Komitas was born into a familywhose members were deeply involved in music and were monolingual in Turkish. His mother died when he was one, and his father died the years later. His grandmother looked after him until 1881, when a prelate of the local Armenian diocese went to Echmiadzin to be consecrated a bishop. The catholicos Gevork IV ordered him to bring one orphaned child to be educated at the Echmiadzin 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 become 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 private conservatory of Prof. Richard Schmidt. In 1899, he acquired the title Doctor of Musicology and returned to Echmiadzin, where he took over conducting a polyphonic male choir. He traveled extensively around the country, listening to and recording detalis 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.
His mayor work is Badarak(Divine Liturgy), still used today as one of the two most popular musical settings of the Armenian Church liturgy or mass. Today the best-known version of Badarak is his favourite for a four-voiced male choir. The words certainly aren’t original but are the text of the Armenian mass, which has been used for centuries. Armenian church music was traditionally monophonic, but Makar Yekmalian, Komitas, and several other musican/composers in the 19th and 20th centuries arranged polyphonic versions of the pre-existing melodies. Some composers (but not Komitas or Yekmalian) created completely original musical setting of the liturgy as well.
He 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 throught 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 day when the Armenian Genocide officially began, he was arrested and put on a train. The next day together with 180 other Armenian notables and sent to the city of Çankiri in northern central Anatolia. By special orders from Tailant Pasha, Komitas was dispatched back to the capital alongside eight other Armenians who had been deported during which Komitas suffered tremendously and was afflicated with traumatic neurosis.
In the autumn of 1916 he was taken to hospital in Constantinople, 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.
In 1906 after one of his concerts, the outstanding french composer Ladue Debussy exclaimed excitedly “Brilliant father Komitas I bow before your musical genious”.
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