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WORKS BY KOMITAS
Having contributed so much to Armenian culture with his treatments
of Armenian folk art, Komitas left surprisingly few examples of original
works. Nevertheless, the analysis of them paints quite a complete
picture of his creative ideology and the stylistic eccentricities
of his thoughts.
Komitas' earliest creative works - "National Hymn" and the
poem "Village Chapel" by Hovhannes Hovhannessian set to
music - date from his seminarian years. The works from his years as
a student in Berlin are of incomparably higher value. They are romances
and choruses on texts of German poets, the psalm "By the Rivers
of Babylon" and the choral piece "Native Language".
His first attempts to harmonize liturgy date also from this same period.
In his romances on German poetry, one can feel the influence of the
musical language of German Romantic composers. The four-part chorus
"New Spring" on words by Otto Rognett (Komitas translated
the lyrics into Armenian), "You ask" (text by Joanna Ambrosios)
and "Nocturne" (words by Goethe) set to music are among
them. In the archives, there is also a Russian translation of "Nocturne"
by Lermontov, written in Komitas' own hand.
Komitas wrote the song "By the Rivers of Babylon" for four-
or eight-part chorus, soprano, tenor, and organ on David's Psalm 137,
in a German version. The persecution of the ancient Hebrews and their
revenge toward the Babylonians received a unique, specific treatment
in this work. The composer seemed to pass from the legendary, remote
past of the Gospels to the contemporary life of his people and thereby
expressed the Armenians' national grief and poignantly touched upon
their struggle for liberation. Realistically treating the Biblical
plot and assigning it to the most pressing problems of his people,
in this work the composer came out as both a citizen and an artist.
The composer created "By the Rivers of Babylon" using the
expressive means of classical music; it possesses a smooth melodic
line in which he used some polyphonic devices modestly but purposefully.
The psalm's musical language has some kind of nationalistic nuance.
In this manner, Komitas even used Armenian motifs, e.g. at the beginning
of the songs "On the Banks of the Mother Araks" and "I
Heard a Sweet Voice".
The poem "Native Language, Native Dialect" by Stephan Nazarian
set to music in Germany is one of the strongest expressions of the
composer's patriotic feelings. Komitas realized the great importance
of using propaganda in the native language as part of the struggle
for national liberation.
The song "Native Language, Native Dialect", written for
two-part chorus was influenced by lyrical Armenian town songs. Some
years later, he returned to this type of work and set Nerses Mezpurian's
poem "Oh Great Language" to music, which is notable for
the mastery of its choral writing. "Europeanisms", which
are observable in the song, did not prevent it from spreading widely,
so that it became truly accepted.
Independent from national sources are the extensive chorus "Spring",
the romance "I Had a Rest in the Garden" (lyrics of both
compositions by H. Hovhannessian), the march of the Armenian General
Benevolent Union, etc.
Drafts for operas are also among Komitas' original compositions. Unfortunately,
the composer failed to finish the lyrical "Anoush" (by H
.Toumanian), the comical "The Harm of Good Breeding" (by
H. Paronian), the historical "Vardan" (probably by R. Patkanian),
and the epic "David of Sasoun". The preserved manuscripts
include some drafts of the opera "Vardan" and a small part
of "David of Sasoun". According to some researchers, Komitas
completed the first, second and partly third scenes of the opera "The
Harm of Good Breeding". In addition, there are some fragments
of "Anoush", which testify to the bright national orientation
of the opera. The composer used both peasants' melodies and some of
his own, which are as simple and understandable as the folk ones.
In the opera, there are two completed vocal fragments where Komitas
used some songs of gousans (folk singers).
In Komitas' heritage, there are pearls frequently referred to as his
treatments, in spite of their originality and the inventive compositional
principles found in them. They are the miniature "Kagavik"
("Partridge") (lyrics by H. Toumanian), the extensive song-improvisation
"Antuni" ("Song of the Homeless") and the song-march
"The Braves of Sypan" (text by Manuk Abeghian). On the whole,
these songs are original compositions.
"Kagavi erg" (also known as "Kagavik") was written
for one-part chorus, piano and solo singer. It is the result of a
collaboration between Komitas and Hovhannes Toumanian, the notable
Armenian poet, whose creative work is also closely connected to folklore.
That is why the melody, text and accompaniment are united so organically
in this miniature. The melody is based on an imitation of the mountain-dwelling
partridge and the piano accompaniment splashes with its lively arpeggio
as if depicting its cheerful character. We now have a number of treatments
of Komitas' "Kagavik" for various instruments. The different
treatments of the miniature "Kagavik" are included in the
curricula of many music schools in Armenia.
The vast choral compositions "Lo-lo" and "The Braves
of Sypan" reveal another world of images. "Lo-lo" remains
a noteworthy sample of the heroic style in choral music. Here Komitas
acquires more freedom in terms of organizing the choral texture: melodic
and keen turns of the tenors represent the war cries of approaching
The melody of "Antuni", in its size, the complexity of its
form and tonal structure and other aspects of self-expression, goes
far beyond the borders of Komitas' treatment. The long-lasting notes
at the end of each stanza, sigh-pauses and tense recitative exclamations
- all of these devices provide Komitas' music with an inimitable emotional
appeal and overall drama.
As a whole, Komitas created a mighty image of a wandering martyr expelled
from his own land and doomed to die overseas.
Komitas was so busy treating peasants' songs that he spent very little
time on the creation of works independent from that primary source.
Despite this, even judging by the revealing, above-mentioned documentation,
one can admit that he created a number of original compositions of
lasting artistic value.