The Gurdjieff Ensemble performs Komitas’s works arranged for authentic traditional instruments. Komitas was a crucially important figure in Armenian music history, who collected thousands of Armenian folk and sacred songs from places where Armenian people were annihilated years after during the Armenian Genocide, some of which date back to the 5th century and more. Komitas explored how Armenian sacred and secular traditions have influenced each other and established a frame of reference within which new music could be created. The Music of Komitas had a huge impact on many great musicians including Debussy.
About Komitas Vardapet
One name in particular features prominently in Armenian music history: Komitas Vardapet. Komitas (Soghomon Soghomonian) was not only a composer but also a priest and a leading ethnomusicologist, choral conductor, and teacher who is considered to be the father of modern Armenian classical music (Komitas is a religious name, Vardapet refers to a clerical rank and title in the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches). A respected and active figure also in Western Europe, he was deported and witnessed during the Armenian Genocide in 1915: a trauma he was unable to overcome for the rest of his life. He spent his last 15 years in a mental hospital in Paris. Around the turn of the century, Komitas traveled across Armenia collecting folk music and dances as they were performed in the villages: work songs, love songs, and wedding songs, but also songs about the painful experience of displacement that his people were subjected to again and again. Many of the melodies, which had been passed on orally for centuries, were first transcribed by Komitas. Some of these songs and dances he transformed into extensive piano and vocal-piano works.
Komitas was committed to keeping the original character and sound of the dances alive: his scores include precise instructions to the performer about how to imitate the traditional instruments on the piano. In the composer’s spirit, Levon Eskenian and the Gurdjieff Ensemble bring this original sound and world back to life.
“What results may we expect when taking folk music-playing turned into composer’s art back to its folk sources and to folk thinking? This is a unique experience, something that occurs inside the folklore-composing art relationship.” The fabric of Komitas’s compositions is illuminated by the deployment of the folk instruments. “How should we characterize such an endeavour?” Mansurian continues. “As research? Differentiation between documenting and artistic thinking? Coexistence of folklore and composer’s art?” He concludes, “Maybe we can go on with questions of this kind, but, in all cases, Eskenian’s years-long meticulous work has led to unusual beauty – this is obvious” – Tigran Mansurian, Composer