, the study of which may help us to discover the historical stages of the development of folk music and to understand its nature. One of these issues, in our opinion, is the study of the origin, formation and evolution of Georgian modes (scales). The present essay is dedicated to this question. Besides, the essay aims to provide a practical assistance to the students of music in understanding the modal principles of Georgian folk music. Therefore, in our study of the origins and history of modes, we often have to pay attention to theoretical and technological processes, which in turn helps us to better understand the major characteristic of the mode – the intonation.

There are certain problems involved in the study of modes in Georgian folk music. The existence of several musical-stylistic dialects (in the different dialectal areas-provinces) which differ from each other, the diversity of the forms of polyphony and the complexity of harmonic and polyphonic textures create difficulties in the study of the embryonic forms of modal thinking. Perhaps this is the major reason why the modal structures and other important questions of Georgian musical folklore are still unexplored.

In the study of Georgian modal systems it is important to examine the broader questions of the history of music, universal psychological and physiological aspects etc. Let us briefly discuss the term “mode” [k’ilo], which is well established in Georgian musicology. In-depth analysis of the etymology and history of this term is done by the Georgian historian Ivane Javakhishvili. Therefore, I will discuss only those issues which are of special interest for our essay1.

It is important for us that both in the literary and the oral sources the term “mode” (k’ilo) implies certain intonational pattern. The present-day Georgians may use such definitions as “the mode of Chak’rulo,” “the K’akhetian mode,” “the Imeretian mode,” “the Chavleishvili mode,” “the K’arbelaant mode” etc., by which they mean the intonational (melodic) characteristics of music.
The first literary definition of the term “k’ilo” in the dictionary of Georgian language by Sulkhan Saba Orbeliani also points to the melodic nature of the term: “Mode is that by means of which lines of chanting and music are expressed.”2 The intonational nature of the term k’ilo is also suggested by Orbeliani’s definition of another term – “saktsevi” (“ktseva”) [melodic movement or pattern]: “ktseva is when a chanter and a singer weave various modes.”

In his analysis of the terms associated with chanting, Ivane Javakhishvili concludes that “The term for a melodically embellished chant is “mok’azmuli” [embellished], and the melody itself is called k’ilo.”

It must be noted that the terms “khma” [voice] and “rvakhma” [ochtoichos] in ancient Georgia suggest that they were used in association with the concept of melody (intonation).
Based on the above-said, we can conclude that the use of the term “k’ilo” in Georgian musicology is relevant and justified, for, both in the past and in modern times it means “intonation” and “tune.”

The present essay is part of a larger monographic work and it is dedicated to the analysis of the origins and the earlier development of the formation of modes. Our aim is to find out the extent to which the ancient forms of modal structures have been preserved in the highly developed Georgian folk songs. We agree with the Russian music folklorist F. Rubtsov’s idea, according to which the earlier forms of modal thought cannot be preserved adequately in the present-day folk music, for folk music has gone through a centuries-long historical development. Nevertheless, we may declare with confidence that Georgian folk singing traditions have preserved the most ancient examples of musical thinking. In particular, a low level of social organization and economic-cultural development, isolated social life and peculiarities of expressive culture among certain Georgian ethnic tribes3 have helped to preserve the most primitive forms. Besides, the earliest forms of modal organization can be found among some prehistoric music genres. This circumstances have largely aroused our interest in the embryonic forms of modes.

The formation of modal structures is linked with the century-old process in the development of musical thinking. L. Mazel gives a very concise definition of the importance of modal structure4: “Modal organization is the essential foundation of musical language and thinking.” On our part, we would like to add that it is impossible to understand the national musical language and its intonational world without a proper understanding of the laws of modal organization.

Each modal structure is a complex system, for, on the one hand, a modal structure constitutes the basis for a logical interrelationships between musical sounds and on the other hand, it is a result of the melodic interrelationships between sounds. This fact is important in the study of modal foundations.

Music scholarship has adopted a theory according to which the earliest modal formations were shaped in the vocal music. Y. Tjulin writes: “Vocal music has played major role in the beginnings and development of modes, for the vocal music directly derives from the psychological laws of the sound production.”5 The same opinion is shared by L. Mazel, who views human voice as the foundation of intonation: “historical origins as well as the essence of melody is closely connected with the human voice, and with the concepts about singing and intoning as a live articulation.”6
Many scholarly works are dedicated to the study of music and human voice as the foundations of singing and music. This topic in fact involves the origins of music, and studies on this topic are concerned predominantly with the formation of stable pitch levels. Indeed, musical intonation cannot exist without a stable pitch. In his discussion of the origins of music, R. I. Gruber comments: “It remains unexplained how did the pitch become fixed.”7 While it is beyond the aims of this essay to overview all the theories regarding this question, I would like to suggest some of our observations as they might be helpful in the study of the beginnings of modal thinking.

The majority of scholars choose one hypothesis over another as the only correct answer to the question of the origins of stable pitch levels. We believe that multiple ways of the origins of music and development of stable pitches is also a possibility. They do not contradict, but in fact, complement each other. I will draw upon one comparison for an example.

S. Skrebkov develops Valashek’s hypothesis. By doing so, he rejects the possibility of the origin of music from the verbal intonation and instead sees its origin in group dance performance. According to Sk’rebk’ov, a major aspect of the group dance is the metric and rhythmic harmony. The main constitutive elements of the metric-rhythmic harmony in dance are sounds of various nature such as clapping, exclamations, knocking etc. without which coordinated dance movements would be impossible to achieve. The aesthetic need of human beings for a coordinated action in dance could have served as an incentive for the melodic harmony and coordinated sound frequencies – the unison. Such coordination between the voices constitutes the basis for musical intonation which may contain only one stable tone with a fixed pitch. And this tone may serve as a basic orienteer for group singing8.

Another established scholarly theory stresses that the musical intonation has derived from the verbal intonation. H. Spencer’s controversial hypothesis about the relationship between music and verbal intonation has been developed in the works of B. Asafiev, Y. Tjulin, L. Mazel and others.

We would like to conclude that fixed pitches may have occurred in any sort of collective action (not only in dance) as a result of the aesthetic need for unity and metric-rhythmic harmony9. However, the other hypothesis – about the origin of fixed pitches from the verbal intonation – also seems plausible. More so, the analysis of Georgian folk music gives us confidence to believe that fixed pitches might have developed from verbal intonations.

Musical culture of almost every nation in the world preserves remnants of magic beliefs. Such beliefs can be found in the different regions of Georgia (magic tree, magic springs, stuffed birds, oxen skulls, horse-shoe as magic objects etc.). Some poetry and songs are also based on similar beliefs. However, we would like to focus on magic spells.

We understand that magic spells have gone through transformations and that they cannot be preserved in their original form. However, while the content of magic spells must have changed and new meanings emerged, for example, under the influence of astral and Christian religions, we believe that time could have had little influence on the declamation and verbal intonations.
During our folklore fieldworks one fact has drawn a particular interest: our interviewees articulated spells with a special intonation; It is easily noticeable that the intonation in magic spells differs from the intonation of everyday verbal speech. Therefore, we could distinguish two types of verbal intonation: an ordinary i.e. “everyday” and something new, different from it, marked with special features. What are these features? Firstly, I would like to note a stable “tonal level” of the magic spells, numerous repetition of a short intonational pattern and a distinct intervallic frame of this pattern. Magic spells involve descending-gliding intonations (melodic jumps followed by the gradual stepwise filling are characteristic). We may provisionally call the “magic” intonation the intonation of “magic” speech, because its characteristic features have emerged amidst the heart of this particular religion. They have emerged as a human attempt to create a distinctive form of speech, for in their view such speech contained a magic power.
“Magic” intonations and their characteristic features closely resemble features of the musical intonation. They can be characterized as an intermediary stage between speech and musical intonation. Magic spells are worth of scholarly attention for this reason only, but there is another important fact that I would like to comment on. In some magic spells that we have recorded, the first (or sometimes the last) sound of a speech-intonational pattern has a fixed tonal level. A large part of declamation occurs on this tone. Here we should draw upon B. Asafiev’s well-known study about speech intonations, in which he claims that intoning on one tone is the earliest form of a musical intonation. In this form the musical intonation is still dependent on the verbal speech. Apart from magic spells, similar forms are found in Svanetian funeral laments [mitvla songs (see example #1).

Based on the above-said, we may conclude that magic spells and other speech-intonations of similar function were among those prerequisites which laid foundation for the emergence of fixed tones.

Many of us are familiar with the tunes of lullabies – the “repertoire” of every woman. These tunes are actually exclamations and closely related to speech. As a result, exclamations hardly contain fixed musical tones. However, more are such exclamations repeated, more possibilities for one of the sounds to become tonally fixed will emerge (see example #2). In our view, the emergence of fixed pitch levels was facilitated by prolonging certain syllables during the singing; However, the final establishment and stabilization of these fixed pitch levels occurred by means of repetition. Most likely, the singers remembered the previous note and by trying to hold onto this note and repeating it many times, fixed one tonal pitch. The appearance of a fixed pitch in speech intonation is a qualitatively new phenomenon, which had an enormous impact on human cognition. Such new musical-melodic achievements settled in the human brain as normative processes.

Doubtless, next step in the historical evolution of human musical capacities was to acquire more tones with a fixed pitch. Melodic-tonal relationships between any two notes already signified the emergence of a certain intonation and a scale. There must have been multiple ways of the emergence of a second fixed pitch. The musical evidence collected during our fieldwork gives us some ideas about the possible ways. Below are some examples from the children’s repertoire10. According to some interviewees, these texts were verbally articulated, like speech (see examples #3 and #4).

Some scholars, including myself, are cautious about using children’s folklore for constructing scientific theories. However, we have used children’s songs in out research because of the lack of other evidence. Besides, we have taken into consideration the well-known Hungarian composer and folklorist Zoltan Codaly’s view that “In some sense, through his/her singing and whole development a child repeats the history of the humanity.”11 E. Alekseev also shares this view and writes that “Processes of the formation of scale perceptions among the children must be of special interest. It seems that in the nearest future we will be able to use children’s melodic creativity and oral perception in our study of the origins of scales in the same way as biologists are using the embryological evidence for their study of the evolution of organisms.”12 Therefore, we are confident about using the children’s songs.

Both examples (#3 and #4) demonstrate the way in which the second fixed pitch might have occurred. A certain intervallic relationship is established between the two different pitch levels. This relationship ends with one of the two tones acquiring the central role and the functional differentiation of the two tones occurs. Thus, at the early stages of human development speech and musical intonations were inseparable. That is why the embryonic forms of scales are based on the musical intonation which is similar to speech intonation and hence, might have actually emerged from it.

In his analysis of primitive scales Tjulin points that central, stable notes of a scale are in such intervallic relationship with each other which is also characteristic of speech intonation. For example, he thinks that tertrachordal and pentachordal framework of scales emerged under the influence of the same intervals in speech.

It will be naïve to think that stable pitches emerged only in a successive order. The emergence of several pitch values simultaneously was also possible. The main point here is that the emergence of fixed pitches was a qualitative change in human cognition; human beings started to perceive the pitch of a sound and to differentiate it from other pitches. They also rendered these “conquered” pitch levels variety of meanings and functions. As a result, a three-note stable melodic-scale combination became the way of composing patterns with different pitch levels. A stable scale (containing two or three tones) and a logical combination of steps within this scale helped to refine the process of musical intoning, which in turn, facilitated the development of embryonic forms in modal thinking.

There are several possibilities of the emergence of stable pitches and primordial scales. We agree with the three principles offered by Tjulin; these principles are not derived from the folk music of one nation only but are actually based on the universal musical laws13. Tjulin does not prioritize any one of these three principles: “Sometimes traces of certain modal organization can be seen in folk songs. But first of all, we should allow for the opinion according to which all the three principles merged and influenced each other.”14

The scholar of Russian music, Rubtsov, agrees with Tjulin, and thinks that all the possible ways of the extension of scales must have emerged at roughly the same time and developed concurrently. Apart from these three principles other potential ways in the development of scales are possible. Professor S. Aslanishvili commented that “The earliest stage in the development of scales is reflected in one-part (solo) songs of Khevsureti [east Georgian highland province] (“Gvaris Simghera” [Tribal song], “Nana” [Lullaby]) and also in the most ancient variants of the song-prayer “Iav-Nana.”15 We would like to observe the different forms of melodic scales and the formation of scales and central notes of the scale using the Khevsurian songs as an example.
Most Georgian folk tunes are based on descending melodies. Archaic as well as more advanced songs are based on such melodic type. Therefore, we are particularly interested in examining the origins of scales in the songs containing a descending melody. Since such songs are mostly found in the mountainous dialect areas, it would be appropriate to mention that ethnic tribes of these areas have preserved the ancient forms of social and economic development, language, religion and way of life. Therefore, it is no surprise that these ethnic tribes have preserved the earliest examples of musical thinking as well.

How did the intonational “extension” of scales occur in the descending melodic type? How can we prove its ancient origin? What are its characteristic features? The analysis of Khevsurian song transcriptions published in various song collections and of fieldwork recordings makes it clear that the descending melodic type is associated with glissando-like vocal sounds. However, there is big difference between the transcribed examples of these songs and the sound recordings. The reason is that, notation cannot reflect the actual musical sounds of the songs recorded in the mountains and in Khevsureti with an adequate precision. In addition, different transcribers notate one and the same song in different ways. The reason is that descending glissando-type melodies do not contain clear pitches and intervals. Therefore, some transcribers distinguish only those sounds which are more stressed metrically, rhythmically or in terms of their relation to the words of the lyrics.

The beginning point of a descending-glissando intonation is its highest note (“peak-start” or “peak-source” – Mazel’s terms). The movement starts from this “peak” which is melodically the most distinctive note. It is likely that within such melodic movement and with its continuous repetition, this “peak-start” of the melody would become the first stable note. In our observation, even this peak note has no precise pitch in the singer’s perception and in fact it fluctuates within the limits of a certain “hearing zone.” Not only in the past but also today the performer’s focus is on the referential meaning of the text rather than on the musical aspect of the song. It is most important for the singer to conquer the “peak” and in his descent from the highest note he completely ignores the musical aspect of the performance. In such circumstances, the appearance of a new pitch level largely depends on the meter and rhythm of the verse and on the punctuation in the breathing of the singer. In a Khevsurian performance taking a breath always points to the beginning of a new wave of glissando. Flow of breathing also determines the structure of a song.

In descending-glissando-type melodies the appearance of new stable notes are very important. In most cases such new notes are a third below the “peak” note. A new stable note slows down the movement, and later this note becomes the basis for a new glissando movement. In our opinion, the first verse of “Mtibluri” [scything song] recorded by S. Aslanishvili actually demonstrates the ancient ways of the appearance of new stable notes in a scale (see example #5).

If one listens to a Khevsurian song, one will notice that some Khevsurian singers do not have a sense of the ending note – the tonic. This shows that the performers are less concerned with the musical side of the song and the descending glissando-type intonation actually ends when the verse is finished. Therefore, the syntax as well as the meter and rhythm of the verse determines the structure of the descending melody.

These features of the descending-glissando melody (non-differentiated sound system, the absence of the lower stable note – the tonic, and the influence of the poetic-syntactic aspects on the musical side) show that this type of melody is a remnant of the ancient musical thinking. This melodic type is also characteristic of the musical cultures of many other nations. L. Mazel commented that “…in the past the descending melodic lines were more frequent than the ascending ones. The reason must be physiological; singing the descending melodic line creates less tension than singing the ascending melody… The described forms of descending melody are significant among folk tunes in general and Russian folk songs in particular.”16

The evolutionary process of the formation of scales was thus characterized by the appearance of stable, fixed pitch levels and the emergence of central tones. As demonstrated by the above-referred musical examples, the emergence of central tones in the descending melody was facilitated by its constant repetition during the performance. Khevsurian singing is characterized by strophic structures in which one melodic pattern is repeated is a series of variations. In these variations, the “conquered” pitches and central tones are established and reinforced. Before undertaking a more comprehensive analysis of these questions, let us discuss the next stages in the development of modes.

If we arrange steps according to their pitch levels, we will get a kind of a scale in which sounds relate to each other in an abstract, theoretical manner. I would like to refer to Alekseev, who comments that “… for a student of ancient melodic types scale [a succession of tones] should only be a shadow [an abstract outline]17 and a surface structure of the mode.” F. Rubtsov describes scale as a “linear projection” of the mode18. In live performance one and the same scale can be realized in different internal structures. For example, different cultures may have identical scales, but the ways they are organized internally vary from one culture to another, depending on each nation’s musical-linguistic features. Therefore, abstract scale tells us nothing; it is derives from the actual musical intonation.

Based on our observation of scale structures we may conclude that in the early stages of the evolution of folk music the secondal relationships between the different steps of a scale prevailed. This is because the major second is the most convenient interval for a gradual, balanced melodic development. It does not require much energy on a singer’s side and the melodic movement occurs in a relaxed manner.

This does not exclude the possibility of other intervallic relationships at the early evolutionary stages. For example, the interval of a third could have been among the earliest intervallic relationships. “Mtibluri” song (example #5) demonstrates this. The interval of a fourth could have also emerged. We particularly stressed the interval of a second because it is ubiquitous in all scale types.

The relationships between the different steps of a scale in the archaic branches of Georgian folk music is predominantly diatonic in character. There are examples in which the steps of a descending-glissando-type of melody produce anhemitonic scales:

Example 6:

Anhemitonic scales also emerged in the early stages of musical evolution. We do not try to prove that anhemitonic scales preceded the diatonic ones. The two types of scale could have developed simultaneously in the ancient folkloric epoch, as it occurred in the case of the intervals of a second, a third and a fourth. Possibly, both scale types merged in the process of the evolution of singing, the process which enriched and varied the musical creativity and content of melodies. In later periods the 1½-tone intervals in anhemitonic scales were filled and as a result, today we have very few examples of anhemitonic scales.

After the discussion of the early forms of intervallic relationships, we may now analyze the role of each step and interval in the development of modes and in the process of intoning. Earlier we have commented that a logical interaction may occur between the two steps of a two-note melodic pattern, provided that these two steps have a certain conceptual function. This interaction is characterized by “inner struggle” and the “struggle” will continue until one of the two steps acquires the role of a central tone. For one of the two steps to prevail over the other, it has to be underpinned rhythmically, stressed metrically as well as repeated many times. In this case, it becomes the stable and central tone toward which all the other steps gravitate. The other step becomes subordinated and it too gravitates towards the first step.

In his analysis of the modal and modal-harmonic aspects of melody in the third chapter of his book About Melody L. Mazel comments, that the stable-unstable scale system of a melody is based predominantly on the secondal intervallic relationships; and from the ancient past, this system involves one stable step and the other step which is subordinated to it and is a kind of embellishment for the stable one. He concludes, that in the process of the refinement of scales, those steps which are separated from each other by an even number (for example, skipping one step) and those which are separated by an odd number, have different modal function within the scale. Derived from this, in a diatonic scale stable and unstable steps interchange according to the principle of a third alternation19. [Steps the interval of a third apart are related]20.

This observation helps us to analyze the modal and chordal structures at work in the multi-part [polyphonic] textures of Georgian folk songs. In our study of modal structures, we would like to draw attention to one fact which requires that certain corrections are introduced in the theory of the “third alternation” or “third deduction.” Below we will discuss this question in more detail, but here we would like to comment that in the scales with tertrachordal framework, the principle of the “third alternation” works beyond the tertrachordal frame. This is demonstrated in the following scheme:

Example #7:

Clearly, the tones of this tertrachordal framework are stable in this example. The interval is narrow, hence it cannot accommodate the sum of the two intervals of a third. Therefore, the two steps which lie within the tertrachordal frame are unstable. The “third alternation” principle works below and above the tertrachordal frame.

Summarizing this section, we may conclude that the central tone of the scale play an important role in the formation of modal systems.

There were different ways in which central tones emerged in the evolution of scales. In such circumstances, specific melodic types and their genre- and dialect-specific characteristics must be taken into account. For example, the process of the refinement of central tones occurred differently in the melodies of different direction. According to our observations, the tonic and later also the upper fourth and fifth steps might have been the first central tones of a scale in ascending melodies. There are scales where both of the two central tones are equally important. In contrast, in the descending type of melody the range of which is wider than a fourth or a fifth, the tonic must have emerged in the later stage of evolution. Here the first central tone is the highest note, and only at later stages the middle central tone and then the tonic – the lowest tone of the scale – appear.

We will not discuss each stage of the formation of central tones. We would only comment that in the evolution of modal structures, orientation on the intervals of a fourth and a fifth seems to be most characteristic. This principle can be easily demonstrated on the example of Georgian folk songs, for the centrality of these intervals in the scale is logical. These intervals become the modal axis around which the whole melodic pattern is constructed.

The intervals of a fourth and a fifth originate in the speech intonation. Acoustically both the fourth and the fifth are stable intervals. According to Y. Tjulin, even the most insignificant quantitative changes cause qualitative changes in these perfect intervals. Therefore, these intervals require intonational stability. Based on this observation, Tjulin concludes: “from this derives the melodic orientation in folk songs on the intervals of a fourth and a fifth, which causes the emergence of modal sound structures based on the frame a fourth and a fifth.”21

Thus, orientation on the intervals of a fourth and a fifth is a universal musical principle. Now we have to find out what were those intonational-melodic fields which have developed in the early stages of the evolution of modes, when the fourth and the fifth central tones of the scale emerged? What was their role in the formation of the national musical language? At the early stages of the evolution of music certain musical-intonational fields acquired became sufficient to express a single aesthetic-artistic image. Such intonational patterns (formulae) usually become enduring national characteristics of a given musical culture.

In the process of evolution none of the achievements of musical thinking is lost without a trace. They endure new environments and might change, creating new interesting synthetic forms. For example, as we have seen, tonal features and the tertrachordal frame originated in the magic spells but they are also characteristic of the later stages of the evolution of modes. The “internal struggle” between the two tones for domination and the above-referred two-tone motives are also integrated and preserved in melodic fields.

Example #8 (Khevsurian “Nana” – a lullaby):

Khevsurian “Nana” is one of the most primitive intonations and contains a certain musical idea. Such intonation, containing a tertrachordal intervallic frame and its subsequent filling, becomes a significant stylistic feature of Georgian musical thinking. That is why it occurs in many other and more advanced Georgian musical styles. The struggle between the two notes for domination also occurs in this melodic pattern. The first note (C) is metrically stressed and starts the melody, while the second one (D) is stressed rhythmically and completes the melodic pattern. This is the reason why scholars cannot agree on which one of the two tones is a tonal centre.

In our view, the function of each tone of a melody can be multi-faceted. To understand the function of the tone within a scale, we need to take into consideration whether the given tone is stable or unstable, what are the metric and rhythmic characteristics, and its function within the whole composition.

In the analysis of solo Georgian folk songs we pay special attention to the starting and ending tones. They are the most stable tones reflected in our memory, even though they may not be clearly notable. In all Georgian solo songs the lowest tone of the scale is also the tonal centre. In the Khevsurian “Nana” melody ends on the second step of the scale. In performance, during which the melodic pattern is repeated many times, the lowest tone C is perceived as the most stable because it always sounds on the metrically strong beat. The next most stable note is F, the highest note. Only at the end the melody stops unexpectedly on the second step – D. Therefore, D becomes distinguished in the scale. The ending on D is determined by the composition of the melodic pattern. Stopping on an unstable note [D] seems to be the compositional means by which the melodic pattern turns around and repeats. As a way of melodic extension, this principle is also employed in other, more advanced Georgian songs. This melodic pattern may have multiple conceptual roles depending on a musical context. We paid attention to this particular pattern because it is found in all Georgian musical dialects, mostly at the end of musical phrases.
One of the stylistic features of Georgian folk musical language is a descending pentachordal melodic movement. It often takes the form of a melodic pattern based on the interval of a fifth. It may occur in different sections of solo as well as multi-part songs, but most frequently it emerges as the ending formula.

Example 9:

Descending pentachordal melody is also interesting from another point of view. In some Georgian songs, only the lowest and the highest notes of the pentachordal pattern are stable, while the notes in between are unstable. If we recall the principle of the “third alternation,” we will understand that the third step of a scale has a potential to acquire the function of a stable tone. On the higher level of development, the third tone becomes the stable tone.

Example #10: “Lashari Song”22

The direction of a melody is an expressive means in itself. Descending melodic movement is emotionally relaxing, while ascending melody is more dynamic. The appearance of an ascending pattern in a descending melody creates a new form of expressiveness and influences the musical image of the melody. It was not accidental that we have referred to the three strophic lines of the “Lashari Song.” In the third line there is a movement significantly different from the descending melody. It appears at the beginning of the phrase and seems as if it approaches [circles around] the “peak-beginning” of the song from [by] the interval of a third below. The Khevsurian “Nana” [lullaby] recorded by S. Mshvelidze is interesting in this respect:

Example #11.

In this example descending melodies start on the second and the fourth steps of the scale. Ascending melodic pattern starting on the fourth step of a scale is not characteristic of Georgian musical culture. There are objective reasons for that. On the other hand, ascending pattern starting on the second step is very common. For example, in responsorial (call and response) singing response often starts as an ascend from the second step.

As we can see, ascending intonation may start on different steps but it is most expressive when it starts on the third step. In our opinion, ascend by seconds is the core of this intonation. The third step also determines the mode, i.e. whether it is a major or a minor scale. Therefore, it also determines whether the ascending intonation will be in a major or in a minor scale. We will not discuss those genres and social contexts which are associated with the development of either major or minor scales. These questions are discussed by S. Aslanishvili23. Such movement became normative and in different genres it acquired different meanings.

If a melodic movement starts from a “minor” third, this melody can be associated with a prayer and an appeal. Prof. S. Aslanishvili comments, that such intonations were the basis of the ritual songs of glorification and prayer dedicated to heathen deities. As for the “major” variant of this intonation, it is used in various topical genres for various expressive ends.

Now let us discuss the central tones of the scale in descending melodies with a range wider than a fourth and a fifth. The second most important central tone in such melodies is the middle tone of the scale, the first being the “peak-beginning.”24

The appearance of the middle central tone in the descending-glissando type melody of a wide intervallic range is a significant step in the evolution of scales. It has capacity to organize the surrounding tones, to be impulse for the descending movement towards the lower central tone, and occasionally to engender new melodic developments. The middle central tone of the scale, which Aslanishvili calls “antithesis,” is crucial in the creation of the formal structure of the composition. Once this centre is created, the melody becomes more sophisticated and refined.
The appearance of the middle central tone was stimulated by the metric-rhythmic stresses as well as by the continuous repetition of this tone.

Since the middle central tone cannot stop melodic progression in a song and in fact stimulates a new descending movement, the need for a new orienteer [for ending] emerged, which was the lower central tone. The new orienteer is in a particular intervallic relationship with the middle central tone. As expected, the middle central tone is the interval of a fourth or a fifth apart from the lower central tone (see example #12).

Such intervallic relationships between the central tones of scales is a significant stylistic characteristic of Georgian folk music. The most sophisticated modal systems on which the polyphonic songs are based also use the intervals of a fourth and a fifth as the basis both for the linear modal development and for vertical structures. In fact, there are no forms of modal system in Georgian folk music which avoid these intervals. Some folk songs use a combination of the fourth and the fifth central tones, which is crucial in producing specific modal systems and vertical structures. Perhaps, this combination is a kind of prerequisite for the emergence of the specific Georgian chord – 4% chord. Tonal centers have a crucial role at the cadential points – endings of melodic movements and musical phrases, resulting in the formation of the characteristic tonic harmonic intervals of a fourth or a fifth.

The emergence of central tones on the fourth and the fifth steps of the scale in the vertical polyphonic structure of a song is a new development in the evolution of Georgian music. In early folkloric layers however, the only central tone capable of completing a musical phrase is the lower tone – the tonic.

The tone which is reinforced metrically, rhythmically and by means of a multiple repetition becomes the major central tone of the whole tonal system. The differentiation of the tonal system occurs only after the central tone is crystallized. More so, the central tone becomes the center of gravitation which organizes and sets into motion the whole tonal system, and gives new meanings to intonational-melodic fields. Only the central tone is able to slow down a melodic movement and complete a musical phrase. It is the only perfectly stable tone of the scale.

We agree with E. Bershadsk’aja who argues that there is only one stable tone in the monodic music – the tonic. However, we would like to introduce a small correction in Bershadsk’aja’s observation – the concept of a relative stability. It is a fact that the upper tone of the axis of a scale – the middle central tone – is relatively stable compared to other tones and at a certain point it becomes a centre around which all the other tones are concentrated. But this happens only in solo folk songs. As for the Georgian polyphonic folk songs, both of the two central tones of the scale can acquire the tonic function, similar to the tonic triad in the major-minor European system.

Both in primitive descending-glissando type melodies and in highly-advanced and refined modal systems the tonic is the “central element of the system” (Y. Kholop’ov’s term). It is a centre of gravitation and in principle determines the functions of other steps as well. In descending melodic type where the lowest sound is the tonic, all the steps gravitate towards the lowest tone. In polyphonic songs, there are two directions of gravitation: steps above the tonic gravitate in descending direction, and those below the tonic, in ascending direction:


This characteristic feature of the Georgian folkloric thinking is taken into consideration in understanding the function of each tone. It is equally important in understanding functional relationships both in melodic progressions and in chord structures.

While the diatonic scale systems of Georgian folk music contain the interval of an octave, this octave is different from the octave in the European major-minor system; for example, in the Georgian system, the upper and the lower tones of the octave are not functionally identical. The upper tone of the octave may be the most unstable tone of the scale. The above-described rule of tonal gravitation is the reason why the upper and the lower tones of the octave have different functions within the scale. Mazel’s observation of the “third induction” [third alternation] mentioned earlier in this essay is important here too. Since tonic is the central element of the system and the only centre of gravitation, the whole system is based on the principle of a one-tonic scale. Besides, we have found out that since melodic and harmonic rules are set into motion simultaneously, steps of the scale acquire different qualities. In a harmonic-vertical scale structure, each step and the chord based on this step has a variable functionality, and the study of this functionality requires us to understand the laws of poly-functionality and bi-functionality.

It was impossible to discuss every aspect of the origins and evolution of scale due to the limitations of this essay. Nevertheless, we have tried to highlight the most basic processes which have influenced the formation of scale systems and the national musical language. The basic elements of scale have developed as a result of musical-cognitive evolution and as such their emergence is a crucial event in folk musical culture.


  1 Ivane Javakhishvili. Kartuli Musik’is Ist’oriis Dziritadi Sak’itkhebi [The main questions of the history of Georgian music]. Tbilisi, 1938.
2 Translator’s note: this is an approximate translation of the text of the 18th century which is written in out-of-date Georgian.
3 Translator’s note: by “ethnic tribes” the author of the essay means Georgian sub-ethnicities living in the different provinces (or dialectal areas) of Georgia.
4 L. Mazel. About Melody. Moscow, 1952, p. 22.
5 Y. N. Tjulin. Uchenije o Garmonii [Teaching about Harmony]. Moscow, 1966, p. 35.
6 Mazel L. About Melody, p. 14.
7 Gruber R. I. History of Musical Culture, part 1, 1965.
8 S. Sk’rebk’ov. The Artistic Principles of Musical Styles.
9 Because of the lack of evidence, at this stage of research we prefer to withhold from expressing our hypotheses.
10 Both examples are children’s counting songs from Rach’a [West Georgian mountainous province]. They are recorded by K’akhi Rosebashvili.
11 This is cited from E. Alekseev’s book P’roblemy Formirovanija Ladov [The Problems of the Formation]. of Scale. Moscow, p. 190.
12 Alekseev, pp. 190-191.
13 The three principles of Tjulin are: 1) Secondal extension, 2) Melodic jump, and 3) The secondal filling of the jump.
14 Y. Tjulin. Uchenije o Garmonii [Teaching about Harmony]. Moscow, p. 92.
15 S. Aslanishvili. Nark’vevebi Kartuli Khalkhuri Simgherebis Shesakheb [Essays about Georgian Folk Songs], vol. 1. Tbilisi, p. 173.
16 L. Mazel. About Melody, pp. 98-99.
17 Translator’s note.
18 E. Alekseev, p. 73.
19 The principle of the third induction is developed by Mazel in the work Problems of Classical Harmony.
20 The translator’s note.
21 Y. Tjulin. Teaching about Harmony, p. 44.
22 Translator’s note: Lashari is shrine in Pshavi dedicated to the deity Lashari.
23 S. Aslanishvili. Essays about Georgian Folk Songs, vol. 1.
24 There are Georgian folk songs which seem to invalidate this opinion, which points to the possibility that both tones are equally central. However, based on the analysis of transcribed songs and live performances, we adhere to our opinion.

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