A BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF KOMITAS

(1869-1935)

The well-known Armenian monk and ethnomusicologist Soghomon Soghomonian, called KOMITAS, was born in a family of music lovers in Kutahya, Asia Minor, on June 26th, 1869. He was named Komitas after an important 7th-century Armenian hymn writer.

While still a child, he was sent to the Gevorgian Theological Seminary in Etchmiadsin, where he came into contact with music. Following his graduation from the Academy in 1883, he was appointed conductor of the cathedral choir. In 1895 Komitas studied musical theory with Yekmalian in Tiflis. From 1896-1899 he lived in Berlin where he attended the Richard-Schmidt-Conservatory (voice, composition and choral conducting) as well as the Friedrich-Wilhelm-University (musicology and aesthetics), His teachers included R. Schmidt, 0. Fleischmann and G. Bellermann.

Komitas returned to Etchmiadsin in 1899 to organize the cathedral choir. His works include the "Holy Mass" for four male voices as well as outstanding examples of vocal works based on folk music themes.

From 1910 Komitas lived in Constantinople, where he founded the choir, "Gusan", with 300 members. They organized several successful concerts.

To him the credit is due that he visited the remote regions of Armenia, where he collected the songs of the peasants. This way he preserved the memory of Armenian talk-songs for future generations.

Following a concert with Armenian music in Paris, Claude Debussy said: "Had Komitas only composed the one song 'Homeless', even then he would have been a great artist".

ln 1915, the Turkish government realized its plan for the systematic destruction of the Armenian people, and 3/4 of the Armenian population perished (2 million victims). Komitas, in exile, witnessed the horrors of slaughter (pregnant women with bellies slit open. The rape of children, dismembered bodies, etc.). The first signs of a nervous disorder. Internment in a psychiatric hospital. Komitas found himself in a hopeless Situation: The people to which he had dedicated his entire life was almost destroyed. To this was to be added the engendering physical and Spiritual suffering to which Komitas was subjected in the psychiatric hospital.

In October 1922, the mental hospital Viliejuif in Paris issued Komitas a certificate of discharge which, however was not used. He kept his memory and analytical ability. He did not compose a single note of music. All of the so-called normal humanity became disgusting for him. The most normal place for him was a psychiatric clinic.

Komitas spent his 20 last years in mental hospitals. He died on October 22, 1935, at the Viliejuif. In 1936 remains of this great man was transferred to Yerevan and interred in the Pantheon.

Komitas, the classicist of Armenian music, was the founder of Armenian ethnomusicology. He collected more than 3.000 folk-songs and freed Armenian musical thought from foreign influences.

His concerts and lectures in the major cities of Europe, Asia and Africa enabled the public to become acquainted with Armenian art. He played a most important role in forming and developing Armenian music.

Today the Academy of Music in Yerevan is named in his honor.

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