Sulkhan Tsintsadze, Five Miniatures on Jewish Folk Songs

September 22, 2011

Sulkhan Tsintsadze (1925-1991)

Five Miniatures on Jewish Folk Songs (for String Quartet), 1990
Sulkhan TsintsadzeThe now sovereign country of Georgia lies just below modern day western Russia and just above Turkey and Armenia. On the Black Sea in the Caucasus region of Eurasia, Georgia has been called a crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe just north of the Middle East. It is a melting pot with regional musical and cultural influences much more exotic than either Hungarian or Czech, the other two eastern folk music tendencies in tonight's program. Originally an ancient kingdom established well before the first millennium of the Common Era, Georgia was absorbed by Russia and then the Soviet Union, achieving independence once again with dissolution of the U.S.S.R. in 1991.

Although largely unknown in the west, Sulkhan Tsintsadze was a celebrated Georgian composer living his entire life under the Soviet umbrella, dying just as Georgian became independent again in 1991. Composing in all genre's Tsintsadze's oeuvre reveals a strong penchant for the string quartet with twelve numbered quartets. His passion for intimate ensembles is equally matched by his fascination with miniatures, related sets of small independent pieces that capture the essence of Georgian, Balkan and Jewish folk tunes. Tsintsadze's music thus blends two apparently dichotomous sensibilities: ancient music of "the people" realized through thoroughly composed settings from a modern, artistic individuality. Here, Tsintsadze suggests both the musicology and the artistry of composers like Bartók and Kodály. His handling of color, rhythm and texture within the string quartet medium is skillful, intimate and perfectly evocative. The miniatures are fascinating postcards from another world.

Timeless, yet quite contemporary, Tsintsadze's Five Miniatures on Jewish Folk Songs, date from 1989, just a few years before the 66-year old composer died. Instantly familiar, the set is rich with atmosphere and expressive emotion. Mildly exotic scales and melodies convey an inexpressible hybrid of major and minor, melancholy that is bright, a lively robustness that in tinged with sorrow. The last miniature is particularly otherworldly with color and rhythm strongly influenced by Eastern Asia as if it were a riding tune from the ancient silk and spice trade routes.

The two English titles suggest vivid folk archetypes: Feast Song and Tailor's Song. The other three titles are transliterated Hebrew and Yiddish. L'Chaim is a well-known expression for "life" or "to life." A Yiddish scholar has suggestions for the other two. Lomir Ayle Inem appears to be a corruption of "Lomir Ale In Ainem", which means, "Let Us All Together." This is a song often sung to fête a friend at a celebratory event. Lomir Ich Iberbeiten is likely from "Lomir Sich Iberbeiten" which means "Let's Make Up," or "Let's forgive one another."

© Kai Christiansen. Used by permission. All rights reserved.