Skip to page content

About this Piece

Komitas, renowned Armenian monk, ethnomusicologist, and musician, is a centrally important representative of Armenian musical art and one of its most distinguished figures. He was born Soghomon Soghomonian in 1869 at Gudina in Asia Minor. Orphaned at 11, he was sent to live in the monastery at Etchmiadzin, the Holy See of the Armenian Apostolic Church. His talent as a singer brought him to the attention of Catholicos Kevork IV, who encouraged his efforts. In 1893, Soghomon entered the priesthood of the Armenian Church. At his ordination, in accordance with Armenian Church tradition, he was "reborn" and given a new name, Komitas (or Gomidas). Two years later, he was elevated to the rank of Vartabed (a "learned man" of the Church).

Komitas Vartabed's major contributions to Armenian musical tradition are his collection of folk music and his Badarak (Divine Liturgy) of the Armenian Church. In an exhaustive effort to restore the tradition melodies of the liturgy, he traveled widely to rural Armenian villages in search of the most elder priests; he reasoned that their chanting would be closest to the original melodies of the Badarak. His efforts to restore the "true" sounds of the Armenian liturgical music tradition reach us today in the form of his Badarak, most notably the version written for three-part men's chorus, his personal preference, of which Bazmutyunq is a prime example.

On April 24, 1915, the day marking the beginning of the Armenian Genocide, Komitas Vartabed was imprisoned in Constantinople along with nearly 200 other intellectuals. Miraculously, he survived and was released after a period of imprisonment. His collected works and research of Armenian folk music were partially destroyed and left in disarray. This tragedy, coupled with the suffering he witnessed among his people, was more than he could bear. The Ottoman Empire's devastation of an estimated three-fourths of the Armenian population precipitated a nervous breakdown. In the summer of 1916 he was placed in a mental hospital and in 1919 he was taken to another hospital in Paris where he spent his last years. There, Komitas Vartabed died on October 22, 1935.

- Joseph Jennings