One of Komitas’ most important
areas of activity was teaching. “He was calm, friendly, and
full of inspiration. In his smiling eyes one could notice melancholy;
clear intonation and pleasant voice did not hide his inner energy.
Komitas was “sick” with folk music. When he taught,
he sang, and in his folk music one could perceive shades, rhythm,
and color.” This is what the Armenian writer Derenik Demirchyan
recalled about him.
According to the witness of musicologist Vasiliy Korganov, thanks
to Komitas “at the seminary the class on the music theory
became more popular than in many other conservatories and music
colleges”. The composer wrote a number of textbooks for the
students: “Elementary music theory”, “Armenian
For decades Komitas dreamt of creating a national conservatory,
however he never implemented his intention. Komitas had 10 commandments
for the singers. The composer treated teaching with great responsibility,
saying, “Treat education with much care, you have a very delicate
position. You are called to educate the generation that will be
our nation in the future. Following the wrong paths you may ruin
One of the most worthy performers
of Armenian folk songs is Armenak Shakhmuradian.
We have only a few of his performances, but these are enough to
appreciate one of the best expressions of the school of Komitas
in its broad sense.
The singer was born in 1878 in an Armenian town Moosh, in the family
of a blacksmith Srgo (Sargis). At the age of 8 his singing skills
were revealed so vividly that he was admitted to a church choir.
From there he is sent to a famous Gevorgian college in Echmiadzin.
Here Armenak becomes the soloist of the choir of the well-known
Armenian composer Christopher Kara-Murza. There the singer met Komitas.
Komitas studied and wrote down male singing in the original and
clear performance of Armenak, and Armenak, in his turn, perfected
his vocal skills under the supervision of Komitas. Armenak studied
with Avetik Isahakian, Grigor Syuni, Derenik Demirchyan, figures
that later became the outstanding representatives of Armenian literature.
At the age of 16 Armenak left Echmiadzin and went to Tiflis. Here
he was shaped as a classical singer. Having become a permanent visitor
of the opera theater, he joins the pearls of western classic. Armenak
could not stay away from political events that took place in Western
Armenia. Together with many “rebels” he was soon taken
to jail and handed over to Turkish authorities. Armenak managed
to survived only due to his singing: the rumors about the wonderful
voice of the singer reached the Turkish ambassador Faud-Bel who,
having heard him sing, set him free. Armenak secretly left the Turkish
borders and settled in Paris. Here he enters the “Singing
School” of Vensan D’Andy. And here fame awaited him
– he became a student of the great Polina Viardo, who opened
many Paris stages for him. In Paris he participated in the best
opera productions, as well as in contests of vocalists, producing
delight and highest appraisals of the audience and the press.
Armenak Shakhmuradian was named the “Armenian Caruso”
All these years Komitas watched the achievements of his student.
Armenak, being the soloist of the “Grand-Opera”, became
the permanent participant and highlight of the program of all cultural
activities, organized by Komitas. Komitas himself accompanied to
Continuing the career of the dazzling tenor, Armenak tours all around
the world subduing all the best stages. His voice sounded in Boston,
San Francisco, Fresno, Detroit, New York, Manchester, London, Geneva,
Zurich, Brussels, Antwerp, Baghdad, Teheran, Calcutta, and others.
In 1930 Armenak, inspired with fame, returned to Paris where he
found his teacher in a psychiatric hospital. Alas, stricken with
illness, Komitas did not recognize his student, which was a great
shock for Shakhmuradian. The inglorious death of the great Komitas
became the second shock, and it finally struck the singer. By the
will of fate, in 1939 Armenak Shakhmuradian passed away as a result
of the same illness and in the same hospital.
Spiridon Melikian (1881-1933) was
one of the first students of Komitas at Gevorkian seminary in Etchmiadzin.
During his academic years he made his first attempts on scientific
research under the leadership of Komitas. His graduation composition
was dedicated to the investigation of the system of the Armenian
pronunciation signs. At the same time he was Komitas’ helper
in the choir. Upon completion of the seminary S.Melikian left for
Berlin. There, in 1904-1908, he took classes with the same professors
that had taught Komitas. Having rejected the holy order to which
he had been ordained in Etchmiadzin, he changed the course of his
activities. Now he devoted himself to teaching, musicology, and
musical society. He continued the traditions of Ekmalian at Nersisian
college and once again raised the level of the choir. Simultaneously
he was one of the founders and active members of the Armenian choir
society and the Armenian musical commonwealth in Tiflis.
The fruits of S.Melikian’s musicology works are the brochure
“The Problem of the Development of our Music” (1909),
“Greek influences on the theory of the Armenian music”
(1914), “Textbook on Singing” (1912), the “Songs
of Shirak” collection (1917). The first edition was dedicated
to the problem of the development of the teaching of music in schools
and the organization of a philharmonic society with the aim to promote
the national musical culture. The next investigation was dedicated
to the Armenian musical khazzes and pronunciation khazzes. The collection
called “The Songs of Shirak” is the outcome of the musical
ethnographic expedition organized by the Armenian musical society
in Tiflis in 1914. These are samples of folk songs and dances, as
well as “ashugh” improvisations, which have a perpetual
historical significance and have repeatedly served as a theme source
for Armenian composers.
One of Komitas’ best students is also Vahan
Ter-Arakelian, an unwavering soloist of all the concerts
of Komitas. Just like Shakhmuradian, Vahan enters the seminary of
Gevorgian in Echmiadzin in 1901. Very soon he becomes one of the
best students and soloists in Komitas’ choir. With his help
Komitas got acquainted and recorded the songs of Vaik, where Vahan
In 1909 Vahan enters the Petersburg Conservatory, simultaneously
taking an officer course, which gave him the title of a junior officer.
He participated in the World War I, where having demonstrated audacity
and bravery, was rewarded with the order of St. Anna, St. Georgiy,
St. Vladimir and St. Stanislav, and with numerous awards and fighting
sabers. Vahan Ter-Arakelian lived in Tbilisi from 1921 and worked
in editor's office “Martakoch” and “Proletariy”.
According to the testimonies of the contemporaries, his prose was
as fine as the works of outstanding Armenian writers, such as Stepan
Zorian, Derenik Demirchyan, Nairi Zarian.
Vahan Ter-Arakelian also obtained the fame of a translator. Thanks
to him, Armenian readers gained access to many remarkable samples
of modern world literature: Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina”,
Boris Gorbatyi’s “The Cell”, Bruno Yanesku’s
“I am burning Paris”, and others.
Here is Ruben Zarian’s appraisal of his translation skills:
“A Yerevan reader should remember the name of Vahan Ter-Arakelian
as a translator of “Adventures of the brave soldier Shveika”
and “Anna Karenina”. He was a poet-translator.
Along with all this Vahan continued to perform at the concerts of
In 1935 everybody was shocked by the tragic death of Komitas, and
a year later Vahan Ter-Arakelian was arrested and exiled to the
camp in Komi ASSR, where he died in 1941.
His relatives were only able to take his ashes to his motherland,
where he was buried on the Central cemetery of Yerevan.
Mihran Toumachian (1890-1973) was
born in Kyurin, Sebastia. In 1910 he moved to Constantinople where
he obtained law education. He became the soloist of “Gusan”
choir. After the war he published a number of collections of “Ay
Gusan”. In 1923 he left for the USA and organized choirs and
concerts. For 40 years he traveled around the towns where the genocide
survivors lived. Toumachian’s collections are considered to
be the most renowned ones, after the collections of Komitas and
In 1964 he settled on the Motherland, where he published a series
called “The native song and word”. He passed away in
1973 in Yerevan.
Barsegh Kanachian (1888-1967) was
the oldest one of Komitas’ students. He was born in Rodosto.
In 1896 his family moved to Varna, Bulgaria. He learned to play
the violin at a local Armenian school, and then at Jorge Pyuk college
in Bucharest. In 1908 he traveled to Constantinople and organized
two orchestras: “Knar” and “Masis”. In 1910,
inspired by a concert of Komitas, he started singing in his choir
“Gusan”. When they organized “The Art of Harmonization”
study group of sixteen people, he became one of the auditors of
the group. Their classes kept functioning up until World War I.
At the end of the war, in Tigranakert, Kanachian organized his own
Armenian choir and gave charity concerts to aid the refugees. Upon
his return to Constantinople he found Komitas’ students with
whom he organized a group “Five students of Komitas”.
Their main task was the propaganda of the creative work of their
great teacher. They gave concerts, published three collections “Armenian
gusan songs”, gather choirs and orchestras, and educate the
In 1920 Kanachian leaves for Paris with his friends. There he took
courses of Rene Le Norman. In the following 7 years he continued
to work at Melkonian institution on the Cyprus. Afterwards, he returned
to Beirut and organized tours to Damask, Tripoli, Latakia, Alexandria,
Aleppo, and others.
Kanachian is the author of well-known solo and chorus songs with
the lyrics of Armenian poets: “Oror” – lyrics
of R.Patkanian, “Ureni” – lyrics of H.Tumanian,
“Tsov acher” – lyrics of Av.Issahakian, “Tsaigerk”
– lyrics of Kuchak, etc. One of his grand works is the three
act opera “Abega” (“Priest”) based on Levon
Shant’s play “Old gods”; there are also arias,
choirs and orchestral fragments inspired by M.Zarifian’s poem
He organized the choir “Gusan” in Beirut and was an
advocate of Komitas’ compositions for a decade and a half.
In 1950 he had to stop his creative work because of the eye illness.
As a composer he based his compositions on the folk music.
Vagharshak Srvandztian (1891-1958)
– was the nephew of an outstanding ethnographer Garegin Srvandztian.
He was born in Tavriz. During Amid’s repression years he was
cast out to Bursa where he attended Frerner’s college. At
the age of nine he played the flute in a student wind orchestra.
In 1910 he left for Constantinople and took Komitas’ classes.
In 1920 he left for Paris with his friends to continue education,
and later settles in the USA, in the town of Fresno. Following the
example of his teacher he indulges in ethnography and composition.
Some of his songs and romances published in Paris and other places
have been preserved. Towards the end of his life he wrote his best
work – “The Armenian Symphony”. He passed away
Vardan Sarkisian (1892-1978) was
born in Constantinople in the family of a local famed musician Sargis.
He received his elementary education at Perperian college. He worked
as teacher of music and leader of a chorus. After World War I he
organized the “Armenian Musical Society” (AMS). He staged
Tumanyan’s poem “Anush”. In 1920 he left for Paris
with his friends. After his graduation he became the leader of the
Armenian Church chorus. Later he organized an Armenian musical society
and a choir in Belgium. He studied at the Brussels queen’s
conservatory and graduated with honors. In 1931 he organized another
AMS in Marseilles. There he gave concerts devoted to the compositions
of Komitas, as well as his own. In 1947 he settled down in Paris
and becomes the leader of a combined choir “Span-Komitas”
(after Gurgen Alemshah). He treated numerous Armenian folk songs,
as well as songs written on the lyrics of Armenian poets. One of
his most significant works is “Holy Singing of the Armenian
Church” (500 pages). Vardan Sarkisian’s role is exceptional
for the various collections and publications of Komitas’ work.
He was the one who added and systematized Komitas' “Patarag”.
Haik Semerdjian takes an inconspicuous
place among Komitas’ other students. Unfortunately, his life
years are not known. Haik used to be famous for being a solo singer
endowed with a sweet voice. Sadly, during the war he lost both his
voice and his hearing and left the musical arena. He was, perhaps,
the only one of Komitas’ successors who was destined to discontinue