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Makar Ekmalian

(1856 - 1905)


Ekmalian was born on February 2, 1856, in Vagharshapat (now Etchmiadzin) in a peasant family. In 1872 he graduated from the Theological Seminary of the Etchmiadzin Catholicosate. In 1873-1874, in St. Echmiadzin, he studied ancient Armenian notography under the prominent composer and musicologist Nikoghayos Tashchian. Together with his teacher, he recorded and systematized singing liturgical books in Armenian notography. He participated in the publication of collections of sacred music. Catholicos George IV blessed the editions of ancient spiritual hymns, liturgical hymns and the Chronology of the Armenian Church prepared by Tashchian and Ekmalian (Pataragamatuits, 1874, 1878; Sharaknots, 1875; Zhamagirk, 1876). ​ From 1874 he taught singing and theory of Armenian music at the Gevorgian Theological Academy.


In 1877 he moved to St. Petersburg and two years later entered the St. Petersburg Conservatory in the class of N. A. Rimsky-Korsakov, receiving permission to study for free. In parallel, he directed the choir of the local Armenian Church of St. Catherine, which facilitated his financial situation. ​ In 1879 he entered the St. Petersburg Conservatory, graduated in 1888 (thesis-cantata "Wanderings of the Rose", based on M. Horn’s fairy tale, and directed by the author himself.) In 1887, a year before graduating from the Conservatory, during the summer student holidays he went to St. Etchmiadzin, where he presented to Catholicos Makar I excerpts from his "Three-Voiced Liturgy" and, having received the approval of the Synod, returned to St. Petersburg. During and after his studies he was engaged in choirmaster activities.


In 1891, Ekmalyan moved to Tiflis, taught at the Nersisyan Armenian Seminary, where he created a top-class male choir. In 1893 he was appointed as a rector of the Tiflis Music School. He died on March 6, 1905, in Tiflis. ​ Yet in his student years, he created a superb piano piece "Nocturne", "Song Without Words", "My Tears" song based on Heine’s lyrics, "The Shadow of High Mountains" and "Rivers of Babylon". Ekmalian's thesis was the "The Wanderings of the Rose" cantata (1888, only its fragments survived) based on the poem-tale of the German poet Moritz Horn, first performed under the direction of the author. Ekmalian's work played a fundamental role in the development of Armenian music, has significantly expanded its genre boundaries. The composer contributed to the formation of a new national musical language, the introduction of Armenian melos to the forms of European polyphonic music. Throughout his life, he paid special attention to the processing of folk peasant songs. ​ The main place in Ekmalian’s career is occupied by the monumental work "Patarag” (Lliturgy) for four-voice mixed a cappella choir (1892), which is a generalization of the experience and traditions of sacred music. Ekmalian presented it for discussions to the St. Petersburg’s imperial court singing chapel and the Conservatory.


The work was highly appreciated and recommended for performance and publication (first edition - 1892). For the first time, the liturgy was performed in Vienna. Ekmalian’s work was highly appreciated by Balakirev, Verdi, Saint-Saens, Komitas.


His works are among the brightest pages of Armenian classical music.

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