top of page

KOMITAS. SONGS (1869–1935)
Piano arrangement by Villy Sargsyan
World Premiere recordings

detailed information at :

Grand piano.jpeg

KOMITAS VARDAPET (1869–1935) SONGS – ARRANGED FOR PIANO BY VILLY SARGSYAN ‘The ability to create songs is the natural gift of a peasant; they all can, this way or other, devise tunes and sing them. A peasant learns this art in nature’s embrace; the nature is his infallible school.’ – Komitas Vardapet Komitas Vardapet was an Armenian composer, classicist, singer and ethnomusicologist who pioneered the collection, classification and study of traditional music in his homeland. Throughout his life he made regular excursions to the towns and villages of Armenia, where he recorded the folk songs and melodies sung by the peasant communities. He prioritised documenting the music he heard in remote villages, where foreign influence was weak and the music preserved in its purest form. Komitas explained that his task had been made more difficult because the peasants refused to sing the songs outside of their environmental context – for recording purposes. He wrote: ‘The peasants hardly sing or reject singing, if a non-villager asks to sing, for example, a working song while being at home. The folks do not know art singing as so. Each song is created or taught in its place, in its time. No villager will sing a threshing song while sitting at home, because the field is the place for creating and singing a threshing song.’ Overcoming these impediments, Komitas succeeded in transcribing and hence protecting from oblivion thousands of samples of Armenian traditional music. His collections include such masterpieces of Armenian folk song and sacred music as Mokads Mirza (‘The Prince of Mok’); the epic songs of David of Sassoun; Kṙunk (‘The Crane’) and other pilgrim songs; Lorva Gutanerg (‘Ploughing Song of Lori’) and other work songs; Stabat Mater; and the medieval taghs (ornamented chants) of Grigor Narekatsi (Gregory of Narek, Saint of the Armenian Apostolic Church). Komitas’s discovery of sacred songs is particularly valuable, for they provided a window into ancient church traditions that are an integral part of Armenia’s musical legacy. Komitas’s own compositional legacy contains for the most part arrangements of Armenian folk and sacred songs, and, to a far lesser extent, original works not derived from a folk source. He had begun collecting and transcribing ancient Armenian songs while studying at the Gevorkian Seminary in Vagharshapat (Etchmiadzin), Armenia, where following the death of both parents (his mother died in 1870, his father in 1880) he had been sent from his birthplace of Kütalya, Turkey, to receive instruction in liturgical singing and the theoretical and practical foundations of Armenian folk music. From 1895 to 1896 he studied music theory in Tblisi, Georgia, under the composer Makar Ekmalian; in 1896 he attended the Richard Schmidt Conservatory in Berlin, studying voice, composition and choral conducting. In 1899 he became a founding member of the International Music Society, where he presented the results of his musicological research on Armenian folk and sacred music. On returning to Vagharshapat he established a cathedral choir, continued to collect songs and began arranging them. He also began to give concerts, later venturing to Switzerland and Paris, where his performances of Armenian music attracted favourable notice from Debussy. From 1910 he lived in Constantinople, where he founded a choir and organised concerts and lectures. His activities generated huge interest in the music of Armenia, but his creative work was halted at the onset of the Armenian genocide in 1915. Komitas, along with other creatives and intellectuals, was arrested and deported to Central Anatolia where he suffered a breakdown. He spent the final twenty-or-so years of his life in a psychiatric hospital in Paris. The numerous songs and choruses that make up the greater part of his oeuvre are remarkable for their variety, originality and contemporary relevance. Through them Komitas is credited with laying the groundwork for a distinctive and progressive national style. Many of his folk song arrangements are written for voice and piano, with the piano providing highly expressive accompaniment, and he applied different voicings according to the activity or aspect of rustic life they seek to represent. Themes are wide-ranging and include lyrical songs, love songs, joke songs and dance songs, with some requiring professional vocal skills for their performance, such as Antuni (‘Song of the Homeless’)  4 ; Kanche, kṙunk (‘Crane, Sing!’)  7 , and Dsirani dsaṙ (‘Apricot Tree’)  10 . The melody of Antuni, in its length, complexity of form and tonal structure as well as other aspects of expression, goes far beyond the borders of Komitas’s usual treatment. The long-held notes at the end of each stanza, the sigh-like pauses and tense recitative exclamations – all these devices provide an inimitable emotional appeal and overall drama. The popular song Kak‘avi erg (‘Song of the partridge’) also known as Kagavik)  6  is one of the few Komitas songs without a folk source, although it bears enough stylistic similarities to be considered authentic by Armenians. The work was written for chorus in unison, piano and solo singer and is the result of a collaboration between Komitas and Hovhannes Toumanian (1869–1923), the notable Armenian poet whose creative work is also closely connected to folklore. For this reason, melody, text and piano accompaniment are united organically in this miniature. The melody is based on an imitation of the mountaindwelling partridge and the piano accompaniment, with its lively arpeggios, depicts the bird’s cheerful character. There are now several arrangements of Komitas’s Kag’avi erg for different instruments, all of which feature in the curricula of many of the music schools in Armenia. Lyrical songs such as Chinar es keṙanal mi (‘You are Tall like a Plane Tree, do not Bow Down’)  1 , Kuzhn aṙa (‘I Took a Jug’)  2 , K’ele, k’ele (‘March, March’)  13 , and K’eler, tsoler (‘He Walked Radiant’)  32  gained wide recognition both in Armenia and abroad. In K’eler, tsoler a girl praises her fair-haired beloved as he cuts the grass. She admires his step, his manliness and his labour, and she compares his image to the landscape (one with mountains and meadow) and to nature in general. K’ele, k’ele is a more complicated and dynamic song which contrasts two images: an energetic male and a tender female. The young man glorifies his darling – ‘his tender, dark quail’. He admires her step, her sharp mind and her slenderness. Komitas achieves the contrast of these two images in the music by applying modal changes. The same variety of modes are used in the song Chinar es. There is no contrast here, only a vast lyrical state with a range of nuances. In Kuzhn aṙa Komitas achieves even greater integrality. A fine, poetic piano accompaniment creates a transparent background for the affectionate and simple melody sung by a girl looking forward to meeting her darling. These four pearls are examples of lighthearted lyrics, but in Komitas’s work one can find lyrics of another type: dramatically tense, mournful and tragic. Garun a, dzun a arel (‘It is Spring)  11  brightly expresses a similar duality of feelings. The theme of the song tells the tragic story of an abandoned girl. Here, nature and the realm of personal feelings exist in parallel like two identical worlds: in spring, when everything must blossom, it suddenly starts snowing, and a girl whose love has just blossomed is abandoned by her beloved. Komitas’s creative approach is particularly sophisticated: rather than presenting a simple correction or purification of the original song he has created a profoundly expressive composition of great artistic value. Where in other arrangements the piano performs an accompanying, background role, here he has written a four-bar introduction bearing an independent idea. Here the central four-note motif gradually becomes more tense and vibrant. Komitas’s poetic sketches of Armenian nature and landscapes form another important strand of the composer’s lyrical song output. The lyrical ‘daily’ song Alagyaz (bardzr sarin)  30  is one such musical picture. It portrays a series of sketches of Mount Alagyaz – surrounded by clouds, then doused by a sudden rainfall, then with the sun emerging from behind the clouds and spreading its rays across the landscape. In the gentle miniature Es saren kugayi (‘I Returned from the Mountain’)  8  one hears the playful murmur of a stream. Here, the piano has a leading descriptive role: undulating musical figures illustrate the flow of the water as it washes over the mountain stones. The song is an excellent example of Komitas’s ability to conjure an evocative picture from limited musical means. In the past, remarkable Armenian musicians such as Robert Andriasian, Sergey Balasanian and Georgy Saradjev expanded the sphere of the piano’s representation of Komitas’s works, and their skillful adaptations won praise from performers and audiences alike. The piano transcriptions by Villy Sargsyan that feature on this recording importantly preserve the most essential and significant part of Komitas’s song arrangements: his modal-intonational system. Komitas had a profound understanding of Armenian melos, an essentially monophonic form to which he uniquely applied polyphonic development. This technique served as the foundation of a truly national musical language. In these piano adaptations of selected songs Sargsyan has sought to find a balance between the vocal line and the piano accompaniment, so that the transcriptions sing out with all the authenticity and complexity of the original songs. Mikael Ayrapetyan

Mikael Ayrapetyan

More -
bottom of page