The Voice of Komitas Vartapet

Posted on March 9th, 2008 by piling


Komitas Vartapet, aka Soghomon Soghomonyan, borned on September 26th 1869 in the Ottoman city of Kütahya. His father was a shoe-maker, but composed songs and had a good voice ; his mother was a carpet-maker, with talentuous voice also. She died when Soghomon was 1 year, and his father when he was 11. Since his first childhood, the orphan was famous for his exceptionnal voice and ability in music. In 1881, the priest of Kütahya went to Echmiadzin and brought Sologhmon with him, for he studied in the seminary church. In 1890 Soghomon was a monk and a priest in 1893. Then he took the name of Komitas (a famous Armenian poet of the 7th century, the author of sharakans. In seminary, Komitas had learnt music and Armenian language. He was early interested on Folk Armenian music and instruments. He made research about ancient Armenian liturgy. In 1895, he went to study music in Tiflis (Georgia). There, he met the Armenian composer Makar Yekmalyan, who influenced him to study harmony (for Western classical composition). So he want to Berlin, where he studied music and praticed singing with Richard Schmidt. Beside, he studied also philosophy, history, aesthetic, history of music. His formation was then as well Western than Eastern. He worked on Armenian, Kurdish, Arab,Turkish melodies. Coming back in Echmidzin, he began to travel in Middle-East and collected many folk musics and among them some Kurdish traditionnal songs, that he transcripted and wrote in Western notation.


In 1910 Komitas set in Constantinople, where he created a choir of 300 singers, interpreting traditionnal Armenian songs. He was himself a wonderful barytn, with a large tessitura, allowing him to sing some tenor parts. IHe played also flute and piano, and his work of composer was praised by famous French musicians like d’Indy, Fauré, Saint-Saens, Debussy… In Paris, he gave conferences of musicology and about Armenian sacred music and notation.

When the genocide against Armenians started, Komitas was arrested in Constantinople with many other intellectuels, writers, lawyers, etc. and deported in Anatolia, where he was tortured and watched the extermination of his own people. He is saved by many international or local friends, like the Turkish poet Emin Yurdakul, the writer Halide Elip, the American ambassador Henry Morgenthau. At the end Talaat Pacha accepted to release him. But when he came back, Komitas found his house devastated, his works and manuscripts destroyed or lost. Deeply affected, his mental health declined hopelessly and he fall in a serious nervous breakdown. He should be led in the psychiatric Shishli hospital since 1916. His friends successed later to bring with them in Paris in 1922. He spent the last 20 years of his life in Villejuif hospital, where he died on October 22th 1935.

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