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KOMITAS (1869-1935)

1. His Life:
Komitas (Soghomon Soghomonian), was born in September 26, 1869 in a poor family living in Kutahya (Ottoman Turkey), whose members spoke only Turkish.

His mother wove carpets, composed, sang songs and wrote poetry, while her devoted husband Gevork, a shoemaker by trade, was a good-natured man who loved music. Soghomon was born into an atmosphere of intense creativity.

The modest, musical family was soon stricken by tragedy- the child was only six month old when, in March 1870, his mother died at the age of seventeen.

From his earliest days, Soghomon was immersed in the blend of traditional musical forms- ecclesiastic and popular, spiritual and secular - that would become the consuming passion of his life.

The gifted child was soon noticed for his mental vivacity and beautiful voice. By the age of twelve, he had become an accomplished singer of Armenian spiritual pieces and Turkish folk songs.

In 1881, shortly after being orphaned (his father Gevork died in 1880), Soghomon was sent to Etchmiadzin, the spiritual center of the Armenian Apostolic Church, to study at the prestigious "Gevorkian Seminary". This was the longest and the most important journey of his young life.

In the Seminary Soghomon learned Armenian language through hard study and the practice of music. He mastered the art of Armenian liturgical singing and conducted research on Armenian folk and sacred music.

He spent four years in the Seminary and if his first eleven years had been a series of psychological catastrophes, his years at the Seminary were a period of emotional and intellectual stability, a time of shelter.

His fellow students remembered him as a modest, lively and popular boy. And he would never refuse a request to sing to his friends.

At the conclusion of his religious education in 1895, he was ordained Vartabed (celibate priest) and adopted the name Komitas.

2. Komitas’ Armenian spiritual and folk music:

Due to the oppression of the Ottoman authorities, organized musical education and European musical influence on the Armenian musical life did not exist effectively (as research and composing) till the beginning of the 19th century.

There were no formal concerts, no professional composers or performers. Nevertheless, music, composed and disseminated orally, continued to flourish among the people, particularly among urban troubadours (gusans or ashugs in Armenian) and the clerics of the Armenian Church.

Many of the Armenian folk songs were typically improvised pieces reflecting the facts of rural life and were transcribed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a task to which Komitas would devote much of his life.

The liturgy and hymns of the Armenian Apostolic Church had been transcribed during the Middle Ages by means of distinctly Armenian system of notation known as "Khaz", however these records were effectively useless as the key to interpreting "Khaz" notation had been lost for centuries.

Therefore the sacred music passed on orally, till the appearance of the new notation system by H. Limonjian in the beginning of the19th century.

Mastering the system of Limonjian became the passion for Komitas and his research and investigation into this system of notation was the beginning of his career as ethno-musicologist. For his passion he was called "Notaji Vartabed" meaning the "the note-crazy priest".

Between 1893-1896 Komitas founded and tutored the Seminary choir and published his first volume of Armenian folk songs (1895)- an anthology of 25 pieces which included wedding and love songs, lullabies and dances under the name "Akna Yergeri Sharq" ("The songs of Akn", an old city near Yeprat lake), Etchmiadzin Press.

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Writer: Marie Awadis
 Date Added: Friday September 22, 2006 08:33:34 

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