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Komitas in 1901[1] or 1902[2]
Born Soghomon Soghomonian
8 October [O.S. 26 September] 1869
Kütahya, Ottoman Empire
(present-day Turkey)
Died 22 October 1935(1935-10-22) (aged 66)
Paris, France
Resting place Komitas Pantheon
Nationality Armenian
Education Gevorgian Seminary
Frederick William University
Occupation Musicologist, composer, choirmaster
Years active 1891–1915
Denomination Armenian Apostolic

Soghomon Soghomonian,[upper-alpha 1] ordained and commonly known as Komitas,[upper-alpha 2] (Armenian: Կոմիտաս; 26 September 1869 – 22 October 1935) was an Armenian priest, musicologist, composer, arranger, singer, and choirmaster, who is considered the founder of Armenian national school of music.[4][7] He is recognized as one of the pioneers of ethnomusicology.[8][9]

Orphaned at a young age, Komitas was taken to vardapet (celibate priest) in 1895, he studied music at the Frederick William University in Berlin. He thereafter "used his Western training to build a national tradition".[10] He collected and transcribed over 3,000 pieces of Armenian folk music, more than half of which were subsequently lost and only around 1,200 are now extant. Besides Armenian folk songs, he also showed interest in other cultures and in 1904 published the first-ever collection of Kurdish folk songs. His choir presented Armenian music in many European cities, earning the praise of Claude Debussy, among others. Komitas settled in Constantinople in 1910 to escape mistreatment by ultra-conservative clergymen at Etchmiadzin and to introduce Armenian folk music to wider audiences. He was widely embraced by Armenian communities, while Arshag Chobanian called him the "savior of Armenian music".[11]

During the Armenian Genocide—along with hundreds of other Armenian intellectuals—Komitas was arrested and deported to a prison camp in April 1915 by the Ottoman government. He was soon released under unclear circumstances and experienced a mental breakdown and developed a severe case of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The widespread hostile environment in Constantinople and reports of mass-scale Armenian death marches and massacres that reached him further worsened his fragile mental state. He was first placed in a Turkish military-operated hospital until 1919 and then transferred to psychiatric hospitals in Paris, where he spent the last years of his life in agony. Komitas is widely seen as a martyr of the genocide and has been depicted as one of the main symbols of the Armenian Genocide in art.


  • Biography 1
    • Childhood (1869–81) 1.1
    • Etchmiadzin (1881–95) 1.2
    • Tiflis and Berlin (1895–1899) 1.3
    • Main period of work (1899–1910) 1.4
    • Constantinople (1910–15) 1.5
    • Deportation and final years (1915–35) 1.6
  • Legacy 2
  • Works, editions and recordings 3
  • Works on Komitas 4
  • Film 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7
    • Modern performances 7.1


Childhood (1869–81)

Komitas was born Soghomon Soghomonian in Kütahya, Hüdavendigâr (Bursa) Vilayet, Ottoman Empire on 26 September (8 October in New Style) 1869 to Armenian parents Kevork and Takuhi.[12][13] According to his autobiographical sketches, his parents' ancestors moved to western Anatolia from the Tsghna village in Nakhichevan's Goghtn province at the turn of the century. His family only spoke Turkish due to restrictions by the Ottoman government. Soghomon was their only child. He was baptized three days after his birth. His mother was originally from Bursa and was sixteen at the time of his birth. People who knew her described her as melancholic, while his father was a cheerful person; but both were interested in music. She died in March 1870, just six months after giving birth to him. Her death left deep scars on him, whose earliest poems were devoted to her. Thereafter, according to different sources, either his father's sister-in-law or his paternal grandmother, Mariam, looked after him.[14]

In 1880, four years after he finished primary school in Kütahya, Soghomon was sent by his father to Bursa to continue his education. He possibly stayed with his maternal grandparents who lived in the city. He was sent back to Kütahya four months later, following his father's death who had become an alcoholic. Although Soghomon was adopted by his paternal uncle Harutyun, his "familiar and social structure had collapsed." A childhood friend described him as "virtually homeless." He was completely deprived of paternal care and was "placed in circumstances that made him vulnerable to the mental illness he suffered later in life".[15]

Etchmiadzin (1881–95)

The Etchmiadzin Cathedral (1890s)
The Gevorgian Seminary (1910)

His life took a radical turn in the fall of 1881. In September, the twelve-year-old Soghomon was taken to Etchmiadzin by Kevork Vartabed Tertsagyan, the local Armenian bishop, who was asked by the [16]

Between 1881 and 1910, Komitas was mainly based in Etchmiadzin, although he did spent a significant time in Europe.[17] During his first year at the seminary, Komitas learned the Armenian music notation (khaz) system based on ancient neumes developed earlier in the 19th century by Hampartsoum Limondjian and his students. He gradually discovered a great passion for music and started writing down songs sung by Armenian villagers near Etchmiadzin, who affectionately called him "Notaji Vardapet", meaning "the note-taking priest".[18]

In the early 1890s, Komitas made his first attempts to write music for the poems of Khachatur Abovian, Hovhannes Hovhannisyan, Avetik Isahakyan (his younger classmate) and others.[12] In 1891, the Ararat magazine (the Holy See's official newspaper) published his "National Anthem" (Ազգային Օրհներգ, lyrics by seminary student A. Tashjian) for polyphonic choirs. He finished the seminary in 1893 and became a music teacher and was appointed the choirmaster of the Etchmiadzin Cathedral, Armenia's mother church.[12][19]

His earliest major influence was

  • «Ամպել ա» ("Ampel a", "Clouded Over") performed by the "Dilijan" String Quartet
  • «Շողեր ջան» ("Shogher jan") performed by the "Dilijan" String Quartet
  • «Կաքաւիկ» ("Kakavik", "Little Partridge") performed by the "Dilijan" String Quartet

Modern performances

  • Free scores by Komitas Vardapet at the International Music Score Library Project
  • Virtual Museum of Komitas Vardapet
  • Isabel Bayrakdarian:Gomidas Songs on Nonesuch
  • Biography #1
  • Biography #2
  • Biography #3
  • Biography #4
  • Some songs in .rm format
  • New release of 36 Komitas-songs on SACD by the German independent label AUDITE
  • Rita Soulahian Kuyumjian, Archeology of Madness: Komitas, Portrait of an Armenian Icon
  • A short movie about Komitas Vartabed

External links

  • Church, Michael (21 April 2011). "Komitas Vardapet, forgotten folk hero".  
  • Toumani, Meline (17 October 2008). "Songs Lifted in Praise of an Armenian Hero".  
Journal and newspaper articles
  • Poladian, Sirvart (January 1972). "Komitas Vardapet and His Contribution to Ethnomusicology". Ethnomusicology (  
  • Wolverton, Cynthia Kay (December 2002). "The Contributions of Armenian Composers to the Clarinet Repertoire" (PDF).  
Academic articles
  • Atayan, Robert, ed. (2001). Essays and Articles, The musicological treatises of Komitas Vardapet. Vatche Barsoumian (translator). Pasadena, California: Drazark Press.  
  • Karakashian, Meline (2011). Կոմիտաս՝ Հոգեբանական Վերլուծում Մը [Gomidas: A Psychological Study] (in Հայերեն). Antelias, Lebanon:  
  • Komitas, Vardapet (1998). Armenian Sacred and Folk Music. Edward Gulbekian (translator). Surrey, England: Curzon Press. 
  • McCollum, Jonathan; Nercessian, Andy (2004). Armenian Music: A Comprehensive Bibliography and Discography. Lanham, Maryland:  
  • Melikian, Spiridon (1932). Կոմիտասի ստեղծագործությունների անալիզը [Analysis of works of Komitas] (in Հայերեն). Yerevan: Melikian Fund. 
  • Mooradian, M. (1969). "Կոմիտասի վերջին այցելությունը Հայաստան [Komitas's Last Visit to Armenia]".  
  • Soulahian Kuyumjian, Rita (2001). Archeology of Madness: Komitas, Portrait of an Armenian Icon. Princeton, New Jersey:  
  • Terlemezian, Ruben (1924). Կոմիտաս վարդապետ: Կեանքը եւ գործունէութիւնը [Komitas Vardapet: Life and Activities] (in Հայերեն). Vienna: Mkhitarian Press. 
  • Vagramian, Violet (1973). Representative Secular Choral Works of Gomidas: An Analytical Study and Evaluation of His Musical Style. University of Miami. 
  1. ^ Soulahian Kuyumjian 2001, p. 46.
  2. ^ "Etchmiadzin. 1902.". Virtual Museum of Komitas. Retrieved 21 February 2014. 
  3. ^  
  4. ^ a b "Komitas".  
  5. ^ The Monthly Musical Record (London: Augener) 30: 15. 1900. 
  6. ^ Soulahian Kuyumjian 2001, pp. 45-46.
  7. ^ Editorial Board (1969). "Հայ ազգային երաժշտության հիմնադիրը [The Founder of Armenian National Music]".  
  8. ^ Poladian 1972: "He was among the pioneers in ethnomusicology, a younger contemporary of Carl Stumpf (1848-1936)."
  9. ^ McCollum, Jonathan Ray (2004). "Music, Ritual, And Diasporic Identity: A Case Study Of The Armenian Apostolic Church" (PDF).  
  10. ^  
  11. ^ Soulahian Kuyumjian 2001, p. 51.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h Atayan 1979, p. 539.
  13. ^  
  14. ^ Soulahian Kuyumjian 2001, p. 10-12.
  15. ^ Soulahian Kuyumjian 2001, pp. 15-16.
  16. ^ Soulahian Kuyumjian 2001, pp. 21-24.
  17. ^ Mooradian 1969, p. 61.
  18. ^ Soulahian Kuyumjian 2001, p. 28.
  19. ^ a b c d  
  20. ^ Soulahian Kuyumjian 2001, pp. 29-30.
  21. ^ Soulahian Kuyumjian 2001, p. 32.
  22. ^ Soulahian Kuyumjian 2001, p. 33.
  23. ^ Soulahian Kuyumjian 2001, pp. 33-34.
  24. ^ Soulahian Kuyumjian 2001, pp. 39-40.
  25. ^ Soulahian Kuyumjian 2001, p. 41.
  26. ^ Soulahian Kuyumjian 2001, pp. 43-44.
  27. ^ Soulahian Kuyumjian 2001, pp. 44, 46.
  28. ^ Soulahian Kuyumjian 2001, p. 47-49.
  29. ^
  30. ^ Balakian, Grigoris. Armenian Golgotha. Trans. Peter Balakian and Aris Sevag. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009, p. 66. ISBN 0-307-26288-X.
  31. ^ Komitas's memorial tombstone at Komitas Pantheon
  32. ^ "Bayrakdarian's 'Gomidas Songs' Nominated for Grammy," Loussapatz Weekly (Canada), #772, 2009, p. 41.
  33. ^ "Songs of the homeland". 
  34. ^ "Komitas Museum-Institute will open its doors to visitors in September | ARMENPRESS Armenian News Agency". 
  35. ^ "The Voice of Komitas Vardapet - Komitas | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards | AllMusic". 
  36. ^ Booklet includes sung texts in Armenian transliteration and English translation
  37. ^ Booklet includes a historical discussion of the music in Armenian, Turkish and English
  38. ^ FILMS by Don Askarian[4]
  39. ^ Harvard Film Archive. Hieroglyphs of Armenia: Films by Don Askarian [5]
  40. ^ [6]
  1. ^ Սողոմոն Սողոմոնեան in classical orthography and Սողոմոն Սողոմոնյան in reformed orthography. Sometimes anglicized as Solomon Solomonian.[3][4]
  2. ^ He is widely known as [6]


  • Komitas 1988, Regie: Don Askarian, Darsteller: Samvel Ovasapian [38], ,[39] [40]


  • Kuyumjian, Rita Soulahian (2010). Archaeology of Madness: Komitas, Portrait of an Armenian Icon. Gomidas Institute. 
  • Nikoghos Tahmizian, Komitas and the Musical Legacy of the Armenian Nation (in Armenian), 1994, Drazark Press, Pasadena, Ca.

Works on Komitas

  • The music of Komitas double Lp made to celebrate the centenary of the birth. KCC, 1970
  • The Voice of Komitas Vartapet, Komitas Vardapet. Traditional Crossroads, 1995, recorded in 1908/1912[35]
  • Gomidas - Songs, Isabel Bayrakdarian, Serouj Kradjian (arrangements and piano), chamber players of the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Eduard Topchjan. Nonesuch, 2005[36]
  • Komitas - Complete Works for Piano, Şahan Arzruni. Kalan, 2012[37]
  • Hommage à Komitas Super Audio CD containing 9 songs on German poetry (world premiere, first recording) and 26 songs in Armenian, Hasmik Papian (soprano) and Vardan Mamikonian (piano). Audite (Germany) in cooperation with Bayerischer Rundfunk, 2006. Recorded at Bavaria Studio, Munich, in July 2005.

Works, editions and recordings

The following landmarks were named after him:

In September 2008, the CD Gomidas Songs, sung by Isabel Bayrakdarian and accompanied by the Chamber Players of the Armenian Philharmonic and pianist Serouj Kradjian, was released on the Nonesuch label. This CD is nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Vocal Recording category.[32] A major North American tour by Ms. Bayrakdarian in October 2008 featured the music of Komitas, with concerts in Toronto, San Francisco, Orange County, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Boston and New York's Carnegie Hall. She was accompanied by the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra conducted by Anne Manson, and pianist Serouj Kradjian. The Remembrance Tour[33] was dedicated to victims of all genocides and sponsored by the International Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (a division of the Zoryan Institute).

On July 6, 2008, on the occasion of Quebec City's 400th anniversary celebration, a bronze bust of Komitas was unveiled near the Quebec National Assembly (provincial legislature, Auteuil street) in recognition of his great input to music in general and to Armenian popular and liturgical music in particular. Previously, a Granite and Bronze statue of Komitas was erected in Detroit in 1981 in honor of the great composer and as a reminder of the tragedy of the Armenian Genocide.

The Yerevan State Musical Conservatory is named after Komitas. There also exists a worldwide renowned string quartet named after Komitas.

Badarak was first printed in 1933 in Paris and first recorded onto a digital media in 1988 in Yerevan. In collecting and publishing so many folk songs, he saved the cultural heritage of Western Armenia that otherwise would have disappeared because of the genocide. His works have been published in the Republic of Armenia in a thoroughly annotated edition by Robert Atayan. Lately, nine songs on German poetry, written during his stay in Berlin, have been excavated from the archives in Yerevan and interpreted by soprano Hasmik Papian.

In the 1950s, his manuscripts were also transferred from Paris to Yerevan.

The statue of Komitas in Vagharshapat
Komitas on a 1969 Soviet Union postage stamp
The statue of Komitas in Yerevan


In the autumn of 1916, he was taken to a hospital in Constantinople, Hôpital de la paix, and then moved to Paris in 1919, where he died in a psychiatric clinic in Villejuif in 1935. Next year, his ashes were transferred to Yerevan and buried in the Pantheon that was named after him.[31]

On April 24, 1915, the Talat Pasha, Komitas was dispatched back to the capital alongside eight other Armenians who had been deported.[29] Details of his deportation can be found in Grigoris Balakian's Armenian Golgotha, during which Komitas suffered tremendously and was afflicted with traumatic neurosis. In one passage Balakian recounts how:

Deportation and final years (1915–35)

"Seeking to bring appreciation of Armenian music to a wider audience",[19] Komitas moved to Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), the Ottoman imperial capital in 1910.[12] "There he trained a group of students in Armenian melody and formed a choir that toured Armenian communities and gave performances of the folk compositions that Komitas had arranged for four-part choir."[19] He founded the Gusan choir (Hay gusan since 1912), made up of tens of musicians.[12] With the aim to produce professional musicians, he taught musicology to Barsegh Kanachyan, Mihran Tumacan, Vagharshak Srvandztian and others.[12]

Komitas's "Gusan" choir in 1910

Constantinople (1910–15)

Upon his return to Etchmiadzin in September 1899, Komitas resumed teaching and composing. He assembled and trained a large polyphonic choir based on his acquired knowledge. Until 1906, he directed the Gevorgian Seminary choir.[27] It was in this period when he completed "most of the theoretical and research papers that earned him his place among the pioneers of ethnomusicology." Komitas spent summers in Armenian countryside, developing a unique relationship with villagers. He thus took the scholarly task of transcribing and preserving rural Armenian songs. In the fall of 1903 after three years of collection and transcription, Komitas published a collection of 50 folks songs titled "One Thousand and One Songs" (Հազար ու մի խաղ). Lyricist Manuk Abeghian helped him to compile the folk pieces. The same collection was reprinted in 1904, while in 1905 a further of 50 songs were published.[28]

Main period of work (1899–1910)

Komitas arrived in Berlin in early June 1896 without having been accepted by any university. A group of Armenian friends helped him to find an apartment. He initially took private lessons with Richard Schmidt for a few months. Afterwards, he was accepted into the prestigious Frederick William University.[24] With little left of Mantashev's money after paying for rent and supplies, Komitas cut on food, having one or no meal each day.[25] However, this did not distract him from education and he effectively absorbed the erudition of highly accomplished German teachers. Among them were 18th-19th century folk music specialist Henrich Bellermann, Max Friedlander, Osgar Fleischer. Fleischer in May 1899 established the Berlin chapter of the International Musical Society (German: Internationalen Musikgesellschaft), an active member of which became Komitas. He there lectured on Armenian folk music and suggested that it dates back to pre-Christian, pagan times. His studies at the university ended in July 1899.[26]

In October 1895, Komitas left Etchmiadzin for Tiflis to study harmony under composer Makar Yekmalyan, whose polyphonic rendering of Armenian liturgy is the most widely used and who became one of Komitas's most influential teachers.[12] At the time, Tiflis was the most suitable option for Komitas as it was both relatively close to the Armenian lands and had a rectory, where he could stay. The six months Komitas spent with Yekmalyan deepened his understanding of European harmony principles and laid the groundwork for his further education in European conservatories. As Komitas prepared for entrance exams, the wealthy Armenian oil explorer Alexander Mantashev agreed to pay 1,800 rubles for his three-year tuition at the request of Catholicos Mkrtich Khrimian.[23]

Tiflis and Berlin (1895–1899)

In 1894, Soghomon was ordained hieromonk (կուսակրոն աբեղա) and given the name of the 7th-century poet and musician, Catholicos Komitas.[12] In February 1895,[21] he was ordained vardapet (celibate priest) and became thereafter known as Komitas Vardapet.[19] In the same year, his first collection of transcribed folk music, "The Songs of Agn" (Շար Ակնա ժողովրդական երգերի), which included 25 pieces of love songs, wedding tunes, lullabies and dances was completed. It was disapproved by a reactionary and ultraconservative faction of the Etchmiadzin clergy, who harassed and sarcastically referred to Komitas as "the love-singing priest". Rumors of alleged sexual misconduct were spread, leading Komitas into experiencing an identity crisis.[22]


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