During the summer holidays of 2013, while in Georgia for the first time, I chanced upon a number of poems of Vazha Pshavela, an outstanding Georgian poet, born in the second half of the nineteenth century in the Northern Caucasus. I felt immediately attracted to a poem called The Snake Eater (1901), about the tragic fate of its hero Mindia, in the Northern mountainous region of Khevsureti. I started investigating and transcribing Khevsur folk music, which I found to possess the same stark beauty as Pshavela’s poem.
The composition’s structure is a free adaptation of a sonata form, albeit that the First Theme section is the more melodic one, contrary to the Romantic tradition which implies that the Second Theme is the Gesangsthema. In order to end the composition with this melodic (and heroic) theme, the Recapitulation is inversed. As a result, the structure is an overlap of six movements, contained within a sonata form. Here is an overview of the six parts:
I. Spring Awakening (Introduction)
Nature is awakening in the Caucasian mountains. The first flowers appear, birds start to sing, frogs and crickets can be heard, etc.
II. Enter Mindia (Exposition, First Theme)
Mindia, being able to understand the voices of nature, is welcomed with joy by all animals, trees and plants.
III. Panic and Grief (Exposition, Second Theme)
Suddenly, all of nature senses that something is wrong. The animals, trees and plants inform Mindia that an evil force is hiding somewhere. Mindia rightly deduces that the Kaji, demonlike figures and enemies of the Khevsurians, are secretly planning a surprise attack.
IV. Agitation (Development Section)
Mindia returns to his tribe in a hurry and alerts everyone, causing a lot of consternation.
V. Attack (Reversed Recapitulation, Second Theme)
The Kaji attack, suddenly appearing from several hiding places. But the Khevsurians are prepared. A battle ensues.
VI. Victory (Reversed Recapitulation, First Theme)
Led by Mindia, the Khevsurians are victorious.