The Georgian Sacred Chant Revival in Imperial Context, 1860-1917

By Dr. Rebecca Mitchell, Middlebury College and ARISC Fellow 

July 30, 2021, at 5:00-6:30 PM Tbilisi Time (9:00 AM EDT)   

On December 20, 2011, the Georgian Orthodox Church canonized the five Karbelashvili brothers (Petre, Andria, Vasil, Polievktos and Pilmon) for their struggles against both imperial Russian authorities and Bolshevik revolutionaries to preserve the unique religious traditions of Georgia. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Karbelashvili brothers participated in a broader social project to construct Georgian chant as a marker of national distinctiveness at a time when multiethnic educated circles were hotly debating the relationship between Georgia and Russia. This research project situates the revival of Georgian sacred chant within this imperial context. Romantic conceptions of music’s inherent relationship to national identity complemented, melded or clashed with alternate conceptions of belonging (religious, social, political). In its modern form, Georgian sacred chant was constructed in part through drawing upon “Western” or “Russian” musical techniques, such as staff notation and recording technologies. At the same time, this quest to save Georgian chant echoed parallel strivings across Russia and Europe, as educated audiences, clergy and musicians alike sought a purer sacred musical sound in response to the complex strains of modernity.

Rebecca Mitchell, Ph.D. is a recipient of the American Research Institute of the South Caucasus (ARISC) Junior Research Fellowship. This fellowship is supported with a grant from the US Department of Education. She is Assistant Professor of History at Middlebury College, where she has taught since 2016. She completed her Ph.D. at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2011. Her first book, Nietzsche’s Orphans: Music, Metaphysics and the Twilight of the Russian Empire (Yale University Press, 2015), examines the interrelationship between imperial identity, nationalist tensions, philosophical ideals, and musical life in the final years of the Russian Empire (1905-1917). It received the 2016 W. Bruce Lincoln Book Prize from the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES). Her new book project, “Discordant Empire: Music, Belief and Identity in Imperial Russia” uses religious music as a lens through which to explore the complex connections between religious, ethnic, national and imperial identities in Petersburg, Moscow, Kazan and Tbilisi.

This talk is organized as a part of ARISC Online Event Series that showcase the work of ARISC fellows. ARISC does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, physical or mental disability, medical condition, ancestry, marital status, age, sexual orientation, citizenship, or status as a covered veteran. This talk is free and open to the public.