Komitas Vardapet

Oct 08 1968

Komitas (Soghomon Gevorg Soghomonyan) - composer, musicologist, singer, choirmaster, pedagogue, poet, and the founder of the Armenian National School of Music, was born on 26 September 1869 in Kuthaya, Turkey However, his ancestors were from Gokhten canton of the province of Vaspurakan in Greater Armenia. In 1881, Vicar General of Kuthaya Gevorg vardapet Derdzakyan brought orphaned Soghomon to Etchmiadzin to educate him at Gevorgian Seminary where special attention was paid to his musical education due to his beautiful voice and prominent musical abilities. While studying at the seminary, Komitas thoroughly mastered the theoretical and practical fundamentals of church music and Armenian notation. Since then he had begun collecting and studying Armenian folk songs, and making his first creative experiments.

In 1893, after completing his studies, Soghomon served as a music teacher at the seminary. In 1894, he was ordained hieromonk and given name Komitas in honor of the Catholicos Komitas I Aghtsetsi (VII century). In 1895, he was ordained vardapet. In the fall of the same year, for further professional development, he studied with Makar Yekmalian in Tiflis. He then left for Berlin, where from 1896 to 1899 he studied at the private conservatory of Professor Richard Schmidt and Friedrich Wilhelm University (now Humboldt University). After completing his studies, Komitas joined the newly opened International Music Society and delivered reports on Armenian folk and spiritual music. Returning to Etchmiadzin, Komitas resumed his musical activity with new vigor (collecting and processing folk songs; studying Armenian folk and spiritual music; pedagogy). From 1905 to 1906, he came up with great success in European countries by delivering lectures on Armenian music and concerts featuring his works on Armenian folk and spiritual songs.  In 1910, Komitas moved and settled in Constantinople. There he founded a 300-member co-ed choir called "Gusan" that gave concerts in Constantinople, Adabazar, Cairo and elsewhere. At the same time, he actively continued his scientific research by writing articles and reports. In 1915, the disaster of experiencing the Armenian Genocide committed by the Turkish government had deeply shocked Komitas which led to the interruption of his fervent and multifaceted activities. The last years of his life were spent in the psychiatric hospital in the suburb of Villejuif in Paris, where he died on 20 October 1935.

In 1936, the body of Komitas was moved and buried in the pantheon of cultural figures in Yerevan (later the Komitas Park Pantheon). On 29 January 2015, the Komitas Museum-Institute was opened near pantheon. The Yerevan State Conservatory, along with a number of cultural institutions (concert halls, schools) and streets are named after Komitas. His statues have been placed not only in Armenia but also abroad. In 2018, the Central Bank of Armenia issued a banknote (AMD 10,000) depicting Komitas. The music-ethnographic, scientific and creative activities had an invaluable role in the development of Armenian national music. More than 3,000 samples of Armenian folk songs collected by Komitas reflect diversity in the genre of Armenian folk music, as well as the richness and uniqueness of lingo-stylistic peculiarities of national music. These songs have been processed with a deep understanding of the history and psychology of the nation, as well as with a meticulous and scientific-analytical approach of the artist. Of the same value is his collection of Armenian spiritual music, in which Komitas is considered a great expert. Komitas has discovered a number of ancient and high-quality samples of Armenian folk and spiritual songs, rescuing them from irreversible loss.

Musicologist Komitas is the founder of Armenian folk and medieval music. In his theoretical works, Komitas particularly touched upon the types and structural characteristics of Armenian folk songs, the formation and the development of spiritual songs, as well as some questions related to the Armenian music notation system called Khaz. Among the discoveries made by Komitas, special importance has the unity of Armenian folk and spiritual music.The creative heritage of Komitas comes from the origins of Armenian folk and spiritual songwriting. “Liturgy” (Patarag) written for male performers has an important place among his spiritual works. It is also one of the first classical samples of the cantata-oratorio genre of national professional music.A rare example of the instrumental genre is the series of "Dances for piano” with a high degree of artistry.

There have also been preserved some episodes of musical theaters such as "The Perils of Politeness" (Qaghaqavarutyan vnasnery), " Daredevils of Sassoun” (Sasna Tsrer), and opera esquisses such as "Anush". The artistic diversity and depth of content in Komitas's works are combined with the clarity of the musical line, the subtle elaboration of the details. Behind his unique creative style are the masterfully implemented synthesis of Armenian national music peculiarities and the means of expression of European classical music of his time. On the other hand, a number of innovative principles applied by Komitas provide a basis for considering him among the leading reformers of world music in the early 20th century.The creative work of Komitas opened up great perspectives for the development of Armenian national music by making it world-class music.