George Gurdjieff

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George Gurdjieff : biography

13 January 1866 – 29 October 1949

Music

The Gurdjieff music divides into three distinct periods. The first period is the early music, including music from the ballet Struggle of the Magicians and music for early Movements, dating to the years around 1918.

The second period music, for which Gurdjieff arguably became best known, written in collaboration with Russian composer Thomas de Hartmann, is described as the Gurdjieff-de Hartmann music. Dating to the mid-1920s, it offers a rich repertory with roots in Caucasian and Central Asian folk and religious music, Russian Orthodox liturgical music, and other sources. This music was often first heard in the salon at the Prieuré, where much was composed. Since the publication of four volumes of this piano repertory by Schott, recently completed, there has been a wealth of new recordings, including orchestral versions of music prepared by Gurdjieff and de Hartmann for the Movements demonstrations of 1923–24. Solo piano versions of these works have been recorded by Cecil Lytle and Keith Jarrett.

The last musical period is the improvised harmonium music which often followed the dinners Gurdjieff held in his Paris apartment during the Occupation and immediate post-war years, to his death in 1949. A virtually encyclopedic collection of surviving recordings was recently released. A detailed booklet includes thoughts from producer Gert-Jan Blom and a preface by Robert Fripp. In all, Gurdjieff in collaboration with de Hartmann composed some 200 pieces. And most recently in May 2010, 38 minutes of unreleased solo piano music on acetate was purchased by Neil Kempfer Stocker from the estate of his late step-daughter Dushka Howarth.

Movements

Movements, or sacred dances, constitute an integral part of the Gurdjieff Work. Gurdjieff sometimes referred to himself as a "teacher of dancing" and gained initial public notice for his attempts to put on a ballet in Moscow called Struggle of the Magicians.

Films of movements demonstrations are occasionally shown for private viewing by the Gurdjieff Foundations and one is shown in a scene in the Peter Brook movie Meetings with Remarkable Men.

Group work

Gurdjieff taught that group efforts both enhance and surpass individual efforts, preparing them to practice a new psychology of evolution. To accomplish this, he declared that he needed to constantly innovate and create new alarm clocks to awaken his sleeping students, "as Jesus had done 1900 years before." Students regularly met with group leaders; both separately and in group meetings, and came together for "work periods" where intensive conscious labor, connected with the forms mentioned above. Work in the kitchen was a special task and sometimes elaborate meals were prepared. This work was the lowest of the three: food, air, and impressions. Special exercises were given for air and impressions as they were viewed as being more important.

According to Gurdjieff, the work of schools of the Fourth Way never remains the same for long. In some cases, this has led to a break between student and teacher as is the case of Ouspensky and Gurdjieff. The outward appearance of the School and the group work can change according to the circumstances. He believed that the inner individual expression, such as the practice of self-remembering with self-observation and the non-expression of negative emotions, always remains the same and could never change, for that is the guarantee of ultimate self-development.

A follower of Gurdjieff, former American Fabrics magazine publisher William C. Segal, tells of periods of hard labor around the clock—which, in the Gurdjieff system, are known as "super-efforts". According to Gurdjieff, only super-efforts count in the Work. In 1948 and 1949, Segal was sporadically in contact with Gurdjieff, who had been the teacher of avant-garde lesbian Jane Heap. In 1951, at 26, Peter Brook became a pupil of Heap in London and Segal published the magazine Gentry. As Segal would write in the poem "Silence Clarity", "… It is through the body that sits here/ that I go to my true nature." A voice at the borders of silence would conclude, "… It is through the mind that stands still/ that I experience my true nature." vol. 1, p. 24 #20