Armenian News Network / Groong


Komitas Vardapet (1869-1935)
His Eternal Legacy Resounds From The Homeland

Armenian News Network / Groong
November 4, 2015

Travel Wire
By Ruth Bedevian

Geghard Vocal Ensemble
Geghard Vocal Ensemble
"Komitas never composed an opera, symphony, oratorio, or concerto, yet he accomplished something much greater. He laid the foundations of a national music culture, purifying Armenian music of all foreign influences. Komitas has thus been rightfully recognized as the "father of Armenian classical music." After the Genocide, nothing was left to compile or compare, let alone preserve for future generations; Komitas had come forward in the 11th hour to redeem a vital characteristic of a 4,000-year-old civilization that was eventually uprooted from its cradle." -- (Carnegie Hall Playbill - October 2008 - "Reverend Gomidas" by Serouj Kradjian)
As our group approached the entrance to the recently established (January 29, 2015) Komitas Museum-Institute in Yerevan, Armenia, I immediately recalled Serouj Kradjian's poignant observation. The museum, located in Komitas Park across from the Pantheon where Komitas' remains were the first to be buried in 1936, truly celebrates this 19-20th century composer, singer, ethnomusicologist, choir conductor, and clergyman's life, talent and priceless gift to the Armenian people and ultimately to the world. When we count from the time of his arrival at Gevorkyan Seminary in Etchmiadzin in 1881 until his arrest, victimization and subsequent trauma in 1915 by Turkish authorities at the onset of the Armenian Genocide, we stand in awe at his abundant 34-year period of prolific work which transcends the Armenian homeland and resonates throughout the entire world of music - a universal language that touches all hearts and souls.

Death Mask
Death Mask
Designer/Artist Alberto Torsello and Project Coordinator Vardan Karapetyan have created an impressive permanent collection professionally and thematically organized that is displayed throughout eight rooms on two stories. It contains a concert hall and enough room to hold temporary exhibitions. The permanent memorabilia, spaciously designed to encompass the life and work of Komitas, his inner emotional life and music theory, also interweaves a rich Armenian folklore heritage. Captions and wall descriptions are in both Armenian and English languages. Technology has enhanced carefully preserved photos from the archives of the Charents Museum of Literature and Arts and displays them in slideshows on large flat screens. There are photos of the teachers at Gevorkyan, choir groups of students that Komitas taught and a moving display of photographs from his travels throughout the rural areas where he collected and documented ancient folk songs. After first performing concerts in the Caucasus, he later took his choirs to Paris, Berlin, Berne, Geneva, Venice, and other European centers, where he gave lectures and performances. Komidas became the first non-European member of the International Music Society of his time. An illustrated map showing his extensive travel is digitally displayed.

Komitas graduated with a doctorate degree in musicology from the Friedrich-Wilhelm University in Berlin (present-day Humboldt University of Berlin - Berlin's oldest university, founded in 1810). His diploma is on display as is a handwritten one from Richard Schmidt, with whom he studied at the conservatory. It was Schmidt who encouraged him to both cultivate his interest in folk music and continue his studies of Western music.

As we viewed concert programs, personal belongings and correspondence, and art rendered to share the culture from which Komitas was bred, I

Komitas Museum-Institute
Komitas Museum-Institute
felt him beside me, imparting his dreams, feelings. Strains of familiar Komitas' melodies softly enhanced the ambience. The museum generates a genuine personal touch. Two years ago I had the privilege to view a very small collection of memorabilia at the Charents Museum of Literature and Arts. It was interesting, but here in this newest museum that graces the city of Yerevan, with the sounds of his music echoing through the halls, Komitas came alive to me!

Our guide, Nairi Khatchadourian, informed us in fluent English that Komitas Museum-Institute participated in the European Museum of the Year (EMF) Award 2016. "The EMF Judging Panel is looking for enterprise and innovation that enhances the public quality of the museum. The judges seek to identify new developments which are likely to have a significant influence in the national and international museum field." (http://www.europeanmuseumforum.info/emya.html) It is impressive to know that it has been visited as recently as August 2015 by one of the jury members, Dr. Jan Gerchow, a historian from Germany and is a possible consideration.

Komitas Travel Map
Komitas Travel Map
Nairi continued to inform us: "Concerts and educational programs (that I am in charge) are regularly scheduled. The concert department has chosen Tuesdays to schedule concerts. So every Tuesday we have classical, sacred, or folk music concerts with local and international artists. The concerts start at 7 pm. As for the educational programs, we schedule them on Fridays or Saturdays at 5 pm. In October we had an educational program on the Holy Translators Feast where we discussed the feast and taught hymns from Mesrop Mashtots and Sahak Partev. We have monthly lectures and Saturday singing workshops. Other workshops include lullaby singing for couples and parents, music improvisation, and so on."

Komitas Handwritten Autobiography
Komitas Handwritten Autobiography
It was a heart-warming sight to hear the chatter of school children as groups as young as 8 years old were filing through the rooms. In these rooms present and future generations will grow up with physical images and opportunity to acquaint themselves with their national heroes. No dust will cover the past for them!

Upon entering the first room, we viewed a timeline which put into perspective Komitas' life and activity. We moved on to many displays, including Komitas' handwritten autobiography dated 1908 and viewed his personal flutes and the grand piano that the philanthropist, Alexander Mantashian, gifted him. (He also underwrote his tuition for his studies in Berlin.)

An unforgettable display of artwork by Grigor Khandjyan, illustrating scenes from verses in Paruyr Sevak's emotive ode to Komitas, "The Unsilenceable Belfry" (Anlreli Zangakatoun), intrigued me. A search for an English translation was in vain, however. According to scholar, educator and translator, Dr. Vartan Matiossian, "The poem follows Gomidas life from his birth to his death, and intertwines it with the historical destiny of the Armenian people." A copy of Komitas' death mask (the original is in Venice) and a belfry suspended numerous feet above was the last exhibit to view and tied into the theme of Paruyr Sevak's poem.

Anlreli Zangagatoun
Anlreli Zangagatoun
In 2013, the President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan made the decision to establish the Komitas Museum-Institute, the Board of Trustees of the "Hayastan" All Armenian Fund transmitted the building to the state and by 2015 with funding from the Pyunik and Luys Foundations, the dream was realized.

Today a state-of-the-art museum and institute emerges as a gem among the museums of Armenia to make known to all the world the contributions of the father of Armenian music! Our visit was fortuitous as we caught an outstanding performance by the Geghard Vocal Ensemble in the concert hall which was a fitting climax to the afternoon's experience, sending us off with echoes in our hearts. The essence of the dearly beloved Vardapet is now unveiled for visitors from every walk of life to see, touch and feel.


The melody from the Hymn of National Blessing - Amen Hayee - which Komitas composed as a first-year student at Gevorkyan Seminary (1891) and whose classmate, Arshak Tashjian, created the lyrics, continues to fill the Armenian faithful. "Hear the voice that pours forth from every Armenian's heart, O God. Give long life to our Patriarch, long days to the Father of the Armenians. Lord, always keep unshaken the Mother See which you yourself have established."

--
Ruth Bedevian continues her visits in Armenia. Many of her articles are at:
	http://www.groong.org/orig/armeniahousemuseums.html
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