Georges I. Gurdjieff

The Gurdjieff Folk Instrument Ensemble, Levon Eskenian

Fascinating and highly attractive project which returns the music of Gurdjieff (c. 1866 – 1949) to its ethnic inspirational sources. To date Gurdjieff’s compositions have largely been studied, in the West, via the piano transcriptions of Thomas de Hartmann. Armenian composer Levon Eskenian now goes beyond the printed notes to look at the musical traditions that Gurdjieff encountered during his travels, and rearranges the compositions from this perspective. Eskenian draws attention to the roots of the pieces in Armenian, Greek, Arabic, Kurdish, Assyrian, Persian and Caucasian folk and spiritual music. Enlisting the assistance of some of the leading players in Armenia, Eskenian founded the Gurdjieff Folk Instruments Ensemble in 2008, and with them he has now realized a remarkable album.

“What appeals most to me in Levon Eskenian’s instrumentation is the extremely meticulous, clear cut work approach – without unnecessary ‘composing’ and ‘cleverness’- when in the wilderness of silence the tiniest intervention is done with sound, which is very characteristic of Gurdjieff’s works. There is deep silence at the core of Gurdjieff’s music that relates us to the Ecclesiastes chapter of the Bible, or to the truth told of deep silences from faraway lands, a stillness that has not been darkened at all, and has the degree of density that leaves the Gurdjieffian silence immaculate.” – Tigran Mansurian

Featured Artists Recorded

November-December 2008, Derian Studio, Yerevan

Original Release Date

22.07.2011

  • 1Chant from a Holy Book
    (Georges I. Gurdjieff, Thomas de Hartmann)
    05:05
  • 2Kurd Shepherd Melody
    (Georges I. Gurdjieff, Thomas de Hartmann)
    02:33
  • 3Prayer
    (Georges I. Gurdjieff, Thomas de Hartmann)
    01:43
  • 4Sayyid Chant and Dance No. 10
    (Georges I. Gurdjieff, Thomas de Hartmann)
    05:41
  • 5Sayyid Chant and Dance No. 29
    (Georges I. Gurdjieff, Thomas de Hartmann)
    04:48
  • 6Armenian Song
    (Georges I. Gurdjieff, Thomas de Hartmann)
    02:32
  • 7Bayaty
    (Georges I. Gurdjieff, Thomas de Hartmann)
    03:54
  • 8Sayyid Chant and Dance No. 9
    (Georges I. Gurdjieff, Thomas de Hartmann)
    03:55
  • 9No. 11 from "Asian Songs and Rhythms"
    (Georges I. Gurdjieff, Thomas de Hartmann)
    03:37
  • 10Caucasian dance
    (Georges I. Gurdjieff, Thomas de Hartmann)
    03:47
  • 11No. 40 from "Asian Songs and Rhythms"
    (Georges I. Gurdjieff, Thomas de Hartmann)
    03:09
  • 12Trinity
    (Georges I. Gurdjieff, Thomas de Hartmann)
    02:24
  • 13Assyrian Women Mourners
    (Georges I. Gurdjieff, Thomas de Hartmann)
    03:24
  • 14Atarnakh, Kurd Song
    (Georges I. Gurdjieff, Thomas de Hartmann)
    03:50
  • 15Arabian Dance
    (Georges I. Gurdjieff, Thomas de Hartmann)
    02:00
  • 16Ancient Greek Dance
    (Georges I. Gurdjieff, Thomas de Hartmann)
    01:37
  • 17Duduki
    (Georges I. Gurdjieff, Thomas de Hartmann)
    03:32
ECM has had a long involvement with Gurdieff’s compositions, starting with Keith Jarrett’s recording in 1980 of the “Sacred Hymns”, which brought about an international revival of interest in the music. Now this fascinating project by Levon Eskenian and his ensemble returns the Gurdjieff music to its inspirational sources.

To date Gurdjieff’s compositions have been studied, in the West, largely via the piano transcriptions of his gifted amanuensis, the Russian composer Thomas de Hartmann. Now, however, Levon Eskenian goes beyond the printed notes to look at the musical traditions that Gurdjieff encountered during his travels, and rearranges the compositions from this perspective. This revelatory recording gives the listener the experience of hearing Gurdjieff in full colour and in close-up, as it were Gurdjieff from the source, rather than filtered through western classical interpretation, Gurdjieff with the instruments of the East. Eskenian draws attention to the roots of the pieces in folk and spiritual music, aided by Armenia’s leading practitioners of traditional music, with whom he founded the Gurdjieff Folk Instruments Ensemble in 2008.

G. I. Gurdjieff, philosopher, spiritual leader, author and composer, was born in Armenia, but his work and particularly his music is just being rediscovered there. Performances of his music, considered a double threat because of its progressive and religious implications, were discouraged during the Soviet years.

Levon Eskenian turned his attention to Gurdjieff while studying at Yerevan’s Komitas Consevatory. An encounter with ECM’s “Chants, Hymns and Dances” recording – the 2003 album with new Gurdjieff arrangements by Anja Lechner and Vassilis Tsabropoulos – also prompted him to think deeply about Gurdjieff’s sources, as he recognized a number of the tunes as clearly related to folk songs or sacred songs of the region, to songs he’d known since childhood. Eskenian’s liner notes to the present recording trace each of the pieces to specific geographical points of origin and/or inspiration:

“Taking many facts into consideration, and seeking an objective understanding of Gurdjieff’s music, I found it necessary to choose from Gurdjieff’s repertoire pieces that have roots in Armenian, Greek, Arabic, Kurdish, Assyrian and Caucasian folk and spiritual music, and through a study of the instrumentation and performance practices of the musical traditions of the region, I have aimed to create ‘ethnographically authentic’ arrangements of Gurdjieff’s music for Eastern Instruments.“

The logical consequence of this work was the founding of the Gurdjieff Folk Instruments Ensemble in 2008. The group gave its first concerts in Gyumri (Alexandropol), Gurdjieff’s birthplace, and recorded its debut album in Yerevan in the winter of 2008. The recording was mastered by ECM in Munich in 2011.
YEAR DATE VENUE LOCATION
2024 July 16 Arno Babajanyan Concert Hall Yerevan, Armenia
2024 September 19 Sounds of the Dolomites Festival Trentino, Italy
2024 November 09 Euphonie International Music Festival Warsaw, Poland
2024 December 05 Opera de Rouen Rouen, France
2024 December 08 Pierre Boulez Saal Berlin, Germany
2025 April 23 De Bijloke Gent, Belgium
2025 April 25 De Oosterpoort Groningen, Netherlands