Armenian News Network / Groong

The Critical Corner - 10/31/2014


Why we should read...

    `Komitas' by S Gasparyan (240pp, 1961)
    `Komitas' by Cecelia Broutian (224pp, 1969)
    `Komitas As He Was' by Khachig Patigian (432pp, 2002)


One Nation, One Music! The uniqueness of Komitas

Komitas (1869-1935) was a unique musical genius, a scholar with
unrivalled mastery of the history and art of Armenian music, a
composer, conductor, pianist, singer and poet, and with formidable
mathematical skills, an acute, almost invincible backgammon playing
priest to boot! It was a beautiful voice in fact that in youth had
opened for him the doors of then venerated educational establishments.
Among Armenians Komitas has enjoyed unparalleled, even iconic status.
No other name in Armenian life has received the same unqualified
acclaim. No other commands the same awe or authority. None is so
universally cherished, even idolised; aside perhaps from Antranig, the
foremost guerrilla commander of the Armenian national liberation
movement. As if in recognition, the National Pantheon in Yerevan,
burial site for the braves of modern Armenian culture, is named after
Komitas. These three volumes throw valuable light on a phenomenal
musician (see Note 1).


I. The musical ambition

Describing him as the 'musical historian of the Armenian village',
Mekhitarist priest Father Gyureghian compared Komitas to Moses of
Khoren, the 5th century founder of Armenian historiography. Of humble
origins, from a Turkish speaking Armenian community in western Turkey,
Komitas became 'the Narek and the Abovian' of Armenian music according
to novelist Terenik Temirjian. Famously hostile to Narek, diaspora-based
writer Shahan Shahanour judged Komitas as one of only four significant
figures in the whole of Armenian history! In 1935, spectacular
patriotic communist poet Yeghishe Charents, then hounded and isolated
by Stalin's growing authoritarianism wept bitterly when the body of
this musical priest was brought for burial in Yerevan.  Thirty years
later Barouyr Sevak, dominant poet and public figure of his time, wrote
the remarkable 'The Ever Ringing Belfry' in Komitas's honour.

Possessed of vast inner resources, energy and enthusiasm, immense
organisational skill, hugely gregarious and with a charm and charisma
that captivated all, Komitas was driven by a single ambition: to create
the foundations for a modern national musical tradition through the
recovery and development of what he insisted was a unique, authentic
Armenian music, traceable to the pagan era and surviving in
contemporary folk and Church music, but layered over by non-Armenian,
Arabic, Byzantine, Assyrian, Turkish, Kurdish and other influences.
Komitas rejected:
    Ignorant and narrow minded views that claimed Armenian music was
    born of Assyrian Byzantine or Indian-Persian influences and lacked
    independent identity (CB See note 2).

Tireless, disciplined, demanding, and famously meticulous, described by
a German admirer as 'that fanatical easterner ready to spill blood for
a single musical note' (SG153), Komitas devoted his all to removing
that which had made the authentic Armenian unrecognisable and in
addition, to demonstrating the common, shared origins of Armenian
secular and religious music. Thus he hoped to develop a music befitting
a single, united modern nation.

For the modern Armenian revival Komitas's work had a telling aspect.
Music is central to the life of all peoples and for Armenians it could
contribute hugely to overcoming the divisions and the provincialism
that fragmented the people. In the musical celebration of labour, of
love, of life and death there was a manifest, objective unity among a
people living in a jigsaw of political, social and cultural division!
The songs they sung and the music they made in their Churches, in their
villages and fields, at weddings, funerals and festivals, whether in
Ottoman or Tsarist occupied Armenia or in Armenian villages and towns
across these far-flung empires, all had the same essential qualities
and identity. They sang and danced, wept and prayed to music hailing
from the same ancient descent that had despite centuries of subsequent
political collapse, remained a continuous reality albeit hidden.

In the defining of nationality this music, modernised appropriately,
could conceivably perform a role more unifying even than language.
Contemporary Vartan Sarksyan writes with some justice that as a result
of Komitas's endeavours 'our native music became a powerful bond of
national unity, as powerful as our rich and glorious mother tongue
(CB171).' One can indeed venture that the modernised 19th and 20th
century Armenian language, despite its equally ancient pedigree, still
divided the nation with a classical variant still used in Church, and
two vernaculars, eastern and western, emerging as separate literary
forms across western and eastern Armenia. An authentic national music
on the other hand united!

Dedicated 'to work, to sweat and to struggle only for my people and for
humanity' Komitas fitted easily into the progressive mainstream of the
times, of Toumanian, Aghayan, Shirvanzade, Varoujean and others. Before
returning from Berlin where he had studied from 1896 to 1901, he turned
down a lucrative offer to become a soloist with the Berlin Opera,
writing that 'my musical abilities I shall put to the service of a
single aim'. Thereafter his work was to manifest a living unity of the
two forces that together propelled forward the 19th century nation-
building movement, that of the common people and the intelligentsia.
Like many of the intelligentsia he too hailed from the people but
unlike the majority he remained engaged directly with them, an
engagement that other Armenian intellectuals aspired to but were
denied. Like Abovian, much beloved by Komitas, he too summoned, in
music, an authentically Armenian world that featured rarely in the work
of Armenian writers in the Diaspora of Istanbul and Tbilisi.


II. The biography of a musical enterprise

In his labours Komitas allotted the central and dominant position to
folk music. His own art, his music and his compositions were palpably
born of popular creativity and imagination. 'Go and learn from the
common people' he would say for 'they are our greatest artists.'
Cecilia Broutian writes that:

    Komitas was the first to understand that a future Armenian national
    music could arise only on the foundations of popular folk music.'
    (p111)

It was their music that 'preserved centuries of tradition' (SG54) and
held the gems and clues that would unfold a true national musical
history. Komitas insisted:

    'We must collect our folk songs and dance tunes with the greatest
    sensibility and devotion...for they convey a completely different
    passion, a different feeling and contain a different thought to the
    music of other eastern peoples.'

To recover this 'difference', wherever he was in eastern or western
Armenia, in villages around Yerevan, Gyumri, Karahisar or Abaran, or
in the Diaspora, Komitas would steep himself in local song and dance,
writing down each and every lyric he heard and notating every possible
variant to every song. These he then meticulously deciphered, examined,
compared. He delved into them in search of their genuine Armenian
musical core. As a result of the Genocide, of the 5000 songs he
gathered only some 1000 survive.

Besides the music of the common people, ardent and scholarly attention
was paid to Church music, for the music of both shared a common
history.

    'The more I delve into...the sea of our music the firmer becomes my
    conviction that the grand and noble tunes of both our folk music
    and our Church music, that from the earliest times were brother and
    sister...have their roots in the deepest antiquity, reaching to the
    very origins of the Armenian people.'

Here Komitas's work was to defy the entire weight of a 1500 year Church
hostility to the Armenian common peoples' culture, its song, its music
and its drama. He was a sort of fifth columnist, a revolutionary priest
challenging Church elites from within! Komitas did not however conflate
folk and Church music. He did not ignore evidently diverging paths of
historical development, a divergence marked, he thought, by particularly
incongruous Turkish influences on Church music. However even in their
separate flow there was evident continual osmosis, a borrowing and a
lending as between `brother and sister', a borrowing and a lending made
possible, it should be noted, by the fact that Church compounds and
environs were the acknowledged gathering places for popular festivals
and celebrations, the town squares as it were.

Conservative churchmen, Europeanised Diaspora urbanites and Berlin
University professors were initially dismissive. They would not
countenance the notion of a unique Armenian music. They would deride
the music of the village as uneducated and blasphemous vulgarity
utterly unfit to form foundations for a national music. A supremely
erudite polemicist, Komitas put them to flight arguing among other
things that a national music was a function of the very structure and
phonetics of national language.

    'Music like language has its particular grammatical rules and its
    different forms of conjugation that are always different for
    different nations... Armenian music has exactly those
    characteristics that are specific to the Armenian language. The
    Armenian language has its particular phonetics, therefore a
    corresponding music.'

Besides the structure of language Armenian music was fashioned, he
argued, by Armenia's particular geography, by its contained, tight,
circumscribed mountainous topography of deepest gorges, peaks and sheer
drops. Unlike the vast Russian steppes these served to block the flow
and exposure of sound. Dubious though this sounds to an amateur, from
Komitas it demands consideration.

>From the vast store of song that Komitas accumulated and studied, he
edited out what he considered encrustation, distilled, refined and
arranged a body of work in fitting modern national form. Then across
two decades he organised a string of triumphant concerts from Istanbul
to Tbilisi, from Etchmiadzin, Yerevan and Baku, from Paris, Geneva and
Berlin in addition to others in smaller towns and villages. His
achievement was stunning. He built choirs with virtually no resources,
with school children and sometimes with no professional soloist. He
trained them, in almost no time, and with a passion and a love for the
song and the lives these reflected. An inkling of his style is
indicated by Varsham Parsatanian:

    'Whatever song he sought to teach he approached it from the most
    diverse angles. For example teaching 'Horovel' he would begin to
    analyse the song, describe the rural herdsman's condition, who
    persecuted by lords, village chiefs and priest would tell of his
    pain to the cattle and plead for their help in the sowing and the
    reaping so that he could repay his debts.'

Komitas's choirs then performed with a professionalism that commanded
stupendous domestic and international acclaim. Among admirers was
Claude Debussy who after a Paris performance climbed onto the stage to
'bow my head before your musical genius.' To the audience he added 'If
Komitas had written only 'The Love Song' it would be sufficient to
place him among the world's best musicians.' Modest man that he was,
Komitas would decline credits. He had already on another occasion of
congratulation announced:

    'Dear friends I happily receive thanks, but these belong not to me
    but to the Armenian people, to the creators of those gems. I have
    only cleansed and arranged them.'

And at such concerts this musical priest dared the unthinkable. More
than just affirm a common source to village and religious music, more
than just edit out what he thought distorting musical features, Komitas
shook up the Church introducing quartets and harmonies into religious
songs, had these sung moreover by mixed-sex choirs and performed
together with folk songs for the entertainment of secular audiences!

A sacrilege and an affront cried out the hidebound. Church music put on
a par with secular and offered to the people as their inalienable
property, as part of a single national music, was condemned a
scandal. Associating divine music with the dirty mob was an insult, a
soiling, a stripping of saintly aura and authority. Scandal for the
clergy yes! But a delight for his audience, one of whom wrote a post
card to Komitas saying:

    'If in Church they sang like that, one would have to queue for
    hours to get in!'

Komitas had helped to demystify religious music that through the
centuries had acquired an elevated divine authority. Democratising it
stripped the Church hierarchy of that mystical power music accords it.
The sound, the chant and the hymn emanating from Church would cease to
anoint and sanctify the privilege and the power of a feudal clergy. A
majestic sound that had for centuries urged the people to genuflect
before the Church clergy would now instead instill in them the
confidence to stand independent and proud.

Church backlash against this 'priest who sang of love and of lovers'
(KP109) was inevitable. Among its worst moments were appeals to Ottoman
police to ban public performances and, in Catholic inquisition style,
the destruction of records of Church music that Komitas had dared get
cut. A man of steely conviction, Komitas refused to give way. For him,
as with the mainstream of the national revival, the Church did not
define the nation or its music, the people did. Besides and in any
event tumultuous applause drowned out all whining and cursing.
Registering this, it is unfortunate that all three volumes sometimes
blur Komitas's genuine image by wrapping it in the mists and aromas of
a sanctification ceremony.

Komitas's project and his legacy have not however been free of
controversy. His artistic originality has been questioned as has the
national quality of his work. Commentary from the contemporary press
suggests that his renditions were too divorced from those of the rural
peasant to actually remain within the realm of national folk music. In
the 1930s, Soviet criticism often attempted to reduce him to the level
of a talented ethnographer, a national-ethnic musical proof reader as
it were, of the songs that he had accumulated.

Judgements of a creative unity however prevailed. Manoug Abeghian,
historian of classical Armenian literature and student of folklore, who
worked closely with Komitas to gather popular song and poetry, writes
that:

    I went into... details so that it be clear that even as he refined
    popular music Komitas strove nevertheless not to diverge from the
    native popular.

The evaluation recurs among those familiar both with his music and that
of the common people's. Mesrop Maranchian for example believes that:

    `Komitas leaves the song essentially the same, but puts upon it his
    personal stamp, fires it with his style, with his spirit that was
    deeply Armenian.'

It is `difficult to separate or distinguish Komitas's creation from
that of the people and vice-versa' Gasparayan correctly concludes
adding that the `essence of his legacy' rests in an original `creative
refinement and arrangement' of equally `creative popular endeavour'.
One should here emphatically add that the appreciation of this legacy
requires no comparison with or measure against the norm or standard of
European music. One could submit that with an unusual genius Komitas
took on and arranged popular musical forms without qualitative
transformation but in a manner that enables a new national and
universal appreciation.


III. A debate

To properly appreciate the significance and indeed the historical
necessity of Komitas's project and to dispose of any possible crude
conceptions of a 'pure blooded' national music free of foreign
influences (that Komitas totally rejected), it is worth pondering some
questions that present themselves. What is an `authentic' `national'
music? Is music not always heterogeneous in character, especially in
regions such as Armenia that are so nationally diverse, let alone in
today's global reality? Is not music, more so even than language, open
to new chords and notes, more easily absorbed across national or
cultural borders, especially for peoples living cheek by jowl. In fact
is cross fertilisation, osmosis and metamorphosis in such conditions
not the actual, authentic, organic process of musical development?

In Armenia, a popular musical tradition of mixed inspiration was both
inevitable and natural. With adjacent or mixed Armenian, Turkish,
Kurdish, Arabic and Persian villages, mutual influence produced music
that was actually expressive of a multi-national land often bound
together by a thousand and one other social, cultural and community
threads. It was the people themselves in their labours and relations
with neighbours of other cultures that created and sang 'compound'
songs deeming these adequate reflections upon their own real
lives. Would the distilling out of alleged extraneous streams not be
akin to truncating or even crippling a living, creative music generated
by the people themselves? Would this not diminish popular song;
impoverish it by denuding it of riches acquired in the actuality of
daily life defined by co-existence with other peoples?

A music thus refined, `cleansed' and given singular national
definition, beautiful as it could be, would at any rate cease to be
music of the rural common people who then constituted the majority of
the Armenian nation. In its new form it is external to their lives,
their daily experience, it has separated itself off from its rural
muses that remain multi-national in the inspiration they offer. That
creativity such as Komitas's could possibly fertilise the birth of a
new nationally accented tradition is not in question. But could it be
a genuinely, all embracing national music?

Komitas's music catered perhaps primarily for urban Armenian
communities and of course such communities, with all their cultural
needs, are central to and put their stamp upon the shape of any modern
nation. But in the Armenian case this was a tiny Diaspora urban
population centred in Istanbul, Tbilisi and beyond, removed and largely
remote from the process of national development in the Armenian
homelands. Did Komitas not utilise the fruit of popular culture in the
homeland harvesting it but offering it back, legitimately of course, to
a transitory, ephemeral diaspora-based elite educated after the
European fashion?

A master scholar Komitas could not but acknowledge the reality, fact,
and inevitability, of mutual musical influence among different
peoples. He stated explicitly that a national music untouched by
foreign influence was a mirage or idiocy at the least. 'Passionately
asserting the uniqueness of our national music' writes Broutian
`Komitas simultaneously affirmed the inescapable fact of
cross-fertilisation, angrily exclaiming':

    'Which is the music on the face of the earth that is unmixed and
    pristine? To our knowledge, only that of beasts, who sing with the
    same chords and have no means of exchange. (p52)

What then is the nature and essence of his labour of 'cleansing and
purifying' Armenian music?

Komitas's case for a unique, nationally defined Armenian music,
passionately patriotic as it was, was always framed in a universal
democratic context. He made no claim to recovering a 'pure blooded'
national music understanding among other things for example, that:

    'In their development all western nations obtained nourishment from
    the legacy of classical Greek civilisation and that of the Latin.
    But (emphasis added) nevertheless, each individual western nation
    has its own unique music that is neither Greek nor Latin.'

Applying these principles to Armenian civilisation and to the music of
the Armenian people Komitas contested views that Armenian music was a
Byzantine, Arabic or Assyrian derivative. His case was strong enough to
convince stubborn opponents even among some of his Berlin professors.
At a last performance in Berlin as Komitas prepared to depart for home
Professor Max Zeifert offered a significant tribute:

    'From now on no one can have any doubt about the singular identity
    of Armenian music. In what we have heard here today the national
    particularity and passion is explicitly evident. Go work in the
    Armenia you love. Safe journey (KP63)!'.

Neither in Komitas's project was there any claiming of the superiority
of Armenian in the mosaic of sound that was formed of Kurdish, Assyrian,
Greek, Turkish, Armenian and other peoples' music. Incidentally, on
smaller scales, he did for Turkish and Kurdish music what he did for
Armenian. Hratchia Ajarian, awesome linguist and etymologist
testifies:

    'He also gathered Turkish songs. When I, surprised, asked him "how
    can a famous singer like you value the song of such ordinary
    Turkish singers?" he replied "They are born geniuses and we must
    record their labours too."'

Komitas's central intent, pursued within the complicated and distorting
context of a substantially Diaspora centred cultural and intellectual
labour of nation formation, was to reveal and secure recognition of the
distinctive and defining features of an Armenian musical tradition as
an independent component of human civilisation and one that was then
being destroyed by Ottoman barbarism, disrupted in its development by a
die-hard conservative Church hierarchy and of course demeaned by
European Orientalist arrogance.


IV. Music for national survival

Theories and ambitions must always be considered in historical
context. Komitas and his comrades from other spheres of national
cultural could do no other. Their project was born of historical
necessity and had moreover unchallengeable legitimacy, born as it was
in the era of global nation-formation, in the era of the European
demeaning of the culture of small nations and most significantly for
Armenians in the decades of the 19th and 20th centuries defined by the
Ottoman-Turkish engineered destruction and Genocide of the Armenian
people.

Komitas's was a global age of nation-formation that, including music,
was redefining national culture and language, ironing out variation,
cleansing elements deemed foreign and jarring of fluent flow in order
to create a single dominant culture. In music, like language, it was a
process of overcoming the provincial-regional to create a modern
national form that could unite a whole people. For Armenians this
process became a very condition for their survival as an independent
community in their historic homelands.

Now at the furthest edge of the 19th century, their very physical
existence was under severest threat. Even as an urban Armenian
intelligentsia in Istanbul, Tbilisi and Baku poured energy, enthusiasm,
intellect and creativity into the realm of a regenerating culture,
language, literature, history and music, in the homelands, its living
carriers, the communities embodying this culture, were being ruthlessly
maimed, dismembered and uprooted. To survive the annihilating onslaught
Armenians were forced toward independent, separate nation-formation
with all the necessary cultural scaffolding.

Bent on securing its own ascendancy a nationalist Turkish elite,
embedded in the imperial state, refused to countenance equal democratic
coexistence of the peoples upon whom the Ottoman Empire depended. As
far back as the 1830s Turkish-Ottoman nationalism, born toxic, had
already set in train that strategic process of assimilation,
deportation or slaughter of all in Asia Minor who dared resist
Turkification. It was Turkish nationalism, wielding the sword, the
prison and the gallows of an imperial state that announced the end of
any prospect for a diverse, Swiss-style democratic national
co-existence at any level of society.

Albeit part of a wider global process the Armenian national revival was
fundamentally a reaction to the steady strangulation of the Armenian
people who inhabited Ottoman occupied western Armenia. The struggle to
defend distinct yet co-existing Armenian communities in historic
Armenia demanded a national movement as the only option short the
annihilation. Turkish nationalism had announced its world view - only
its own strain of culture and nationality would be tolerated, all
others, including the ancient Armenian were to be scalped. Become
Turkish or vanish was the credo of a Turkish chauvinism that left no
room for options. Ironically, this process was executed by a Turkish
nationalism that was itself cleansing its Turkish language and music of
naturally acquired Armenian, Greek, Persian, Arabic and other
influences.

For Armenians, as for Assyrians, Kurds and the Arabic peoples, the
cultural and social co-existence and cross-fertilisation that had
generated the music of their villages, and not just the music, that had
blended diverse national influences, was coming to a violent end. The
sceptre of genocide was lashing the land. As the 19th moved to the 20th
century the expulsion of Armenians from their towns and villages, the
forced abandonment of their religion, language and culture was
accelerating with intensified violence. Hundreds of thousands were
snapped from their roots and hurled into ghettoes across the globe
whilst their land, homes and their belongings were seized by usurers
and thieves. To survive, Armenians and other nations had to resort not
just to political organisation and armed self-defence but to the
development of a distinct national culture, to the recovery and
reconstruction of a history and music, a language and an art inherited
long before the appearance of the Ottoman and Turkish communities in
historic Armenia.


V. The tragedy and the magnificence

Komitas was arrested by Turkish police in 1915 together with the vast
bulk of the Armenian intelligentsia in the Ottoman Empire. Most were
murdered. Komitas survived to die in 1935. But in the years between he
did not live. Following his return to Istanbul he suffered major trauma
from which he did not recover. Fraught, tense and almost obsessive in
dedication to music and the Armenian people, the mass murder of 1915
and the destruction of his papers, his life work, proved a fatal blow.
For twenty years thereafter Komitas endured as a recluse, uttering
hardly a word, in material misery, in the closets of mental hospitals
first in Istanbul and then in France.

The Genocide of 1915 was the last major phase of the Turkish
nationalist onslaught that destroyed the central pillar and foundation
of the Armenian nation. The Armenian communities of historical western
Armenia that constituted the majority of the Armenian people were
annihilated. This destruction was an unparalleled human, cultural and
musical disaster. In the dismembered, truncated, and pitiably small
segment of eastern Armenia that remained, proper scope and expanse for
an independent, self-sustaining national development, let alone the
development of a national musical tradition, was severely limited.

Passages in these volumes that construct a historical-political
background to Komitas's work leading to the years of the Genocide shock
with stark revelations of the miserably irresponsible conduct by the
Armenian elites in Istanbul. Totally out of touch and unconscious of
the real import of that which was occurring in the homeland, they
operated in a fatal bubble of illusory optimism. In 1913, two years
before the great killings, this leadership mobilised vast material and
intellectual resources, an enthusiastic Komitas amongst them, for what
proved to be a meaningless extravaganza - the 1500th anniversary
celebration of Armenian letters and the 500th of Armenian printing. An
accompanying jingoism and patriotic sentimentality blinded them further
to the scale of repression, murder, forced migration and property
seizures in western Armenia, facilitated it should be noted by the 1908
ARF's disarming of its self-defence units.

These were months of erupting Young Turk chauvinism, of orchestrated
anti-Armenian hysteria. Yet the leadership devoting energy to this
jamboree acted as though there was nothing ominous on the horizon.
With naive confidence in relations with the Young Turks, they took
delight in the presence at these celebrations of two of the head
executioners of the people - Djemal and Talaat pashas. If at all
concerned or troubled especially given evidence of deteriorating
ARF-Young Turk relations, they turned to beg of Europe to deal with
life and death matters so that they could devote themselves
exclusively to their cultural festivities!

In his world view Komitas personified such weaknesses. He rejected
revolutionary politics believing art and culture alone, without the gun
and the spade, could be adequate instruments for nation formation, a
position that tragically became a mainstream in the years that followed
the ARF-Young Turk alliance. There is in his vision, in addition, a
hint of dependency politics with a suggestion of an inferiority complex
that seeks European commendation for one's national accomplishments.
Komitas saw the presentation of Armenian culture and in his case music
to Europe as a vital step in Armenian national survival, believing that
if Europe realised the nobility of Armenian civilisation it would
readily defend the Armenian nation and people against Ottoman
barbarism.

Yet for all this and for all else Komitas's work remains a monumental
magnificence. A universe of wondrous sound, a celebration of life, balm
for souls, a musical wave upon which to rise above and challenge the
harshness of everyday.

Komitas's legacy is also an epic drama, a musical reconstruction of a
world now tragically vanished, a majestic musical museum. He had
always insisted that folk song and music were a mirror, an image of
the common people's existence, 'each song a beautifully framed picture
from the life of the people (CB133)'. This song and music records and
reflects their world-view and their lives. In it are registered the
social, the national and the class contradictions, the brutalities of
forced migration, their resistance, their sentiments, hopes, desires
and fears, their rituals, beliefs and superstitions, their joys and
their suffering and most beautifully their hopes. Komitas's work
preserves all this in beautiful musical harmony.

Debate his musical theory or politics, but not the glory of his music!
Questions the man's ambition and conceptions, but not the power and
the emotion of his compositions and arrangements! Komitas's music
moved the soul of those who heard him conduct his amateur choirs, who
listened to him singing and playing the piano. Audiences were
enraptured and critics bowled over. For communities only recently
driven from their homeland Komitas's music was a bridge of return. A
contemporary admirer Karekin Levonian writes:

    'Whoever you may have been, it was impossible just for a moment not
    to forget your everyday and relocate yourself in spirit and in
    heart, there were the genius of the rural population created those
    songs.'

Komitas's magic endured into the late 20th century. For the Diaspora he
created a musical homeland away from home. For Charents in early Soviet
Armenia, Komitas's music featured perhaps as a counterpoint to the
Stalin era that delivered another blow to Armenian nation formation,
while for Barouyr Sevak in the 1960s he served as inspiration for the
emergence of a new confident national sensibility.

Today Komitas appears in most repertoires, his music utilised by
artists of diverse and even most modernist genres, for it still
enhances, lifting us beyond ourselves, touching the hidden grandeur of
inner essence, spirit and dream and alas, alas reminding us of a world
that is no more.

			    *  *  *  *  *


Note 1:
Whilst the many potholes, cracks and crevices in these volumes have
been happily swung round, two, both in Gasparyan, are too wide and ugly
and allow no silent detour.

Gasparyan starts out on an obnoxious footing. According to his crude
historic generalisation, the Armenian literary and cultural renaissance
would have come to naught had it not for example and inspiration a
`magnificent' Russian genius. Such unforced, post-Stalin, sycophantic
bowing to Russian great-nation chauvinism is accompanied by criminal
Stalin era diatribe against the ARF, denying it any credit even in its
early progressive role in the national liberation movement, charging
it, sickeningly, in addition with responsibility for the genocide
(p47). One even hostile to the ARF is put off in disgust.

A worst sort of vulgar and crude Marxist, Gasparyan appears to also
have a problem with Komitas's famous Mass. It is judged to be of only
'social and historic interest', bereft of authentic artistic value,
music that does not endure with any meaning for secular sensibilities.
Would Gasparyan thus dismiss all medieval Church music? Are the
Armenian religious themes salvaged by Komitas inferior to the European
so widely applauded? Has Gasparyan paid no heed, or rejected Komitas's
argument that Armenian Church music is born of the same womb as its
folk music?


Note 2:
In the event of references, abbreviations are SG for `Komitas' by S
Gasparyan (240pp, 1961); CB for `Komitas' by Cecelia Broutian (224pp,
1969) and KP for `Komitas As He Was' by Khachig Patigian (432pp, 2002)

--
Eddie Arnavoudian holds degrees in history and politics from
Manchester, England, and is Groong's commentator-in-residence on
Armenian literature. His works on literary and political issues
have also appeared in Harach in Paris, Nairi in Beirut and Open
Letter in Los Angeles.
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