Gomidas Vartabed Page 1

Gomidas (Komitas) Vartabed

Page 1

Soghomon Gevorg Soghomonyan - Gomidas Vardapet ("Սողոմոն Գևորքի Սողոմոնյան" - "Կոմիտաս Վարդապետ" in Armenian), by Western Armenian transliteration also Gomidas Vartabed, born on September 26 or October 8, 1869 in Kütahya, Turkey, died on October 22, 1935 in Paris, France, was an Armenian priest, composer of choir music, and musicologist.

Soghomon Gevorg Soghomonyan was born into a music family. Soghomon's father - Gevorg Soghomonyan was a shoemaker but he also composed songs and had a beautiful voice. His mother - Tagui - was also singled out for her vivid musical abilities; she was a carpet weaver. At the age of 1 his mother died, ten years later also his father died. His grandmother looked after him. In 1881 the priest of Koutina, G. Dertsakyan, had to leave for Echmiadzin to be ordained a bishop. At the request of the Catholicos he brought the gifted orphan boy with him to study at the Echmiadzin Church Seminary. Twelve-year old Soghomon was selected out of the other 20 orphans to study at the Seminary. As it was forbidden to speak Armenian at that time the boy spoke Turkish and when being greeted by the Catholicos Gevorg IV, he replied, "I don't speak Armenian, but if you wish I will sing". Then with his fine soprano voice he sang an Armenian sharakan (a church hymn) not understanding the words. In 1890 Soghomon was ordained a monk. In 1893 he finished studying at the seminary, then he was ordained a "Vardabed" (priest) and acquired his new name "Gomidas" - the name of the outstanding poet of VII century, the author of sharakans.

He established and conducted the monastery choir till 1896 when he went to Berlin, enrolled the Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm University and studied music under Richard Schmidt. In 1899 he acquired a title doctor of musicology and returned to Ejmiatsin where he took over conducting of a polyphonic male choir. He was extensively traveling around the country, listening and recording details about Armenian folk songs and dances performed in various villages. This way he collected and published approx. 3000 songs, many of them adapted to choir singing.

His major work is Gomidas (Divine Liturgy), today still part of a church liturgy, which he started composing in 1892 and never completely finished due to the upcoming World War I. For Gomidas's fundaments he took chants sung by the eldest priests and upgraded it with typical ("cleaned" from foreign influences) Armenian music elements from his collected material. Today the best known version of Gomidas is his favourite for a three voiced male choir.

He was the first non-European to be admitted into the International Music Society. He had many lectures and performances throughout Europe, Turkey and Egypt, thus presenting till then very little known Armenian music. The well-known musicians: Vincent D'Andy, Gabriel Fore, Camille Sen-Sans… fell in love with Gomidas' creative work. After one of the concertos the outstanding French composer Claude Debussi exclaimed excitedly: "Brilliant father Gomidas! I bow before your musical genius!" He paid high tribute to the merits of Gomidas and his significance for the world music, saying, "If Gomidas wrote only "Antouny", that alone would be enough to consider him a great artist". In Debussi's opinion Gomidas was a revelation, the most remarkable phenomenon in the world of music.

From 1910 he lived and worked in Constantinople. There he established a 300 member choir Gusan.

On April 24, 1915, the day when Armenian Genocide officially began, Gomidas was arrested together with the number of outstanding Armenian writers, publicists, physicians, and lawyers. After the arrest, accompanied by violence, he was deported far in Anatolia where he became a witness of the brutal extermination of the nation's bright minds. His friends: poets and writers - Daniel Varuzhan, Siamanto, Rouben Sevak, Grigor Zograb, perished as martyrs. The enemies showed no mercy in killing unprotected women, children and old people. Due to the intervention of influential figures, his good friend Turkish poet Emin Yurdakul and the U.S. ambassador Henry Morgenthau, Gomidas was released and returned to Constantinople.

The nightmare he had experienced left a deep ineradicable impression on his soul. Gomidas remained in seclusion from the outer world, absorbed in his gloomy and heavy thoughts - sad and broken. Mental shock continuously tormented Gomidas. He was appalled by the total extermination of his people and the absolute indifference of the world. The last note left by Gomidas, when the last sparks of consciousness had not yet faded, was full of despair and deep depression: "The flock is without a shepherd, lost and mingled, invisible and turbulent waves are lapping in the depth of the sea of our suffering and tragic life. Thoughtless hunters stand, the nets full of naive fish. The atmosphere breathes poison, there is no healing power; devastation, awe and interminable violence on one hand, and indifference, alienation and dirty hearts on the other… Where is our thinker Khorenatsi? Let him rise from the blood-soaked ground and mourn for the hearts, souls, thoughts, and lives of our descendants… My heart is broken…"

The genius of Armenian music found his final shelter in Paris, in the suburban sanatorium Vil-Jouif where he spent almost 20 years of his life. In 1921, the artist Panos Terlemezyan visited him. Conversing about life and death, the composer said that death did not exist. Then, pointing at his room, he exclaimed: "But if it's not a grave, then what is it?" On that day he refused to sing for the first time of his life, saying: "No, now I sing only to myself, and I sing very quietly."

On the 22nd of October 1935 the life of the Great Gomidas came to an end. In the spring of 1936 his remains were transported to Armenia and buried in Yerevan - in the pantheon of prominent art figures.

No less tragic was the destiny of Gomidas's creative legacy. The majority of his manuscripts were destroyed or lost all over the world.

Gomidas was first printed in 1933 in Paris and first recorded onto a digital media in 1988 in Yerevan.

Today the music academy in Yerevan is named after Gomidas.

Armenian Holy Mass by Gomidas Vartabed

The music - Our Armenian Heritage

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