September 26, 2013 - 11:12 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - September 26 marks the 144th birth anniversary of Armenian priest, composer, choir leader, singer, music ethnologist and teacher Komitas Vardapet (by Western Armenian transliteration also Gomidas Vartabed).
Komitas was born in 1869, in Kütahya, Ottoman Empire, into a family whose members were deeply involved in music and were monolingual in Turkish. His mother died when he was one, and his father died ten years later. His grandmother looked after him until 1881, when a prelate of the local Armenian diocese went to Etchmiadzin to be consecrated a bishop. Catholicos Gevork IV ordered him to bring one orphaned child to be educated at the Etchmiadzin Seminary. Soghomon was chosen among 20 candidates and admitted into the seminary (where he impressed the Catholicos with his singing talent) and graduated in 1893, after which he became a monk. According to church tradition, newly ordained priests are given new names, and Soghomon was renamed Komitas (named after the seventh-century Armenian Catholicos who was also a hymn writer). Two years later, he became a priest and obtained the title Vardapet (or Vartabed), meaning a "priest" or a "church scholar."
He established and conducted the monastery choir until 1896, when he went to Berlin, enrolled in the Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm University and studied music at the private conservatory of Prof. Richard Schmidt. In 1899, he acquired the title Doctor of Musicology and returned to Etchmiadzin, where he took over conducting a polyphonic male choir. He traveled extensively around the country, listening to and recording details about Armenian folk songs and dances performed in various villages. This way, he collected and published some 3000 songs, many of them adapted to choir singing.
Komitas was the first non-European to be admitted into the International Music Society, of which he was a co-founder. He gave many lectures and performances throughout Europe, Turkey and Egypt, thus presenting till then very little known Armenian music.
From 1910, he lived and worked in Istanbul. There, he established a 300-member choir, Gusan. On April 24, 1915, the official date when the Armenian Genocide began, he was arrested and put on a train the next day together with 180 other Armenian notables and sent to the city of Çankırı in northern Central Anatolia, at a distance of some 300 miles.
In the autumn of 1916, he was taken to a hospital in Constantinople, Hôpital de la paix, and then moved to Paris in 1919, where he died in a psychiatric clinic in Villejuif in 1935. Next year, his ashes were transferred to Yerevan and buried in the Pantheon that was named after him.