Colloquium: Sounds of Empire. Music and Identity in Tiflis/Tbilisi around 1900 / Jonas Löffler

On June 14, at 7 pm Tbilisi time, the biweekly research colloquium of the Institute for Social and Cultural Research at Ilia State University will host Jonas Löffler with a talk on “Sounds of Empire. Music and Identity in Tiflis/Tbilisi around 1900.”


In my presentation I will address the nexus between music and identity formation on the fringes of the Russian Empire around the turn of the twentieth century. At the time, Tiflis (today’s Tbilisi) was the cultural and political hub of the Caucasus region. Its population was ethnically diverse, with a plurality of Armenian inhabitants and large numbers of Georgians and Russians living together with smaller ethnic groups, including Turkic people (Azeris) and Germans. The ethnic diversity of the city was mirrored in its musical life. Highly different musical styles, ranging from prominent performances of Western art music to staged concerts of Georgian and Armenian folk songs coexisted with a Persianate urban folk music, which amalgamated local, Persian, Turkic, and Western musical elements. As questions of ethnic/national identity were increasingly discussed in Tiflis among Armenians, Georgians, and Azeris, so also music occupied a prominent space in the public discourse. At the same time, Tiflis was the seat of the Russian regional administration, which in the course of the nineteenth century pursued a colonially motivated cultural “civilising” mission in the South Caucasus. Making use of Georgian, Armenian, and Russian language sources, mostly articles, reviews and advertisements published in the newspapers and journals of Tiflis, I will discuss the role music played in discussions of ethnic identity, self-affirmation, othering, and cultural hybridity in the context of late tsarist colonial politics. Understanding the (South) Caucasus as an entangled cultural space that was in many ways replicated in the urban space of Tiflis, I aim to contribute to a decentralized cultural history of the tsarist South Caucasus beyond national(ist) paradigms.


Jonas Löffler is a doctoral student at the University of Cologne (Germany). He has held a scholarship of the German Academic Scholarship Foundation (Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes) and the a.r.t.e.s. Graduate School for the Humanities Cologne. Before coming to Cologne, Jonas studied classical guitar at the Basel Academy of Music and musicology at the University of Basel, Switzerland. He continued his studies at Linacre College, University of Oxford as a Clarendon Scholar. Besides his scholarly undertakings, he also works as a translator from Georgian, having published a collection of short stories for learners of the language and a translation of the 1924 Georgian Futurist/Dada journal “H2SO4”.

The event will take place in English via Zoom. Registration is required.

To register please follow this link.

Kristapor Kara-Murza’s Armenian National Choir at the Caucasian Jubilee Exhibition, Tbilisi, 1901. Source: Archive of the Museum for Literature and Art, Yerevan.