The Music and Movements of Gurdjieff

Blake, A. G. E.

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Gurdjieff traveled extensively in the near and far East and into central Asia. He brought back with him many strong impressions of the music and dances of these regions. When he came to work with the Russian composer Thomas de Hartmann, he was able to transform these impressions through the medium of the composer's musical sensibility into unique pieces of music. De Hartmann had some of the same teachers as Scriabin, whom he greatly admired. He was to collaborate with Kandinsky on the remarkable opera 'The Yellow Sound'. Responding to Gurdjieff's suggestions of rhythms and melodies, he brought into being around 300 pieces for piano. The scores for most of this music have recently been published by Schott, one of the most prestigious music publishers.

The pieces were composed between 1918 and 1927, though de Hartmann added some pieces for Movements much later, from sketches, notes and memories. They fall into five main groups:

  1. The sacred hymns, especially the 'Hymns from a Truly Great Temple'. These revolve around the theme of death and resurrection.
  2. The 'Sayyid' pieces. 'Sayyid' means 'descendent of the Prophet (Muhammad)' and de Hartmann speaks of a 'tribe' of such descendants, though we have no evidence of such a tribe ever existing. Gurdjieff, in his semi-autobiographical book 'Meetings with Remarkable Men', avers that he studied Sayyid songs and chants for almost two years, in order to pass himself off as a priest in his journey with Professor Skridlov into Kafiristan.
  3. The 'Dervish' pieces. None of these are imitations of extant dervish or Sufi music but tend to echo the patterns of 'zikr'.
  4. Folk songs and dances. These may be labeled as from 'Tibet', or as of the 'Aisors', but they spring largely from Gurdjieff's own consciousness.
  5. Music for the 'movements' or Sacred Dances that Gurdjieff worked on right up until the time of his death. There are around 100 such pieces.

The Movements created by Gurdjieff are uniquely his own. He said he wanted to be known first of all as a 'teacher of dancing'. In presenting the movements to audiences, they were sometimes described as deriving from this or that place or group, such as an 'Essene monastery' but no-one had found any verification of such claims. The movements do not imitate ethnic dances. However, some of the 'Tibetan' movements do suggest Tibetan ritual, for example.

He compiled his last movement, number 39 of the 39 series a few weeks before his death. It is uncertain when exactly most of the movements in this series were created. One of them, number 4, has the music of the Essentuki Hymn, or the 'Hymn of the Institute', which refers to a period in 1918 when Gurdjieff and his small group stayed in the town of that name before fleeing Russia altogether. John Bennett believed that number 1 of the series, the 'Automat' as it is sometimes called, derives from the choreography of the ballet 'The Struggle of the Magicians' which Gurdjieff was working on at least as far back as 1914. Some of the 39 have disappeared altogether. Gurdjieff created the movements with people in a class, improvising music, rhythms, gestures as he went along, obviously working from some inner vision or sense. After his death, Jeanne de Salzmann undertook to record the latest versions of the dances and preserve them for the future.

There were various series of movements, including the all-important six 'Obligatories'. There is then a second series of obligatories, Tibetan dances, Pythagorean dances, Greek movements, dervish dances, rituals, special womens' movements (such as the sublime 'Assyrian Women Mourners'), work movements (such as the Shoemaker), prayer movements (such as 'I Am, Father-Son') and others.

Wim Van Dullemen

Van Dullemen is certainly one of the leading interpreters of Gurdjieff's music. His one CD - Gurdjieff: the Music of Gurdjieff - is currently available through Abintra. He was born in 1942 and lives in the Netherlands. Between 1965 and 1970, and between 1979 and 1983, he was a pupil of the Dutch composer, Wolfgang Wydeveld. He started as a solo jazz pianist in 1965 and made two records in 1968. In recent years, he has concentrated on Gurdjieff's music. In 1995, he gave a concert of the music of Mozart and Gurdjieff at the Concertebow in Amsterdam. In 1996, he gave another recital, of Gurdjieff music only, with the French pianist Alain Kremski. In the Netherlands, he has given five radio and one television broadcasts and now continues to give lectures and workshops on music in general as well as Gurdjieff's music. He is now attempting to recover as much information on the music and its genesis, dates, etc. as is possible before the remaining Gurdjieff pupils die.

The Music of G. I. Gurdjieff

as dictated to Thomas de Hartmann with an introduction by Madame Solange Claustres; Wim van Dullemen, piano

Contents: Ancient Greek Melody, Sayyid Chant and Dance, Dervish Dance, Hymn from a truly great temple 2, Song of the Fisherwomen, Caucasian Dance, Sacred Hymn 7, Sayyid Dance, Dervish Dance, The story of the resurrection of Christ, Hymn from a truly great temple 8, Persian Song, Arabian Dance, Sayyid Chant and Dance, The fall of the priestess, Dervish Dance, Kurd Melody for Two Flutes, The Octave, Moderato, Tibetan Melody 'Mido', Easter hymn and night procession. $20 plus post and packing.

© AGE Blake