Angels of Sorrow by Giya Kancheli – ResMusica

Three years after his death on October 2, 2019, the spiritual work of Giya Kancheli strengthens its international position and receives sustained attention from an ever-growing public. The angels of sadness (Angels of Sorrow) offer a fascinating look at the Georgian composer and an ideal path through his incredibly rich catalogue.

He worked in his native Georgia until 1991, when the painful political and social events that shook the small Caucasian country led him to find refuge in Germany and then in Belgium. He was then 56 years old and enjoyed wide renown in the Soviet sphere as a composer of music intended for the theater and cinema, but also within the framework of a singular scholarly music which received an increasingly intense and wide. He devotes part of his time to teaching in his hometown of Tbilisi. His installation in Western Europe (Berlin then Antwerp) favored his international breakthrough and in a short time, his works fascinated excellent performers, orchestral phalanxes and conductors of great renown. The phonographic industry recorded many of his compositions and also helped to intensify his fame on all continents.

The composer’s sustained attention to the world around him will never waver. As often as possible, he will speak without language to denounce the flagrant injustices of a deeply selfish and iniquitous world. With an undeniable talent, he will have infiltrated his scores with his high spirituality. Friend of Arvo Pärt, Valentin Silvestrov, Mstislav Rostropovitch, the lights of glory do not modify his simplicity, his generous thoughts and his creative choices.

Genesis and creation of a masterpiece

Giya Kancheli compose his angels of sadness in 2013, at the age of 78. His music requires a violin, a cello, a children’s choir and a chamber orchestra including percussion (bass drum, vibraphone), bass guitar, piano and strings. The text is written by the composer himself, in Georgian, English, Russian and in an invented language. The work is dedicated to Mikhail KhodorkovskyRussian politician and businessman, imprisoned then pardoned by Vladimir Putin, on the occasion of his 50e anniversary, and was created on the 20e anniversary of the Kronberg Academy (Berlin). The dedication turns out in fact to be much broader since Kancheli dedicates it to all the victims of violence and despotism. Clearly, this presents a new opportunity for Kancheli to express his frank opposition to Vladimir Putin’s policy.

The angels of sadness premiered on October 5, 2013 in the Saint-Jean church. The musicians present are Gidon Kremer on the violin, Giedré Dirnauskaite on the cello, the Kremerata Baltica, kyiv’s Mädcehkor Shchedryk, all under the baton of chef Roman Kofman. Two days later, on October 7, the same musicians gave a second performance in the chamber music hall of the Berlin Philharmonic as part of the “Concerto for Human Rights in Russia.” » The first presentation of angels of sadness in Tbilisi, at the City Opera, will take place on February 22, 2016 with Gidon KremerGiedre Dirvanauskaite (cello), Georgia Symphony Orchestra, Gori City Choir and Georgian conductor, great support of the composer, Nikoloz Rachveli.

” My Angels of Sorrow have wings, more precisely they have always had wings and will always have them”, asserts the composer who specifies: “Contrary to my wish, the events which occur in this world, in a subconscious way, influence the creative process. I cannot remain indifferent to the permanent manifestations of a ruthless and violent nature, which is perhaps the reason why sadness and grief dominate in my music. With my abilities, I tried to use the innocent voices of children and the simplest melodic structures to express my attitude towards the power of the spirit – the unyielding force of the spirit which rises above an immoral regime. »

Structure and description of the work

The angels of sadness, last about twenty minutes and deliver music of breathtaking beauty. Introspective, peaceful, meditative, she interpenetrates pain and grace. The innocence sung by the children’s choir lifts the listener to spiritual heights that are too little frequented.

On a sound background provided by the choir of young girls and the soft and delicate notes of the vibraphone, a kind of celestial pain emerges. Then appears the solo cello joined by all the strings and the vibraphone. The flow establishes a stationary state to which the solo violin invites itself, escorted by the vibraphone and a few brief notes coming from the piano. The discussion between the two soloists builds magnificent measures, especially when the vibraphone and the choir join. This capital sequence repeats itself, always hovering, with a heartbreaking lyricism. Then with the dry and percussive note of the piano, the speech discreetly loses its fluidity without moving away from the initial spirituality. Solo violin and cello lead the dance as the other protagonists decorate their conversation. The suspended time is prolonged, dreamlike and pacified. A brief peak of moderate and controlled intensity occurs at 6’50. The unfolding continues its march with a few variations which in no way distort the dominating pensive atmosphere. A second more active passage is heard at 10’30, a delicate mixture of different sonorities punctuated by the percussive piano whose acme is at 11’50. Soon the choir, still framed by the other instruments, restores the majority state of weightlessness. A brief commotion is heard at 13:40; she recruits a drum, the strings and the piano with their jerky notes. We will find it later. A soprano sings alone without imposing anything lasting. From 15’44, the orchestral ensemble and the choir attempt a certain turbulence before giving way to the cello alone, followed by the violin. They are overtaken by the imperturbable chorus of serenity. An almost dissonant passage fades without delay in front of the long notes of the cello interspersed with the short notes of the violin, all with a background entrusted to the strings and the voices. Through and through, in its angels of sadness, the composer imposes his will to let them express themselves without undergoing notable disturbances. At 21′, a momentary activity preludes a long superterrestrial ascent marked by a soft and moving decrescendo of the instrumentalists… The piece ends in almost total silence while the violinist plays a few dying notes, barely audible, according to the version directed by Nikoloz Memanishvili-Racheli at creation.


Nowadays, The Angels of Sorrow have not been saved to disk. On the other hand, there are two video captures of very acceptable quality allowing us to approach this intimate, authentic and moving work.

A very beautiful interpretation is available on YouTube with Gidon Kremer (violin), Giedre Dirvanauskite (cello), Roman Kofman, children’s choir of Shchedrykdirection Nikoloz Rachveli. Duration: 23′. Video posted on January 24, 2014.

Another, also on this platform, is performed during the Vilnius Festival, June 15, 2020. The Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra and Jauna Musica (Vilnius Municipal Choir) are under the direction of Adrita Čepaité. With Dalia Kuznecovaité (violin) and Elena Daunyté (cello). Duration: 25’14.


Sikorsky, World Premiere of “Angels of Sorrow” by Giya Kancheli in Kronberg2013

Read also from the same author:

Giya Kancheli, grandeur and abandonment of the symphony

Giya Kancheli, a world of universal spirituality

Cried by the wind, liturgy by Giya Kancheli

Royalty-free image: “The Weeping Angel”, sculpted by Nicolas Blasset, (1628)

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Angels of Sorrow by Giya Kancheli – ResMusica

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