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Komitas

October 8, 1869 - October 22, 1935
born in Kutina, Turkey, composed during the Romantic period
Before Madonna or Midori, before Liberace, nearly a full century before any of the one-name artists with whom we today feel so comfortable, there was Komitas, very possibly the first one-name musician in modern times (ancient and Medieval times were, on the other hand, full of one-name people). The man who went by the name Komitas was an Armenian composer, conductor, and folk music collector who was born Soghomon Soghomonian in 1869. He died in Paris in 1935, having in his 66 years of life collected (literally) thousands and thousands of folk songs and authored many dozen choral and vocal music works of his own. He was never very widely known outside Armenian circles, but Armenians from Constantinople to Cairo, and everywhere in-between, knew him and his work well.

Soghomon Soghomonian was born in Turkey to Armenian parents, who sent him to a monastery in Armenia as a boy. Here he learned the rudiments of music and here he first grew to love traditional Armenian music: religious chants, folk songs. In the early 1890s, he started writing his own music with considerable difficulty at first, little-trained as he was. He took minor religious orders in 1894 and selected the name Komitas for himself (the original Komitas was a famous Armenian Medieval musician). His work with folk songs was already at this time attracting attention and by 1895, a published volume of them appeared. He felt an acute need for formal training in Western music (as opposed to Armenian traditional music, which is a very different beast indeed) and he studied at the University of Berlin, also taking private music lessons on the side from 1896 until shortly before the new century. He traveled to many cities -- Constantinople, Alexandria, Cairo, among others -- over the course of the next 20 years, bringing traditional Armenian music to displaced Armenian populations, organizing musical events, and forming choirs of Armenian singers. But the slaughter of thousands of Armenians throughout the Ottoman Empire in 1915 left him a broken man and he spent most of his remaining 20 years a virtual invalid. The first decade-and-a-half of the twentieth century saw a prolific outpouring of music from Komitas. There were volumes and volume of folk music and one choral piece after another, all a cappella, most secular, not sacred, Armenian texts. He also composed several dozen songs for voice and piano. Komitas' music is a fascinating melting pot of traditional Armenian music, much of it centuries old, and more "proper" Western counterpoint and form. ~ Blair Johnston, Rovi
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