BPM home | Volume 9 index | Article

Giya Kancheli’s Exil: the spirituality of motifs1

Chiara Bertoglio

University of Birmingham

The Georgian composer Giya Kancheli is one of the most appreciated composers of our time; his works, which have been performed worldwide, represent a very personal voice in the complex panorama of contemporary music, and are often inspired by a deep philosophical and religious insight.

This well-known song-cycle Exil2 represents not only one of Kancheli’s masterworks, but also a key to his poetic world and his artistic philosophy. In fact, most of the typical features of Kancheli’s writing are present and evident in these pieces, and the great artistic value and conceptual density of the chosen poems contribute to highlighting the cycle’s relevance in the frame of the composer’s works. Scored for soprano, flute (also alto-flute and bass-flute), violin, viola, cello, double-bass, synthesizer and magnetic tape, Exil was composed in 1994 on texts from the Bible (Psalm 23), by Paul Celan (Einmal3, Zähle die Mandeln4, Psalm5) and by Hans Sahl (Exil6).

All poetic texts of this cycle are pertinent to the religious themes that play a leading role in Kancheli’s compositions. The sequence of Exil’s texts constitutes a gradual approach to the “nihilistic credo” of Celan’s Psalm: beginning with the confident mood of the biblical Psalm, we meet in sequence Einmal (nostalgia for a past experience of God, “Einmal / da hörte ich ihn”), Zähle die Mandeln, a desolate rosary, and finally Psalm’s desert heaven. The closing Lied, Exil by Sahl, is nevertheless slightly more optimistic, and Kancheli’s music underlines every sign of hope in its text.

From the musical point of view, some of the most relevant elements of this cycle are common to many of Kancheli’s other pieces, while others are peculiar to Exil. Typical elements of Kancheli’s whole production are:

On the contrary, other elements are peculiar to Exil:

Generally speaking, Kancheli’s scoring is characterized by sound strata and blocks, inspired by authors like Stravinsky (sudden interruption of uniformity and monotony), Debussy and Bartók (especially as regards juxtapositions, contrapositions and ostinatos). Nono’s definition of Kancheli’s music as “dynamic stasis” (“Slow motion of musical material with sudden dynamic explosions”8) has been widely adopted, and specifies our idea of musical blocks. On the contrary, strata are independent overlaps of different compositional material, played by instruments of different kinds: sometimes, various leitmotifs can be simultaneously and independently reiterated by various voices. The use of compositional strata highlights Charles Ives’ influence on Kancheli’s scoring,9 while the use of Klangfarbenmelodie represents a link with the Second Vienna School. Unlike Webern, though, Kancheli adopts similar timbres for this kind of passage, creating the acoustic illusion of a single melody.

Moreover, Kancheli’s writing manifests the wish for a strict adherence of words and music, both in terms of ‘intonation’ (vocal writing amplifying the natural speaking intonations) and of ‘meaning’ (music symbols and ‘atmospheres’ conveying a ‘musical meaning’ related to the verbal text). In Exil, this adherence of music and text is obtained also through Kancheli’s constant and regular use of motifs.

Motivic building constitutes in fact one of the main compositional features of Kancheli’s Exil. A series of motifs, often deriving from Ur-motifs, convey a series of compositional, exegetic and philosophical meanings. From the compositional point of view, motifs have the main function of connecting the cycle’s pieces; moreover, their regular presence makes solid links between poems by different authors and styles. They have also an interpretative function: the presence of the same (or of similar) motifs in different pieces (or different sections of the same piece) helps the listener in grasping the meaning and connections in Celan’s highly symbolic poetry. Finally, their musical structure often conveys a philosophical meaning: triadic or ascending motifs often represent the composer’s suggestion of hope into the frame of a nihilistic poetry.

Consequently, motifs have multiple functions: by establishing ‘bridges’ with their other appearances they suggest mental connections clarifying some difficult points of Celan’s hermetic poetry; by establishing particular musical/emotional atmospheres they provide Celan’s arduous poetry with immediate emotional feelings; by their ‘atmosphere’ and connections they sometimes suggest Kancheli’s point of view on the greatest philosophical problems of Mankind: while Celan and Sahl propose an almost totally desperate horizon, Kancheli’s music often suggest a few faint rays of hope.

The following paragraphs will highlight each piece’s building motifs, as well as their relations with other motifs from the same or from different pieces. Moreover, each pieces’ most relevant compositional and musical features will be briefly presented. The literary texts are briefly discussed in the Appendices, where a detailed motivic analysis may also be found.

Psalm 23

Notwithstanding the serene (and sometimes festive10) mood of the biblical Psalm’s literary text, Kancheli’s music privileges a melancholic and even dramatic atmosphere: this corresponds, though, to a deeper exegesis of the text, in its connections with the theme of the “Good Shepherd” in the New Testament.11

This Lied was composed before the other ones (1993), and can be performed separately as well. This different genesis is reflected by its different dimensions (it is much longer than any other piece of this cycle); moreover, its vaguely ABA form, with strong cyclicity, reminds us of the formal structures of Kancheli’s symphonies: Psalm 23 can thus be defined as “a cycle within the cycle”. Moreover, it has Leitmotifs of its own, while the other pieces share similar motifs.

Musical example
Musical example
Musical example
Musical example
Musical example
Musical example
Musical example
Musical example
Musical example

Example 1: Psalm 23: motivic table

From the very beginning, we notice a typical feature of these pieces, i.e. the use of ‘traditional’ embellishments, dilated and extremely slow. In PS23-M-01,12 a “pyramidal” structure is identifiable, with a progressive stratification of embellishments. In fact, spoiling this motif from its ornaments, we obtain another ornament:

Musical example

Example 2: Double neighbour-note motif

In the Appendices a thorough analysis of the role and significance of each motif may be found. In brief, though, Psalm 23 can be considered as almost totally built on a limited number of motifs: nevertheless, these motifs cannot be seen as static “bricks” of the composition, but rather as dynamic material realizing creative connections with other motifs. Episodic variants of single motifs show their hidden links with other motifs, and often contribute to establishing verbal and semantic connections among specific passages of text or music. For example, the motif at b. 38 constitutes the link between PS23-M-05a and PS23-M-06; b. 43 (PS23-M-06a) connects PS23-M-02 (b. 10) with PS23-M-06; PS23-M-02 can be considered the ‘Ur-motif’ of both PS23-M-03 and PS23-M-05; b. 53 is a combination of PS23-M-02 with PS23-M-05’s rhythm; b. 63d links PS23-M-06a with PS23-M-05a; b. 64 highlights the semantic proximity of PS23-M-05a and PS23-M-06; etc.

Many motifs are also characterized from a semantic point of view. PS23-M-01 is sometimes used as a static pause in the flow of composition; PS23-M-02 is characterized by calm and positive feelings of safety, protection and wellbeing, and it symbolizes the comforting feeling of ‘sheep’ led by the Good Shepherd; when it is presented as an ostinato, PS23-M-03 has a negative connotation (fear, evil: “the wolf”); PS23-M-05 has a folkloric or ‘child-tune’ characterization (once more, a symbol for the Christian’s trusting confidence in God); PS23-M-06 reveals grief and insecurity; and PS23-M-06a has a tendency for tension, highlighted by its connection with crescendo marks. As a final annotation, it might be interesting to notice that almost13 no interval bigger than a third is present in the paradigmatic form of Psalm 23’s 11 motifs.

In Psalm 23, the symbolic value of motifs is particularly evident in some points. At b. 49–56, PS23-M-03 (symbolizing Evil and fear) fades out progressively, highlighting the Good Shepherd’s victory; the musical similarity of b. 42–4 and 81 (PS23-M-06) connects the ideas of darkness (Finsternis) and wickedness (Heiden); the conclusion on an unexpected {E} chord, combined with the ‘comforting’ PS23-M-02, points out once more this motif’s symbolic value. Psalm 23’s motifs are however very flexibly conceived: at some points, motifs are connected by juxtaposition or slight modifications, showing unexpected (and significant) similarities (e.g. PS23-M-05a and PS23-M-06 at b. 65–6; PS23-M-04 and PS23-M-07 at b. 72 etc.). Due to the symbolic value of many of the considered motifs, these relationships often acquire a symbolic meaning themselves.


Einmal is the contemplation from afar of a now impossible faith: if the experience of God is proposed by Celan in sensory terms,14 nevertheless it is transposed to an almost mythical past. Einmal, ‘Once upon a time’, this experience is lost in a distance contradicting this same expression of ‘reality’ (Wirchlichkeit). Celan’s first stanza is structured as a great chiasmus: at its middle, God’s activity;15 the 2nd and 4th verse have the verbs of sensation,16 while the 1st and 5th verses constitute an antithesis.17

The second stanza, whose verses get progressively and significantly shorter, has an enormous density of concept and internal cohesion, thanks to the repeated syllable ich.18 After the desolate poetic ‘diminuendo’ of the first three verses, the last one is an unexpected ‘credo’: the last three words (a symmetry again!) are a heartening opening (darkness’s dissolution and the resumption of divine activity19).

From a musical point of view, the first evident element of this piece is brevity (especially in comparison with Psalm 23). While a hidden tonal concept was implied in Psalm 23, moreover, Einmal is definitely atonal.

Musical example
Musical example
Musical example

Example 3: Einmal: motivic table

In comparison with Psalm 23, Einmal has a much simpler structure, with fewer and less complex motifs. While Psalm 23’s motifs were extremely characterized in their meaning and semantic function, in this case they are more closely connected with linguistic and poetic elements. While Psalm 23’s motifs conveyed a sentimental and immediate significance, provoking almost ancestral feelings, and not needing a rational interpretation, in this case their simplicity and expressive neutrality exploit the suggestive possibilities of music as a language: Einmal’s motifs don’t create an atmosphere, but they establish links among verbal elements of poetry. In this piece, emotional power pertains to poetry; Kancheli doesn’t compose a ‘touching’ music, but lets the music suggest a rational exegesis of Celan’s poem. For example, at b. 12 (EI-M-03) Kancheli juxtaposes two words each constituting a whole verse of Celan’s poem (vernichtet, ichten). This has a compositional function (highlighting the assonance vernICHTEt, ICHTEn), but also a philosophical meaning: according to Marlies Janz, in fact, in Celan’s poetry the ‘annihilated’ man is an “Image”20 of the absent God.21 By understanding the masterly structure of Celan’s Einmal, the philosophic and expressive meaning of the poem is revealed, and it becomes extremely touching in itself. Instead of immediate emotion, this is a mediated process; the result is nonetheless extremely powerful. The only moment when Kancheli allows himself to depict an immediate emotion (b. 16) acquires in consequence an extraordinary emotional value.

Zähle die Mandeln

The theme of the almond tree has a special importance in Celan’s poetry. Besides its evocative power (e.g. the image of flowering almond trees in spring), it had in fact a complex net of meanings. The first reference is to Josip Mandelstam’s poetry, which had a deep artistic influence on Paul Celan: the Russian poet’s family name has a German origin, and means “almond stem” (and, by extension, “the almond’s lineage”). A more dramatic significance is present as well: in gas-chambers, where Jews like Celan’s parents were exterminated, people were killed through inhalation of Zyklon-B, a lethal gas that was prepared also with almonds. Finally, the shape of almonds reminds us of eyes (reference to sight, vision, expression etc.), and it was commonly used in some Byzantine and Russian icons. Consequently, allusion to almonds implies a whole world of mental connections: the sense of poetry,22 discovered by Celan through Mandelstam; the problem of Jewish identity;23 the drama of “God’s death”, experienced through the tragedy of Shoah (Zyklon-B). Celan’s theory of the poetic anti-word is particularly close to Kancheli’s ‘musical silence’ (see note 22), and it can be related to John Cage’s concept of non-distinction between sound and silence (even considering the substantial and relevant differences among the two composers): we will see in Psalm that this ‘anti-word’ becomes an intense symbol, an emblem not only of Poet’s social role, but also of relationships between humanity and divinity.24

From a musical point of view, the motivic connection among the pieces forming the present cycle is highlighted by the recurrence of motifs. ZM-M-01 is a scale (PS23-M-05a, PS23-M-06, PS23-M-06a and EI-M-02); ZM-M-02 is made of repeated notes (PS23-M-02): in Zähle die Mandeln it is the figurative equivalent of ‘counting the almonds’, in a kind of musical rosary; ZM-M-03 was already present in tape’s inserts (PS23-M-01) and is constituted by frequent use of neighbouring notes and slow embellishments notated in full.

Musical example
Musical example
Musical example
Musical example
Musical example

Example 4: Zähle die Mandeln: motivic table

Zähle die Mandeln has a particular treatment of motivic elements. Some of them have an almost ‘figurative’ value (especially ZM-M-02, with its precise evocation of the rhythmical counting of almonds); others are so simplified (scales, slow embellishments) that Kancheli combines them frequently. Consequently, there are “complex motifs” resulting of combination of two motifs (often ZM-M-01 with ZM-M-03) and others resulting of the raising of motifs at the nth power (often ZM-M-03). Other peculiar features of this piece are constituted by a kind of “spiral motion”, made by series of neighbouring notes, often in combination with the void fifths of ZM-M-04, and by the resonance of these same fifths, evoking the idea of silence. Finally, a remarkable feature of the cycle is the progressive enlargement of the intervals constituting the typical motifs of each piece. In Psalm 23 almost no interval bigger than a second was present; in Einmal the first motif was built on fourths; and here intervals of fifth acquire a relevant role.

Psalm: between All and Nothing, between Anti-word and Silence

Faced with the immense problem of God’s ‘absence’ (or ‘nullity’), Kancheli and Celan propose different answers: doubt seems to grip both of them, but Kancheli’s solution is dense with hope and oriented to a perspective of faith, while for Celan desperation seems to have no escape. Kancheli is particularly near to the mystic of St. Juan de la Cruz: the aesthetic of silence, pervading and informing his music is singularly close to the ascetic path suggested by St. Juan (passing through the Nothing in order to ‘conquer’ God, the All). In fact, Kancheli states, “I am particularly amazed by the mysterious silence that precedes the birth of sound. There is also a type of sound after which silence is perceived like music … And still, silence is prepared by music and silence itself becomes music. My dream is to achieve that kind of silence”.25

Critics unanimously grant Kancheli this ability in handling the apparent antinomy music/silence in a coherent and organic way;26 while, for Celan, the poetics of ‘Anti-word’ becomes a symbol of the impossibility of getting in communication with Transcendence: silence of poetic creation, silence of the Word becomes a paradigm of the ‘heavenly desert’ sung of in Psalm.

In Celan’s poem, besides the poignant image of “Nobody’s rose”, flowering for Nobody’s sake, a verb appears to be particularly significant: “niemand bespricht unsern Staub”. Creation through the Word, realized by the biblical God, is really near to Poet’s creation; the divine Logos becomes a model for poetry.

In any case, Celan seems to conceive his praising hymn for Nobody as a desperate need for Somebody to hear him. The poet’s entire mission is almost functional to the Other’s presence, listening to him: “der Krone rot / vom Purpurwort, das wir sangen”. “Nobody’s rose […] flowering”, with the calyx reddened by the “purple word”, i.e. poetry itself, loses completely its sense if Nobody receives this flowering. Kancheli, being a believer, grasps perfectly the sense of this desolate cry, that personifies this Nobody by addressing to it. Our musical analysis will try to show the constitutive elements of this concept.

Starting our analysis by the usual motivic survey, we note immediately the elements of continuity with the other pieces of Exil. In fact, many motivic elements are common: PS-M-01 is constituted by the customary repeated notes, and is strictly connected with PS-M-02 (presented by flute at b. 2).27 PS-M-03 is – once more – a scale (mostly descending); PS-M-04, deriving from the neighbouring notes’ Ur-motif (cf. tape’s inserts) is constituted essentially by “turns” and “mordents” notated in full. At a sub-motivic level we can find two minimal but important elements: intervals of sixth (PS-M-05) and ninth (PS-M-06).

Musical example
Musical example
Musical example
Musical example
Musical example
Musical example

Example 5: Psalm: motivic table

The peculiar musical features of this piece consist of the tendency to a progressive reduction of motifs to their basic formula, to their ‘Ur-motif’. In this piece, they don’t convey any special meaning (neither in terms of atmosphere nor of symbols); their maximum significance can be traced to their allusions to motifs of the preceding pieces. For example, PS-M-02 is connected with PS23-M-05, highlighting the opposite philosophical concept of these similarly-titled pieces; the word Faden, on similar motifs, connects Psalm 23 with Zähle die Mandeln. In some cases, however, Psalm’s ‘neutral’ motifs acquire an expressive value through their interaction with Celan’s text. For example, at b. 11 Kancheli chooses an almost lyrical melody in correspondence with Celan’s anguished irony; at b. 12, the poet’s ‘anti-creed’ is associated with a large and dramatic melodic interval; synthesiser’s ostinato of repeated notes evokes a feeling of oppression, lack of liberty, materiality. Nevertheless, most of Psalm’s motifs remain emotionally neutral if taken by themselves and if not contextualized.

This can be due both to their extreme simplification, impeaching a particular characterization; and to the extreme density of Celan’s poetry. This is in fact the last poem by Celan included in Exil, and by far the most problematic, beautiful and ‘hard’. Kancheli chooses to let Celan’s poetry speak almost by itself; his music has no trace of the ‘self-reference’ of an ‘egoistic’ art,28 and it appears as near to silence as it is humanly possible. This element is the strongest connection between Celan’s ‘Anti-word’ and Kancheli; their difference is shown by the slight thread of hope, and the fragile signs of faith that Kancheli seems to hide in the score (hope can be symbolized by the consonant triads; and the desperate invocation to God is highlighted by PS-M-05, the ascending sixth).


The last poem of this cycle (i.e. Exil by Hans Sahl) is, in comparison with the preceding ones, decidedly more immediate and less hermetic. “Dust” that was waiting for the divine Word in Psalm is “blown off” in Exil;29 the man wrapping his overcoat around himself (“Ich habe meinen Kragen hochgeschlagen“) becomes a symbol and paradigm of indifference, the only antidote to the folly of mystic experience. “There is nothing to say anymore”, “It is too late”: almost banal sentences, consumed by daily usage, concurring to the creation of a grey atmosphere of resignation, renounce, abandon of the ideal struggle.

As regards Kancheli’s composition, Exil’s following motivic table omits a sixth motif (EX-M-00), corresponding to PS23-M-01 (tape), because of a textual problem.30 EX-M-01, peculiar to this piece, is particularly complex and interesting. It can be divided into a kind of ‘fake-polyphony’: a ‘voice’ presents a pedal of G, while the other presents a melody; this can be divided in its turn into an ascending chromatic scale (D–E flat–E–Fsharp), and an ‘oscillation’ around D (D–E flat–C sharp–D). Moreover, it has the typical intervals of fifth (D–G) and sixth (G–E/E flat).31

Musical example

Example 6: EX-M-01

EX-M-02 (b. 4) is constituted of a descending scale (G–A) with an ornamentation reminding us of the usual neighbouring note (B–A–B flat).32 EX-M-03 (b. 20-21, especially in its four last notes) can be considered as an inversion of PS23-M-04 and EI-M-01.33 EX-M-04 and EX-M-05 are the usual repeated notes and appoggiaturas/embellishments notated in full: in consequence, EX-M-05 can be considered as a fragment of EX-M-03.

Musical example
Musical example
Musical example
Musical example
Musical example

Example 7: Exil: motivic table

In general, Exil’s motifs are much more complex than Psalm’s: this may be due to an opposition between the two poetic styles. Celan’s density asked for a nakedness of its musical accompaniment, while Sahl’s relative simplicity seems to need a greater musical complexity. From a structural point of view, Exil has the peculiarity of a system of references (whole bars are repeated) that was absent in most of the other pieces. This establishes a net of meanings at a musical level (while, in the preceding pieces, Celan’s poetry was based itself on word-reiteration). Moreover, Exil has allusions to everyone of the preceding pieces, both in terms of “shared” motifs and of quotations.

The conclusion of this piece and of the whole cycle highlights the importance of Kancheli’s religious and philosophical mentality, somehow in opposition with the drastic pessimism of Celan and Sahl. In fact, there is almost a contradiction between the reiterated “zu spät” and the serene and pacified atmosphere of Kancheli’s last bars; Sahl’s desperate resignation seems to be contrasted by Kancheli’s faith, proposing a kind of requiem (a choral in long notes), a discreet but efficacious credo on the hereafter. For Sahl, it is “too late”, because “he has been buried”; Kancheli proposes a transfigured vision of the great grief and suffering accumulated during the whole cycle.


This great cycle by Kancheli is characterized by the exploitation of the compositional, symbolic, allusive and suggestive possibilities of motifs. As the concluding table will show, in fact, relationships are established not only between some different motifs of a single piece (e.g. PS23-M-01, PS23-M-03 and PS23-M-05), but also between motifs of different pieces. This creates a great internal coherence in this cycle, and connects poetic texts that are extremely different and sometimes violently contrasting (cf. Psalm 23 and Psalm by Celan).

In some cases motifs convey a particular significance, and they maintain it throughout the whole cycle (e.g. the inserts of tape, evoking a distant atmosphere of mysticism); more often, on the contrary, they flexibly assume new meanings corresponding to each piece’s atmosphere. For example, the idea of repeated notes (almost an idée fixe of this cycle) suggests a positive feeling of protection in Psalm 23 (PS23-M-02), but it becomes a symbol of Death and inhumanity in Zähle die Mandeln (ZM-M-02) and a violent cry in Exil (EX-M-04).

Nevertheless, this motif is easily recognizable by listeners, even at a first hearing: so it builds a solid musical bridge connecting different styles, different poets, different philosophies and images.

The motifs’ role, though, is not only a compositional one: through the net of reciprocal relations of motifs, through their melodic, articulation, rhythmic, timbre and dynamic shape, they suggest atmospheres, musical gestures and emotional values. For example, some motifs are characterized by the ‘depressive’ mood of small intervals (PS23-M-06, EI-M-02 and EI-M-03, PS-M-03 and PS-M-04, EX-M-05); other motifs, on the contrary, have an ample melodic breadth (EI-M-01, PS-M-05, EX-M-03), widening the horizon and giving hope to these often desperate and resigned poems. Consequently, they have both an immediate and a mediate significance: at an emotional level, they can evoke a sentimental world, acting on the subconscious or on the symbolic system of the listener; at a rational and exegetic level, they can establish meaningful connections and oppositions between different elements of the same piece or of different pieces.

From the point of view of timbre, moreover, Kancheli’s predilection for a flexible interaction between the instruments, driven by his masterly orchestration, very often produces an almost imperceptible transition between two or more different timbres. Kancheli often finds ambiguous timbres that can be mistaken for a different instrument; and he often uses Klangfarbenmelodie, where listeners’ attention for the development of melody takes their attention away from timbre consciousness. This implies, very often, a creative cooperation of all instruments of the ensemble towards the establishment of a common vision. Instruments tend to become undistinguishable, and create an iridescent timbre, resulting from the sum of their different nuances, but not from the clear opposition of their individualities.

Similarly, the complex net of musical and meaning relations between motifs concurs to the creation of a complex system of suggestions. True, motifs have often a well-defined individuality; but in some cases they differ from each other only slightly. Some motifs can be considered as variants or filiations of other motifs; many of them can be traced to an Ur-motif, hidden in the composition; and sometimes they are creatively combined, both in terms of vertical overlapping (synchronous presentation of different motifs by different instruments) and of horizontal flexibility (a fragment of one motif combined with a fragment taken from another).

Thus the large use of motifs in Kancheli’s work does not imply a rigid, mechanical, automatic or static composition; on the contrary, they are an elastic material, constituting both the great pillars of the work’s architecture, and the mobile vehicles of its development.

Moreover, they constitute the solid microstructure of significance, freeing the work from the risk of compositional and aesthetical anarchy. The hermeticism, and sometimes fragmentariness of the chosen poems, and their density of significance, might have led the composer to an almost passive attitude, limiting himself to a simple accompaniment of the words’ profundity. On the contrary, Kancheli relies on motifs in order to transmit his own vision of the world: they almost constitute his signature. In fact, they answer for the composer’s mastery of the fluidity of the poetic material, and on many occasions they represent the only anchor of hope into the poets’ ocean of desperation (especially in Psalm). Kancheli entrusts to them the role of solid bases, impeaching the centrifugal nihilism proposed by the chosen poems: even the mere existence of such solid bases constitutes an antidote to the abyss of desperation expressed by poetry.

In Kancheli’s music, then, such small elements like those almost negligible motifs have, in conclusion, an enormously important role: to keep a ray of hope and faith in the frame of desolation and evil. The dialectic between a conscious acceptance of the evil expressed by Celan’s poems and a ‘hope against hope’ proposed by those small motifs constitutes the fragile but – at the same time – solid equilibrium of Kancheli’s Exil.


1 Many hearty thanks go to Mr Giya A. Kancheli and to Mrs Lula Kancheli for their kindness, friendliness, and for their invaluable bibliographical help. Thanks to my friend Ms Tara-Lee Byrne for her precious and generous linguistic help. Back

2 Giya Kancheli (b Tbilisi, Georgia, 1935): Exil (1994), M. P. Belaieff 1995, Nr. 558, 4109 Back

3 Paul Celan, Atemwende (VI) (Frankfurt am Main: Surhkamp, 1967) Back

4 Paul Celan, Mohn und Gedächtnis (Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1952) Back

5 Paul Celan, Die Niemandsrose (Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer, 1963) Back

6 Hans Sahl, Wir sind die Letzten: Der Maulwurf: Gedichte (Munich: Luchterhand Literaturverlag, 1991) Back

7 Interviewed by Vladislav Sikalov, Kancheli expressed his preference for the timbre of “low and slowly resounding flutes”; he stated also that he didn’t wish to avoid repetition of details, while he tried to use always new forms and structures. All of these elements are present in Exil. Back

8 Cf. http://www.siue.edu/~aho/musov/kancheli/kancheli2.html (accessed 7/1/08). This concept is in strong relation with Stravinsky. Back

9 Ives’s The Unanswered Question is mentioned by Kancheli himself as one of the pieces that most impressed him in his youth: cf. Giya Kancheli, ‘Shkala Cennostej’ [Scale of Values], lecture at the University Mozarteum, Salzburg, 20 Feb 2000. Courtesy of the author. The Unanswered Question might have influenced Kancheli’s Exil not only from the compositional point of view (strata, slow chords, instrumentation etc.), but also from a philosophical one. Back

10 Cf. the “banquets” mentioned by the Psalm. Back

11 While this theme had a comforting character in the Old Testament (cf. e.g. Isaiah 40: 11) and also in Luke 15: 4, in John’s Gospel (cf. 10: 11–18) and in the Apocalypse (cf. 13: 18) it acquires a ‘sacrificial’ connotation. It becomes in fact a paradigm, a model and accomplishment for mankind’s grief. Consequently, while Schubert (Psalm 23) and others highlighted the Psalm’s consoling atmosphere, Kancheli chooses a suffering, ascetic and dry declamation. Back

12 Abbreviations: Tonalities in braces, major mode in capital letters: {C} for C major, {c} for c minor, {e flat} for e flat minor, {C sharp} for C sharp major. Single notes in CAPITALS: A, B flat, C sharp. Motifs in italics, preceded by letter M (M-06 for motif 06), and by a code identifying the piece: PS23 for Psalm 23, EI for Einmal, ZM for Zähle die Mandeln, PS for Psalm, EX for Exil. Consequently: PS23-M-01 means the first motif of Psalm 23; ZM-M-02 the second motif of Zähle die Mandeln. Bar numbers are preceded by ‘b.’. Back

13 There is only a tritone between the last two notes of PS23-M-04. Back

14 “Hören” (to hear), “ungesehn” (unseen = to see), “wirklich” (real). Back

15 Curiously conceived as a ‘washing of the world’: this ‘purification’ will be echoed by the poem’s last word, “salvation” (Rettung). Back

16 Hören (to hear), sehen (to see). These verbs are associated, respectively, to the personality of this meeting between Men and God (ich … ihn) and with a time connotation (nachtlang). Back

17 The first verse, in fact, has a “fairy-tale” connotation, while the last one reasserts desperately and fervently the reality of this experience. Back

18 Unendlich, vernichtet, Licht, ichten: infinite, annihilated, light, and a neologism created by Celan, that could be rendered as “they ego-ed”. Might there be also an allusion to Fichte’s philosophy (similar sound of ichten and of the philosopher’s family name; philosophy based on the subject)? Back

19 As said before, this verse is strictly connected to the third of first stanza (da wusch er die Welt, where God’s activity was purification). Both themes of purification and activity are recalled in this last verse (Licht war. Rettung), thus constituting the two pillars of Jewish-Christian theology (creation [Licht war, cf. Genesis 1,3] and salvation [Rettung]). Back

20 Cf. Genesis 1: 26. Back

21 Marlies Janz, Vom Engagement absoluter Poesie (Frankfurt am Main: Syndikat, 1976), p.129 Back

22 Antonello Piana states: “Silence is not only absence of sound, but it represents the condition preceding movement and word, the humus where music and word can ferment. Theodor Adorno prescribed silence to poets after Auschwitz. As Giuseppe Bevilacqua perspicaciously underlined, in Meridian Celan replies to him, highlighting a difference between self-referential art (that must fall silent) and Poetry, conceived as “anti-word”, a shout from “the angle of incidence of our existence”, i.e. from our personal fatidic dates […]. A certain kind of art dies, but Poetry survives where there is Man”. Antonello Piana, La poesia di Paul Celan, http://www.sagarana.net/rivista/numero6/saggio12.html (accessed 7/1/08). Particularly interesting is a comparison with Kancheli’s words: “I am particularly amazed by the mysterious silence that precedes the birth of sound. There is also a type of sound after which silence is perceived like music […]. And still, silence is prepared by music and silence itself becomes music. My dream is to achieve that kind of silence”. In: Gerard McBurney, Giya Kancheli in interview, http://www.artangel.org.uk/pdfs/silence.pdf (accessed 7/1/08). Back

23 Even more symbols are associated in Jewish tradition with the image of almonds and almond trees (cf. Jeremiah 1: 11–12): “The almond-symbol is an emblem and reassurance of Jewish identity”, cf. James Graham, ‘A mountain to climb?: an expedition into the poetry of Paul Celan ’http://www.writewords.org.uk/articles/paul_celan.asp (accessed 7/1/08). In this poem, for instance, the second stanza ends with behütet, somehow corresponding to the consonance shoqed/shaqed between almond and vigil in Hebrew. Back

24 As a final annotation, another poem by Celan (Mandorla) may be considered as a perfect link between Zähle die Mandeln and the following text of Kancheli’s cycle, Psalm. Back

25 Gerard McBurney, Giya Kancheli in interview Back

26 For instance, Leah Dolidze: “Form is organized through sound and silence: silence is almost omnipresent, with sounds growing from it, building over it, but not suppressing it” (‘Kancheli, Giya’, Grove Music Online, ed. Laura Macy (http://www.grovemusic.com) (access 7/1/08); Vladislav Sikalov (interview with G. Kancheli, courtesy of M. Kancheli) speaks of “silence and shout in a single gesture”; Dylan Trigg (The Space of Absence in the Music of Giya Kancheli, http://members.optusnet.com.au/~robert2600/azimute/music/kancheli_absence.html, accessed 7/1/08) states: “In replacing the positive with the negative, so that the negative forms the structure through which the positive emerges, Kancheli’s music therefore frequently slides into pessimistic resignation. Demolishing the certainties of faith and hope, in propounding the negative as he positive, the space of absence which emerges out of the framework of Classicism thus aligns itself with both nihilism and pessimism. Nihilistic because the objectivity of absolute value is reduced to an artifice that at best attains the momentary transience of a subjective claim; pessimistic because the conclusion of this void is one of resignation rather than revolt. The stance of pessimism, however, does not preclude nostalgia, and if anything serves to prolong a sense of nostalgia which is founded in a space still flourishing with the chime of hope”. Trigg’s opinions are very interesting, but we don’t share them completely: in fact, they misunderstand at least the conscious objectives of Kancheli’s poetry, that (according to the author himself) is always finalized to hope. In our analysis we will try to propose a key for understanding Kancheli’s interpretation of Celan’s nihilism. Back

27 PS-M-02 cannot be considered as a mere variant of PS-M-01, since it has a very important compositional function. Back

28 Cf. Bevilacqua’s opinion on Celan vs. Adorno, quoted by Antonello Piana (Antonello Piana, La poesia di Paul Celan). Back

29 Psalm, v. 2: “Niemand bespricht unsern Staub”; Exil, v. 2: “Der Staub verweht”. Back

30 In Belaieff’s original score (1995) this insert of tape is omitted, but it is present in the ECM New Series CD (n. 1535). It seems hard to express an indubitable preference for one of the two sources, since the CD was realized at the author’s presence (the cycle is even dedicated to Manfred Eicher, the founder of ECM), and it can be considered as a primary source. From a compositional point of view, the presence of tape seems more coherent than its absence, but this remains a problematic passage. Back

31 It might be interesting to compare this motif with the Leitmotif of Mozart’s Piano Concerto k271 (e.g. II mov. B. 1, III mov. B. 1ff, and I mov. 2nd theme). Back

32 As regards the scale, EX-M-02 is often inverted as well, while the neighbouring note remains inferior: cf. b. 17–18, descending scale G–C sharp, inferior “embellishment” around D sharp. Back

33 It is constituted by a great triadic arpeggio (ascending tenth: D–F–A–D–F) followed by a “depressive” descent by conjunct motion. As a curiosity, this motif is the minor version of the theme of Mozart’s Violin Concerto k216. Might there be a conscious allusion to Mozart in this piece (k216, k271)? Back

© Chiara Bertoglio, 2008

How to cite this article

BPM home | Volume 9 index