Otar Taktakishvili (b. Tbilisi, 27 July 1924; d. 21 Feb 1989) was a composer, teacher, writer, and conductor in Soviet Georgia. He rose to national prominence early in his career, having composed the official anthem of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic while he was still a composition student of Sarkis Barkhudaryan at the Tbilisi Conservatory. The Conservatory later appointed him professor of choral literature and director of the choir in 1949, a mere two years after his graduation. In later years, he also taught composition and served as rector. Outside of the Conservatory, he served as rehearsal pianist, conductor, and eventually artistic director of the State Choral Kapella of Georgia.
Taktakishvili achieved incredible political recognition in his lifetime. State honors included three separate USSR State Prizes in addition to the 1982 Lenin Prize- one of the highest honors of the USSR (previous winners include Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich). Political appointments included: deputy Supreme Soviet of the USSR, deputy to the Supreme Soviet of the Georgian SSR, Presidium member of the International Music Council of UNESCO, Minister of Culture of Georgia (1965-84), chairman of the Georgian Composers’ Union (1962), secretary and board member of the USSR Composers’ Union (1957–89), and jury member/chairman of various international competitions.
Taktakishvili’s music spanned many genres, but his primary output was vocal music with an emphasis on folk material. Many Soviet composers of Taktakishvili’s generation turned to regional folk music as source material. Born around 1920, these composers received traditional Russian music theory instruction in Soviet conservatories that followed a standard curriculum. These composers were aware of Western techniques, but they remained relatively isolated. Whereas composers of the generation prior, including Prokofiev and Shostakovich, became victims of censure due to their highly complex musical language, composers like Taktakishvili employed a simpler, more accessible style without fear of judgement from their westernized Saint Petersburg and Moscow colleagues. Taktakishvili even went as far as to reprimand composers using the 12-tone system.
Dodecaphonic and ‘serial’ music is associated with a clearly defined ideology, one that is disseminated assiduously, and which is supported by a good deal of money… So the struggle against dodecaphony and serial music is more than a struggle between styles: it is an ideological struggle and a very acute one at that.*
Taktakishvili’s Flute Sonata (1966) is a prime example of his simple harmonic language with folk influences. The Sonata appears to only have one publisher in the United States, Associated Music Publishers, copyright 1977. This edition, edited by flutist Louis Moyse (son of Marcel Moyse), is authorized by the Library of Russian-Soviet Music. It is interesting to note that this composition took 11 years to reach the United States due to the USSR’s lack of international copyright relations prior to the 1970’s.
Taktakishvili’s music often resembles Caucasus music, a broad categorization of the musics of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Chechnya, and Georgia. This influence is immediately apparent in the Flute Sonata. It is unclear if Taktakishvili drew these themes from specific Georgian folk songs or if they are simply reminiscent of this particular style. The traditional Caucasus music in the video below contains many of the folk idioms found in the Flute Sonata: repeating diatonic melodies with small tessituras, repetition of rhythms that strongly demonstrate the meter, and dance-oriented rhythms in a compound meter .
The melodic and rhythmic devices demonstrated in this video are the hallmarks of the Flute Sonata. The diatonic first theme of movement one is in C major and moves in primarily step-wise motion. The range is technically a ninth from G5 to A6, but if we disregard the extraneous flourish of pick-up eighth notes in m. 10, the range is reduced to a sixth from C6 to A6. The repetition of rhythm and melodic content in the consequent phrase emphasizes the simple duple meter.
The second theme begins with similar melodic characteristics including diatonic scalular motion and restricted tessitura, but this material taken on a scherzo-like quality. The range of the antecedent phrase is an octave from D5 to D6 and suggests G Major. The accented quarter notes continue to strongly demonstrate the 2/2 time signature. The consequent phrase deviates from this model by introducing a larger range and chromatic alteration.
The simplistic, less technically active opening theme of movement two is more vocal than instrumental in nature, hence the title of the movement, “Aria.” The long, fluid melodic line in A minor is diatonic in manner with a small range, few large leaps, and minimal ornamentation. The range of the first phrase is E4 to E5.
The B section of this movement features drone accompaniment, another common characteristic of folk songs. The piano sustains a tonic pedal on “C” from m. 26-32 as chromatic alterations are introduced to both the melody and the accompaniment.
From m. 42-49, the left hand of the piano sustains a pedal on “D” with a two-measure repeating osstinato in the rest of the accompaniment. This passage is perhaps the most tonally ambiguous of the entire piece.
The third movement opens with a dance-like theme in compound time. The C Major melody is mainly diatonic but contains chromatic passing tones and escape tones. The range is confined to one octave from C5 to C6 in the first statement of the theme but expands to two octaves (C5 to C7) when the material is repeated. Another interesting similarity between the video above and the third movement of this piece is the simultaneous use of compound and simple meter. The song in the video begins in a compound meter and continues as such through the first statement of the vocal melody. At the second entrance of the voice, the vocal and bass lines switch to a simple meter while the string and percussion accompaniment continues in compound time. The third movement of the Flute Sonata has contrasting passages in both 6/8 and 2/4, but the syncopated accents in the 6/8 material create a sense of polymeter.
The 2/4 theme of the third movement is perhaps the most “folk-sounding” theme of the entire Sonata. The melody ranges from A4 to B5 and moves in primarily step-wise motion. The piano has a pedal tone in the bass with an osstinato figure in the right hand. The only chromatic alteration in the melodic line that deviates from A Aeolian is the F# that sets up a half cadence on E at the end of the antecedent phrase. The repeated rhythms in both the melodic an accompanying content emphasize the simple duple rhythm, and the grace notes suggest a dance-like feel.
From an American perspective, it is difficult to gain significant insight into the life and works of Otar Taktakishvili. There is a severe lack of English scholarship on this composer. Though the Flute Sonata is a staple of the 20th century repertoire and is frequently performed in the United States, little is known about the composition.
Any further information on this subject would be greatly appreciated!
*Information Bulletin, Union of Soviet Composers, 1960: p.44 as quoted in Schwarz, Boris. Music and Musical Life in Soviet Russia 1917-1970. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1972, p. 346.
Machavariani, Evgeny and Toradze, Gulbat. “Taktakishvili, Otar.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed May 27, 2013, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com.mutex.gmu.edu/subscriber/article/grove/music/27406.