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The Healing Sound of Komitas Music

January 29, 2014

"Komitas". G.Khanjian

“Komitas”. G.Khanjian

Soghomon Soghomonyan, commonly known as Komitas (Armenian: Կոմիտաս; Gomidas in Western Armenian) (26 September or 8 October 1869 – October 22, 1935), was an Armenian priest, composer, choir leader, singer, music ethnologist, music pedagogue and musicologist. Many regard him as the founder of modern Armenian classical music.

His father, Gevorg Soghomonyan was a shoemaker but he also composed songs and had a beautiful voice. The composer’s mother – Tagui – was also singled out for her vivid musical abilities; she was a carpet weaver.

Komitas experienced a mental breakdown after witnessing the horrors of 1915 Armenian Genocide and is considered a martyr of the genocide.

"Without words he sings gazing". S.Safian

“Without words he sings gazing”. S.Safian

In April 1915, Komitas was arrested together with the number of outstanding Armenian writers, publicists, physicians, and lawyers,  where he became a witness of the brutal extermination of the nation’s bright minds. And in spite of the fact that due to the intervention of influential figures Komitas was returned to Constantinople, the nightmare he had experienced left a deep ineradicable impression on his soul. Komitas remained in seclusion from the outer world, absorbed in his gloomy and heavy thoughts – sad and broken.
In 1916 Komitas’ health deteriorated and he was put in a psychiatric hospital. However, there was no hope that he would recover. The medicine was powerless against the destructive disease.

"Dzig tu, qashi" (A labor song)

“Dzig tu, qashi” (A labor song)

The countless heritages of Komitas present great scientific, historical and theoretical value in all of these spheres: musical ethnography, composition, scientific investigation, performing art. This is why his creative work has continuously been the focus of various investigations for over a century. It has numerously become the source of inspiration for many of Komitas’s contemporaries, including the foreign ones. Many of western European composers of the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century have discovered new paths in composition while they researched the music of Komitas. His native researchers have always considered it a professional duty to base their works on the experience of Komitas. No wonder, in 1969, for the 100th anniversary of Vardapet, the Institute of Arts of the Academy of Sciences of Armenia started the release of a series of collections of researches called “Komitasiana” under the edition of the outstanding Armenian musicologist Robert Atayan.

"Avik" (Bird), written with khazzes (ancient Armenian notation), more info about Khaz you can find here

“Avik” (Bird), written with khazzes (ancient Armenian notation), more info about Khaz you can find here

At the beginning of the 20th century the Armenian musicology was already abundant in articles and books about Komitas and his work. Ruben Terlemezian, Alexander Shahverdian, Samson Gasparian… each of them revealed their own approach to Komitas’s art, having worthily appreciated his role and significance in the history of the Armenian music.
Ruben Terlemezian’s collections deserve a special attention. Not only the musicians, but also amateurs are interested in the collection about Komitas that contain articles and recollections by Derenik Demirchian, Spiridon Melikian, Panos Terlemezian, Stepan Demurian, Vahan Ter-Arakelian. Terlemezian also collected part of musicological materials of the composer and compiled a wonderful collection called “Komitas. Articles and investigations”.

"Kuzhn ara, yela sar" (I took the pot and went upon a mountain). S.Stepanian

“Kuzhn ara, yela sar” (I took the pot and went upon a mountain). S.Stepanian

It is worth mentioning the reputable monograph of a recognized musicologist Alexander Shahverdian that takes quite a leading role in the existing innumerable literature about Komitas.
Another colossal collection is presented by Izabella Eolyan. Here the author depicts the life of Komitas, the main aspects of his activities, ideal-artistic views and the national roots of his art. The author also included a number of new materials that promote a more exact and whole elucidation of the life and creative work of Komitas.
Robert Atayan is one of the most central Armenian researchers of Komitas’s art. He is the author of countless articles related to the multifaceted activity, artistic heritage, stylistic peculiarities, and the polyphony found in Komitas’s compositions. Atayan thought the Komitas’s individuality as a composer is most vividly expressed in his choral and solo performances. This whole and typical style today stands as more complete, more fascinating internally, diverse and developing.

Deathmask of Komitas - Property of ISAS International Alexander Schubert Collection, Germany

Deathmask of Komitas –
Property of ISAS
International Alexander Schubert Collection, Germany

One of two viewpoints famous in musicology about the appraisal of Komitas’s creative work is the one according to which Komitas is an ethnographer rather than a composer, however, it is not correct. The second view is more correct, i.e. Komitas is a skillful composer endowed with a bright personality. His works on folk music are highly professional and they preserve its specificity and open new ways in the international musical art.
While researching the materials from the Komitas fund of the museum of literature and art of Yerevan, Atayan pays a special attention to “Anush” opera, which Komitas never completed. “Komitas made use of several folk melodies in his drafts, although the majority consists of new melodies composed in the peasant and urban styles. In this case, why, the national shade is much more tangible”, wrote Atayan. He considers “Anush” to be one of the most important pages in the history of the national opera art and believes that if the found materials are added with some orchestral and choral fragments, the staging of this marvelous composition can be accomplished.

Komitas on a 1969 Soviet Union postage stamp

Komitas on a 1969 Soviet Union postage stamp

The most significant theoretical musical works of R.Atayan are “The elements of polyphony in the Armenian national music” and “The principle of harmonization of Komitas’s national music”. Atayan spoke regarding the monodic structure of the Armenian national music: “In the case of the national music, the presence or absence of polyphony for the given composition is the traditional stylistic feature, one of its characteristics”. According to Atayan, the Armenian music, having the monophonic monodic structure, has long contained different elements of various types of polyphony. Based on the multivoiced works of Komitas, a musicologist researches their modal structure and the principles of harmonization.

The statue of Komitas in Yerevan

The statue of Komitas in Yerevan

Atayan’s work is valuable for the compilation of the collection of scientific researches “Komitasiana”, which was dedicated to various issues of the fruitful efforts of Komitas, and for the academic publication of Komitas’s heritage. At present the latter is being continued by one of the most vivid representatives of modern musicology Georgiy Geodakian. He is also the author of the articles devoted to the life, artistic activity, and stylistic peculiarities of Komitas’s creative work (“Komitas’s style and 20th century music”, “The genius of the Armenian music”, etc.) and monograph. In his researches Geodakian was practically the first to single out the phenomenon of “Komitas” from the narrow national music art and presented it within the framework of the world culture of the 20th century (Debussi, Bartok, Stravinsky). “Komitas approached the folk art in a different manner. The innovative principles of Komitas are valuable: they are revealed not only within the framework of the Armenian folk music but also in a broad sense – from the standpoint the development of world music art. Komitas is great because he was able to raise the solution of the biggest problems of his own national art to the level of the solution of problems of all 20th century music art. While doing this he did not only use the experience and achievements of previous specialists, but he also made a foundation for new musical philosophy.

Paris memorial to victims of Armenian genocide, including Armenian composer Komitas Vardapet Photo: Artak Davtian - See more at:

Paris memorial to victims of Armenian Genocide, including Armenian composer Komitas Vardapet Photo: Artak Davtian

Komitas entered the music arena in times very difficult for music art – in times of crisis and reassessment of values. In these conditions the innovations were not always accepted, and they were often considered formal and superficial pushing the music art into a dead-end. For such artists as Komitas, endowed with high realization of the ethical duty, no doubt, innovation for the sake of innovation did not make sense. The newest principles of the organization of music materials root from aiming at the deep penetration of the essence of folk art and music and its whole and faultless expression. As the history showed, this was the most active and progressive way of the renewal of the music culture of our times”, wrote Geodakian.

A Monument to Komitas in Québec

A Monument to Komitas in Québec

Another researcher of Komitas’s art iso Matevos Muradian. His articles are diverse and their majority is devoted to Komitas’s artistic activity and his works (such as “The Liturgy of Yekmalian in the appraisal of Komitas”, “Komitas and the Armenian folk song”, “Vocal works of Komitas”). M.Muradian also turned to the genius composer’s social and educational activitities. In the article called “Komitas and the demonstration of the Armenian music in Europe” he touches on the issues that have to do with Komitas’s concert tours, publications and lectures on the Armenian music.

It is well-known that Komitas dreamt of creating a national conservatory. He was always concerned with the issue of the education of the national musical candidates. The article “Komitas programs on the preparations of the national musical candidates” by Matevos Muradian is devoted to that issue. Here he illustrates the issues related to the pedagogical activity of Komitas.
A famous Armenian musicologist Nikogayos Tagmizian is another researcher of Komitas’s heritage. Being an expert on the Armenian spiritual music, he turns to Komitas’s researches on the church music in his articles (“Komitas and the taghs of Grigor Narekatsi”, “Komitas and the problem of decoding the Armenian khazzes”, “Komitas and the issues of the research on the Armenian church singing”). “Komitas was the founder of not only the new national composer school, but also of the science about the ancient Armenian musical culture. In spite of the incompletion of some researches on the Armenian church singing, they do constitute a definite system of thoughts and postulates and are worthy of attention… Komitas founded the base of the newest Armenian science about the ancient Armenian singing, in many ways did he decide the further development path of this science”, wrote N.Tagmizian.

Ancient Armenian notation- khaz

Ancient Armenian notation- khaz

Cicilia Brutian is the author of numerous articles about Komitas. Along with the articles “Komitas in the world significance”, “Komitas as an educator”, “Ethnographic collection of Komitas” and others, it is worth mentioning her other work called “Komitas”. This book was written with the subtlety of a musicologist and at the same time in a language accessible to a wide range of readers. With Brutian’s words, “Komitas emerged from the deepness of centuries-long history of the life and spiritual culture of the Armenian people and reached higher facing the new ways of its development”.
Komitas’s works have served as a basis for theoretical researches of many musicologists (for example, Edward Pashinian, Rafael Stepanian). His life and artistic activity were depicted not only by the Armenian, but also by foreign musicians (Amédée Gastoué (1873-1943), Mikhail Gnesin (1883-1957), Dmitry Kabalevsky (1904-1987), Otar Taktakishvili (1924-1989).
The huge bibliography on Komitas is continuously being added with new books and articles.

According to

Armenian spiritual Music Of Komitas


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