Thomas de Hartmann, The Music of Gurdjieff / De Hartmann

John Schaefer

By John Schaefer

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

This reissue of a long out-of-print three-LP set explores one of the strangest, yet strangely influential niches in 20th century music. Briefly: Gurdjieff spent years traveling through Central Asia and the Near East, studying Sufi orders and secret societies, absorbing elements of mysticism, movement and music that he then brought to the West. He attracted a number of high-profile disciples in France in the 1920s, including the promising young Russian pianist/composer Thomas De Hartmann, who would become his collaborator on these works.

An 80-year old precursor to today’s world music trends.

The untrained Gurdjieff would pick out a tune, often only half-remembered, on the keyboard or whistle it, and De Hartmann would flesh it out. The resulting body of work is an 80-year old precursor to today's world music trend, as the sounds of Arabian, Kurdish, Persian and Armenian traditions echo through De Hartmann's simple but effective Western arrangements. And it resonates to this day with such diverse musicians as jazz pianist Keith Jarrett, rock guitarist Robert Fripp and avant-garde vocalist/composer David Hykes.

This collection includes most of the important Gurdjieff/De Hartmann works: “Holy Affirming, Holy Denying, Holy Reconciling” is a haunting, bell-tolling work that reeks of age and mystery. “The Bokharian Dervish Hadji Asvatz-Troov” reflects Gurdjieff's lifelong interest in the spiritual properties of movement, especially the rapid repetitive movements of the Sufi dervishes. “Rejoice Beelzebub” is a title that requires a bit more explanation than we can fit here, but is a glowing hymn. The excerpts from the “Sayyid” series celebrate the sounds of early Islam. And there are numerous lighter moments — arrangements of folk melodies, fisherman's tunes, and the like. Though many fine pianists have recorded these works, the tapes of De Hartmann's own performances are considered definitive.