Robert Amirkhanian, President of the Composers’ and Musicians’ Union of Armenia, has undertaken a project to produce an extensive Anthology of Armenian Music, which is envisoned to be a twelve volume CD set with annotations and historical information about Armenian composers, beginning with Komitas. Volumes 1 and 2 of the series have been released. Below are excerpts about some of the early composers.
The modern school of Armenian music was founded in the 19th century by Tigran Choukhadjian. Through several decades of existence the national form of Armenian music evolved. Classic Armenian artists such as Kristapor Kara-Murza, Makar Yekmalyan, and others created these developments. The heritage of these natural musical cultural advancements is attributed to Soghomon Soghomonian also known as Komitas. Komitas is considered the founder of classical Armenian music and the forefather of generations of music.
Komitas took Armenian musicology to a new level both as a scholar and as a composer uncovering the foundations of Armenian monophonic and polyphonic musical systems, and applying a number of progressive musical styles from the 19th and 20th centuries in a unique way.
Komitas is a milestone in the history of Armenian music indeed. One can speak of Armenian music “before” and “after” Komitas. Komitas demonstrated the vitality and potential of Armenian music, its rightful place in the world of national and classical music. His work is also deeply individual, providing a window not only of Armenian culture, but also on the mind of a spiritual and music genius.
“Lorou Goutanerge Vardablour Gyoughi Vojov”
Komitas is the founder of both the Armenian national composer school and the Armenian new singers school. His many students included Vahan Ter-Arakelyan and Armenak Shahmuradyan both of whom inherited his unique principles of musical interpretation and methodological notations. Existing musical scores and recordings of Komitas singing substantiate his originality and creativity. “Lorou Goutanerge Vardablour Gyoughi Vojov” (The Plowing Song of Lori in Vardablour Village Style) is considered a model for Armenian ancient folklore and ethnomusical study. The work provides a glimpse of Komitas’ vigorous personality through the artistic rendering of a popular folk song. Komitas uses highly expressive variations and modulations to portray the main theme.
Another of Komitas’ works, “Havik” (Bird), expresses his genius ability to combine Armenian heritage and culture with music. Originally a masterpiece of theologian and mystic Saint Grigor Narekatsi of the 10th century, “Havik” is reconstructed by Komitas into beautiful musical phrases and moving melodies. Two other versions of “Havik” exist in archives, which have been published. These recordings, being partly destroyed, are comparable with the works of medieval stone masters, Momik and Poghos, whose lace-type Khachkars (crosses-stones) have also survived in partly damaged state.
“Ounabi” and “Marali”
An important part of Komitas’ literature is his works for piano, more specifically the suite of dances. With these works, Komitas fostered the development of a new musical genre among Armenians, as well as literature for newly forming musical instruments. The various suites and dances represent folklore of different Armenian regions. The songs “Ounabi” and “Marali” are taken from this cycle of composition. For example: “Yerangi” is of Yerevan. “Ounabi” and “Marali” are of Shoushi, “Shoushikin” (To Shoushik) is of Vagharshapat, “Yet-araj” (Ahead-backwards) and “Shoror” (Swing) from the region of Karin.
Komitas’ principles of maintaining a pure form of folk music led to new expressions of his compositional intentions. Instructions for the musician were very specific and articulate. Notes for the pianist, for example. would be written as “On tar or tambourine style” or “On horn and drum style.’ The Komitas piano suites are truly examples of Armenian musical literature, with which creative tendencies and emotion show the conscientious and precise attitude Komitas portrayed toward expressing his heritage and beloved people.
One of the most significant symbols of Armenian song is called “Antouni.” These medieval songs contain high dramatic quality and are expressed lyrically through love, drama, and various scenes of real-life affairs. The songs are excerpts from medieval large musical poetic works. These songs are known to spiritually and emotionally arouse internationally distinguished composers whom they elaborate and perform Komitas’ works. “Antouni” is considered to capture Komitas’ own biography and perhaps is the song of all Armenian pilgrims. The deep dramatic tension and tragic accents draw the desires and nostalgia of the homeless wanderer who is far from his fatherland.
One of the most eminent Armenian figures in 20th century world music is Aram Khachaturyan. Created according to his own ideologies, creative principles and dictation of the musical culture of his time, Aram Khachaturyan is the founder of multiple symphony, concerto and ballet genres in classical Armenian music. Khachaturyan succeeded in forming a kind of language style, which is summarized as a combination of international musical styles and languages. The achievements of previous Armenian composers and theoretical bases of Armenian folk music have led to the influences and interpretations of many important features in Khachaturyan’s musical thinking. Khachaturyan’s art is full of expressive colorful melodies and breathes with vivid melodiousness existing since Armenian urban song culture. This richness and beauty led to many calling him the “Rubens of music.” Aram Khachaturyan is a great Armenian composer, and a celebrated classical composer of the current century musical culture.
Due to Aram Khachaturyan’s art, the genre richness, quality and high level of musical thinking, scopes and criteria, typical for the 20th century music, have been brought to the Armenian musical culture, synthesized with composers strong personality. Certain commonness in musical thinking is notable in a number of Armenian composers, followers of Khachaturyan, which allows us to consider them as representatives of the same composer school. The ideological, esthetical and stylistic base of this school is determined by Aram Khachaturyan’s art. Thus, Aram Khachaturyan is considered the creator of new Armenian composer school.
“Concerto for Violin and Orchestra”
The “Concerto for Violin and Orchestra” is one of the important works from the pre-war period of Khachaturyan’s creative biography. With its high artistic values it can be considered as one of the best violin concertos of international fame. This work is dedicated to one of the most famous violinists of the 20th century, David Oistrach, who was the first performer of it. In addition, some trios of large-scope works are famous in Aram Khachaturyan’s heritage the Concerto for violin, along with concertos for piano and violoncello, complete the works of Khachaturyan’s famous concerto trio.
Armen Tigranyan’s achievements include a number of works from different genres, with his most famous as the operas “Anoush” and “Davit-Bek.” These have special importance to Armenian musical history, as his most significant accomplishment was the creation of the opera “Anoush.” Perhaps the most popular Armenian musical and theatrical work is the “Anoush” opera based on Hovhannes Toumanyan’s poem with the same title. The entire masterpiece represents Armenia in its musical entirety, though the composer did not use any folk song or themes in its creation. “Anoush” is an opera of national character, and with Armen Tigranyan’s vivid national thinking it has been spread rapidly among people and loved by them. Many arias and songs from the opera have become staples of Armenian music. Songs such as Anoush’s song, “Asoum en Ourin” (They Say the Willow Was a Girl Like Me…) and Saro’s aria, “Bardzr Sarer” (High Mountains). Choral songs “Ampi Takits” (From Under the Clouds…) and “Hambardzoum Yayla” (Merry Ascension) are among the favorite parts of the opera. In the opening overture, the symphonic and choral parts are combined, which summarize the main idea and important thematic groups of the whole opera.
TEXT BY: MHER NAVOYAN,
DOCTOR OF ARTS
TRANSLATION FROM ARMENIAN BY: ARTSVI BAKHCHINYAN
TEXT EDITOR: SEVAN TOPJIAN