A BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF KOMITAS
The well-known Armenian monk and ethnomusicologist Soghomon
Soghomonian, called KOMITAS, was born in a family of music lovers in
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
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.