pain without falling into despair, passion
without grief and admiration without indulgence. V.
Armenian Folk Music In A Historical View"
"Vagharshabad Dance" As Seen By Komitas And
von: Awadis, Marie
Studiengang: Kunstlerische Ausbildung
Referent: Prof. Dr. R. Vogels
Korreferent: Prof. Dr. A. Kreutziger
1.1. A Brief Glance At The Armenian
1.2. Vagharshabad / Etchmiadzin
Short Glimpse On The Armenian Music And Dance
2.1. Music And Dance
2.2. Types of Dances
2.3. Armenian Music Instruments
2.4. Armenian Folk Music and Notation
2.4.1 The Nature
2.4.2 The Notation
3.1. His Life
3.2. Armenian spiritual and folk music
3.3. Komitas Intellectuality And
Dance, The Original Theme
5.1. The Nature
5.2. Form- version 1902 by Komitas
5.3. Tonality And Scale
“Yeranki-yerevani” Piano version 1907
6.1. The Nature
6.6. The Alterations D sharp or
D, And The E flat or E
– Vagharshabad Dance
7.1. The Nature
The folk music has always played
a big role in the Armenians life, especially in the beginning
of the 20th century where it was more active in people’s
life. After the 19th century the folk music started
to get less interesting to the young generation, except to composers
and ethnomusicologists, whose number is surly, not the majority.
Apart from them it is still alive in the memories of old people,
who with time will enter in the past, and take it with them to
the forgotten. However composers are trying to keep the folk music
alive by changing it to a classical piano, chamber or even orchestral
Each composer arranged the folk
music in his way, based on his musical knowledge and surrounding
influence. This approach transformed the folk music from National
Armenian music to a personalized piece of the composer. Therefore
it got more personal characteristics depending on the character
of each composer, as well as to the time they lived. Therefore
we can find the same National folk tune arranged, or even sometimes
recomposed, in completely different ways depending on the time
One of these examples can be “Vagharshabad
Dance”, which is an Armenian national tune arranged into different
ways, by different Armenian composers and through different periods
Among those composers who worked
on this theme are Komitas (1869-1935) and Babadjanian (1921-1983),
who played a big role in transforming the Armenian musical heritage
to an international classical music, Komitas by being the founder
of this musical transformation in the beginning of the 20th
century, and Babadjanian by giving the view of the modern composer
to the old folk music.
We took “Vagharshabad Dance” as
a theme for this study because it represents the Armenian music
in its folk, and both old and modern classical ways. Also because
It the city Vagharshabad itself has a big importance and meaning
in the life of the Armenian s, which makes this piece more easy
to survive through time.
1. Historical Aspects
The music is a picture that left
from all the generation that passed from this area. Through history we can know the people’s traditions and the way
of living as well as their style of music.
To be able to talk about the Armenian
music, it is necessary to talk about the Armenian history as well,
because the folk music is connected directly to the history of
its region. This chapter will be a short presentation of the Armenian
history in general, to understand the origin of the Armenian traditions
in general, and specifically the history of the city “Vagharshabad”,
to understand the characteristics of the origin of the dance.
Glance At The Armenian History.
The first references to the Armenians,
an Indo-European people first appear in history around the end
of the 7th century BC. Armenia sometimes is referred
to as “Cradle of Civilization”, due to its ancient history and
the importance of the region, which controlled the route between
the Eastern and the Western worlds.
The Armenian Plateau is a home
to Mt. Ararat, the symbol of the Armenian nation and also a symbol
of exile: its breast-shaped profile dominates the view from Yerevan,
Armenia’s capital, but the mountain itself is now in Turkish territory.
The plateau covered a large territory, which included the mountains
of Georgia on the north with Azerbaijan and from large part of
Minor Asia to Anatolia in Turkey, including parts of Iran, Iraq
Stone and Bronze Age artifacts
found in Armenia are evidence of an advanced culture, which was
already flourishing in that part of the world 5.000 years ago.
One of the greatest empires of the Iron Age, the Urartians (who
called themselves and their land Biainili, and their capital Tushpa,
by Lake Van) rivaled Assyria for control of strategic trade routes
between Central Asia and the Mediterranean. Powerful enough to
invade the fabled Kingdom of Babylon, Urartian armies amassed
what some say was the first Armenian Empire, connecting the lands
of the Armenian Plateau and Anatolia with the Caucasus Mountains.
Urartu fell to Assyria in later
stage and at the turn of the first millennium Armenian King Tigran
“The Great” expanded the country borders to the three seas, Caspian,
Black and the Mediterranean. However the kingdom did not last
for the long time and was divided between Byzantium and Persia.
Through the Middle Ages Armenia was under domination of Persia,
Arab Caliphate, Byzantine Empire and Ottoman Turkey. Such mixture
of different faiths and cultures imposed on the Armenian nation
resulted in extremely rich and versatile folklore but also was
the reason for constant struggle against domination and assimilation. That is why we find many common musical instruments
and modes between Armenia and the neighboring countries such as
Turkey, Persia and even further – Egypt and Iraq.
In 301st year AD Armenia
officially converted to Christianity, which made it the First
Christian State, while Rome accepted Christianity only in 380
AD. In the followed centuries Armenia had to fight and lose many
battles against its powerful neighbors- first Persia then invading
Arabs, which were on the later stage forced out by Mongols and
subsequently by Ottoman Turks. Armenia has lost its sovereignty
and was under foreign domination for many centuries to come.
In the late 19th century
Ottoman sultan Abdul Hamid began his policy of intolerance and
oppression against non-Muslim population of the Ottoman Empire,
which resulted from 300.000 to half-million Armenian deaths. During
the 1st World War Young Turkish government continued
that policy and initiated the long planned extermination of the
Armenians through deportations and murder of more than 1.5 million
Armenians during years of 1915-1922. The first Genocide of the
20th century began with 400 Armenian intellectuals
arrested in Constantinople, deported and shut at April 24, 1915.
There were known only four places where Armenians showed resistance
and most of the population which was under Turk controlled territory
was destroyed, small parts escaped to the neighboring Russia,
Persia, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt forming the Armenian Diaspora.
The UN, European Parliament, Vatican
and many others officially recognize these events. Turkey, however,
by this day denies the crime was ever committed.
population of Armenia, which was under Russian control and protection,
had survived the Genocide; Armenia had an independent statehood
from 1918 to 1921 when under the Bolsheviks pressure it became
the Armenian Republic within former USSR. By that time Armenia
lost more approximately 90% of the territory previously having
native Armenian population.
Since 1990 Armenia has gained independence
and is now a small country landlocked in Trans-Caucasus with its
northwest neighboring Georgia, southwest Turkey and Iran and southeast
Azerbaijan. Until the
present day Armenia is going through a transition from a post
Soviet system to a new democratic structures, however the conflict
with the neighboring Azerbaijan over the native Armenian populated
Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabach) has seriously affected the economical
and social life in the country which for past ten years experienced
a vast decline of population, with many Armenians immigrating
to the East and West in search for better life. The economical
blockade imposed on Armenia by Turkey is devastating for Armenia
and is resulting in multimillion losses every year. Hardships
and economical difficulties have their impact on the educational
system in Armenia making academic and other studies an extremely
difficult task. However the studies in Armenian National Conservatory
of Music and other institutions continue despite those difficulties.
/ Etchmiadzin Through History.
The finding of the artifacts of
the Urartian King Rusa II dates the history of Vagharshabad /
Etchmiadzin to the 8th-7th cc BC. The historical
site and the city of Etchmiadzin is located in Armavir region
of the western part of Ararat valley approximately 15km from the
capital of Armenia, Yerevan.
The appearance of the signs of
the zodiac in the Etchmiadzin region occurred even before the
Hittie and Babylonian Kingdoms (6th millennium BC),
which were credited with developing astronomy. It is believed
to be among the first astronomers, mapping the night sky.
The city name comes from the Armenian
king Vagharsh I, which rebuilt and remodeled the city in the II
Century AD. Later with the construction of the Armenian Holy See
Mother Church followed by group of other churches it adopted the
name of Etchmiadzin. In 302 AD, according to tradition, St. Gregory,
which converted Armenia to Christianity, had a vision of Christ
who indicated to him where to build the first Armenian church-
on the hill of Sandaramet of Vagharshabad. On that very spot a
Church was built and given a name of “Etchmiadzin” meaning literally
in Armenian “the only
After the city of Artashat it had a status of the second capital
of the Arshaguni Kings. Vagharshabad along with Artashat were
lying on the trade route between Asia and the West, which brought
unlimited wealth and prosperity to its citizens.
The first translations to Armenian from Greek, Hebrew as well
as the creation of the Armenian alphabet (405 AD), first Armenian
school and the first spiritual music high school were founded
in Etchmiadzin. The city is also known as the place where “khaz”
(neumes) notation was invented. In some sources we find the mention
of Catholicos Sahak Partev as the inventor of the “khaz” system
but it is not proven by the facts.
In the VII century some important
pieces of architecture were built, such as St.Hripsime, St. Gayane
and mighty Zvartnots in Etchmiadzin. The city continued to be
the spiritual center of Armenian Church, in 1771 a first press
was installed and a publishing center was operating 5 years later.
The monastery had “Jemaran” (Seminary) where famous musicians
and writers such as Komitas, H.Hovannisian and Avetik Issahakyan
studied and made researches about the Armenian history, its roots
and the music.
The name of the city was changed
back to Vagharshabad in 1991 when Armenia declared independence,
but habits die hard, and the city is still referred to as Etchmiadzin
2. A Short Glimpse
on the Armenian Music And Dance
Armenian music has passed through
different steps and changes, to arrive to its present form. It
was conserved by many facts, and built its theories through the
time. This chapter will introduce some historical and theoretical
aspects related to the Armenian music and dances, which will help
us to understand more, how and in which form these music and dances
are still conserved until our present day.
Armenian music has a history, which
is parallel to the history of the Armenian nation (starting form
the pre-Christian times) and till today it has an important role
in the life of the Armenian people. In the process of the excavations
on the Armenian territory rock paintings depicting dancing were
discovered. And also in other various parts of Armenia bronze
sleigh bells and small hand bells from the second millennium BC
were found. In the region of the Lake Sevan, a cornet and drum
skins have been discovered dating from the first millennium. At Garni (excavation in 1955) and Dvin (1949)
double-flutes, probably used by shepherds, made of stork’s claw
bones have been uncovered.
This proves that music played an
important role in Armenian culture since very ancient times to
the present day.
Virtually all levels of the Armenian
society loved and practiced music including the Armenian kings,
which had royal musicians in their courts. The music reflected
the social events, which inspired songs of various characters.
For example at the time of foreign invasions, and the division
of Armenia between Ottoman Empire and Persia, the sentiment of
the people inspired them to sing and write songs of nostalgia
and sorrow, like “Krunk” (name of a bird which migrates and returns
home; in Armenian), and “Antuni” (Homeless). We can also find
references to even earlier names from the Pagan times, like the
name “Kousan” (minstrel), is originated from the “Kisaneh” which
was the name of the son of the Mother Armenian Godess, “Muraneh”.
Many masterpieces appear in different
domains of music- Religious, Urban, Pastoral songs and others.
After the adoption of Christianity in the fourth century, even
especially in the fifth century after the creation of the Armenian
alphabet, we notice a significant development in sacred music
used in churches to replace the earlier pagan variety. A big part of the Armenian Church music is
taken from the folk songs, which in different times and in different
circumstances are dissolved in the church music and became “sharakan”
“dagh” or “kants”. And for this reason, it is the most reliable
source to study the Armenian folk music. Because of this, musicologists
in the last century started to be interested also in the church
music, not only because it is the most reliable source but as
well as a creative inspiration to them and to modern composers.
Both musical and aesthetic theories
were greatly developed with creation of special musical signs.
These characters were used to indicate ancient Armenian pronunciation
and explicit signs for reading the music in addition to musical
notes themselves marked the birth of “Khazes”. We notice their
presence in 9th century manuscripts. Unfortunately
these “Khazes”, starting from the 15th century have
been understood less and less, and by the 19th century
they disappeared completely. However the oral transmission survived
and was transcribed to the new musical notation system by Hampartsum
Limondjian (1813) in Constantinople, and later with other musicians
like Komitas and others.
Armenian music taken as a whole
cannot be classified either as Oriental or Occidental, but has
a musical character of it's own offering many rich means of expression.
It is Monodic and when appropriate is accompanied mainly by percussion
instruments. “The Armenians have a wonderful melodic genius: the
beauty of their tunes matches fully the best Gregorian and synagogue
examples, and excel the Byzantine chant”. This is how Eric Werner,
the American musicologist describes the Armenian music in his
book “The Sacred Bridge”.
The Armenian Folk dances are rich
in rhythmical changes and complex structures, as well as in their
motives and figures. The majority of these dances was created
in the villages and was related to the specific place where they
have been first performed, such as –Sassoon, Kertsi, Vagharshabad,
etc. or to this or that person who performed it for the first
time afterwards becoming his/her personal piece. And some other
dances were related to the movements or the steps used, such as
– “yet arach” meaning back and forwards, “dzung godrug” meaning
There were three villages, which
were famous with dancers and dancing pieces – Van, Karni and Sassoon.
The folk music was evolving in
the following way- the original melody, which was composed by
an individual, was enriched and subsequently purified by others,
thus becoming a collective work.
Armenian melody in difference from
other eastern music such as Persian, Arabic or Turkish is simpler
in the way where it is out of extreme ornamentation. Through its simplicity and purity Armenian
music communicates with the most sacred feelings of the person
addressing the vital issues of life. It is as rich and modest as an oriental carpet,
impressing with different colors and depth. Through the research
of Komitas Vartabed (1869-1935), we are aware of the special qualities
and power of this old tradition, which expressed itself through
music on different levels- simple folk themes or classical compositions
of the sacred music. Komitas collected more than 3000 folk songs
and notated them, except the church music. He revived the national
music (sacred and secular)- purified it and restored it, giving
it the real meaning and the original identity that it deserved,
also he developed part of that music to choir and some instrumental
pieces, based on his knowledge of Armenian and European classical
M. Patmakryan in his book “Armenian
Music through Centuries” says: “The Armenian Folk music has
the combination of simplicity, unlimited expression and in depth
it has more of cultural, national, historical and philosophical
values. In it we see not only the reflection of the local tones,
but also the color of that period of time. In it we see the condensed
artistic mixture of its own people”.
Armenian folk music is still very
much alive in Armenia and the Diaspora; it is played using traditional
instruments, which include “Kamancha”, “Tar”, “Santur” or “Canon”,
“Shvi”, “Tutuk” and different percussions as “Dhole” and “Dab”.
They all form an integral part of folk ensembles (for more details about the Armenian folk instruments
see page 14).
2.2. Types of Dances
According to researches made by
Laura Shanon, divides the Armenian dances to four categories,
mostly by their geographical locations:
1- Dances form Eastern Caucasian Armenia: which
include the Etchmiadzin-Vagharshabad and the Ararat valley within
the territory of present day Republic of Armenia.
2- Western Anatolian Armenia: which is now in
Turkey. They were brought by survivals of the Genocide to the
other parts of the world.
3- Dances of Greater Armenia: which come for the
territory once under the Armenian control and have significant
Armenian influence even though they might be called Turkish Kurdish
or Assyrian. As the culture mixed on that land the dances and
the music bare the traditions of the people once lived there.
The dances of greater Armenia tell the story of a lost land and
4- Diaspora Dances: The second and the third generation
of the Armenian Diaspora began to create a whole new repertoire
of dances to replace what had been lost in time. These dances
combine traditional and newly choreographed steps with older folk
melodies and songs. They give an example of a dance culture, which
is beyond territory and can bring back what was destroyed and
lost before, in entirely new way.
Armenian language, culture, dance,
music, art and religion insured the survival of the Armenian existence,
and are alive today in many countries around the world, with its
center in Republic of Armenia. Despite of the great losses which
Armenian culture suffered during the centuries of foreign domination,
it showed the durability and originality of its creators.
Since the earliest times there
were a number of musical instruments, which originated from the
territory of Asia Minor (Greater Armenia), both string, percussive
and woodwind. Some of them are still used to perform music and
some others have disappeared and are not used any longer.
drum, which is still widely used as a traditional instrument,
is called Tumpook. They are made of double-headed cylinder with
a fish-skin head that is laced on both sides of the wood cylinder,
by ropes. Tumpook can produce many sounds depending on how it
is hit. There are no sticks involved when playing this instrument.
The bare hands are used. Hitting a tumpook towards the
edge as opposed to the middle can make it sound hollow or rubbery,
or even make very complicated rhythms. Because of this property,
authentic Armenian rhythm is too hard to notate.
Dhol also known as davul, is a
large double-headed cylindrical drum. It is widely used in Western
Armenia and many other countries in the Middle East and in almost
every genre of traditional Armenian music. The shell is usually
made of pear or apricot wood and is approximately 12 to 14 inches
in diameter and 12 inches deep. Both ends of the cylinder are covered in sheep
or goatskin and are adjustable for tension using rope lacing and
Also among those instruments, which
are still used is Zurna, which are among the most popular.
Zurna is a wind instrument made of apricot or peer wood and have
a removable double reed. Most of the time its inseparable from
Dhol, and for this reason it is known as “Davul-Zurna” and both
are used simultaneously while musical or dance performances, especially
while public celebrations such as weddings and other gatherings.
It is due to the loud, sharp and cheerful sounds that those instruments
Duduk the Armenian term, for an
ancient woodwind instrument. It is among the most well known musical
instruments in Armenia, which is said to be almost 3000 years
old and is easily recognizable because of its special tone and
deep vibrating sound. On the contrary from Zurna, which excited
the people with its sharp sound and was used during public gatherings,
Duduk with its softer sound is more of an intimate instrument
oriented toward calmer atmosphere, such as friends gatherings.
It looks like a straight tree branch and has 7 or more finger
holes with one thumbhole in the backside, and a very large double
reed. It is played with the technique of circular breathing- particularly
for the drones (dam). Its extreme expressiveness comes from art
of breathing, the subtle fingering and the pursing of the lips.
No other double reed instrument has the unique timber of the Duduk
with its velvety sound. It also is a significant voice in the
Armenian orchestra, carrying significant melodic material. Several
sizes are found, tube lengths ranging from 6 or 7 inches to over
From the mountainous highlands
of Armenia comes the Shvee, the shepherd’s pipe. Popular with
mountain people and folk musicians, the Shvee is now found in
professional ensembles throughout Armenia and the Diaspora. This
versatile flute can produce two octaves of the chromatic scale
and is capable of soft, recorder-like tones as well as powerful
In Persian the word means “small
bow”. It is a four/three-string spike-fiddle. “Koussan” troubadours
like Sayat Nova in the 18th Century were particularly
fond of it. Contrary to the violin, it is the string that goes
toward the bow, when the musician turns the instrument on the
spike-lute. The Kamancha is held by the neck with the left hand
and bowed with the right. It is made of catfish soundboard on
an apricot or walnut tree wood sound box. Traditionally used as
a solo instrument for singing and dancing, as well as listening.
The Tar is a double-bellied Lute,
which is widely used in the folk music performances; it has six
strings and is played like a guitar with exception of being held
higher on the chest. The front part is made of goat or sheepskin
while the back is made of wood and it has a long neck lute. Tar
originates from Eastern Armenia (Caucasus region).
Kanoon is widely used in Armenia
and also in Arab world and is very old. A plucked instrument as
a zither whose 30 strings may be varied in pitch, by the use of
small bridges. It is trapeze in shape and produces a timbre very
close to the harpsichord, though the tones are much more sophisticated.
Most importantly Kanoon contains tones not present in the western
world since it can go ascending or descending with quartertones
instead of half tones in full scale.
Folk Music and Notation (Gamma)
The Armenian music is based on
the Tetra-chord system. This fact was established for the first
time by Komitas (1898) in Etchmiadzin, in one of his articles
in “ARARAT” prominent newspaper in the research on M. Yekmalyan’s
“Badarak” (Holy Masse). Theoretically, he discovered that, the
Armenian Scale consists of chains of “Tetra-chords” where the
last of each chain is the beginning of the next, creating a “chain”
of scale, in difference from the western scale, which is based
on “Gammas” and “Octaves”, in combination creating 8 note musical
According to this rule, if the
first Tetra-chord is C-D-E-F based on 1-1-1/2 tone, the last note
F becomes the first for the second tetra-chord and we have F-G-A-B
flat, also based on 1-1-1/2. If we continue the same way, we will
get the B flat as the first for the third tetra-chord.
“The last note of each Tetra-chord
should be at the same time the beginning of the next, therefore
what we maintain is not ascending order of notes but a chain of
tetra-chords. Armenian folk and church music is based on this
system, which are very similar and have the same structure. All
those which cannot be applied to this system are of external origin”.
is approach was widely accepted
by the musicologists as the one, which is based on logical and
The Armenian folk music is not
“tempered”, it has notes, which are called “low notes”. These
“low notes” also appear in the other neighboring countries with
a different pitch, higher or lower. These “low notes” are noticed
by the small line, which appears beside the note.
The Notation history
Through history we can see that
with the progress of the musical periods, people applied more
and more to the notation system, and with time beginning from
the tenth century they came to the notation of A-B-C-D-E-F-G.
The preservation of the Armenian
music through notation was essentially important to Armenians,
as much as to other nations.
We don’t have sufficient evidences
to verify when, where, how and by whom were the “Khazes” created
and in what way were they used. We have fragmented information
about this topic through some historical accounts.
||The Armenian notation consists
of two independent systems, the prosodic for expressive
recitation, and the musical for singing. In the beginning
the “Khazes” were not based on a specific system,
but were more used as individual remarks and signs,
put to use by composers and musicians for purpose
of reminding them of the piece they composing or the
piece they already knew. It indicated to the way they
expressed various exclamations, pitch, dynamics, duration,
timbre, punctuation, ornaments and prosody, also some
auxiliary signs such as, the single and the double
dot above the nuemes. Referring to the old manuscripts
the number of the basic signs doesn’t exceed 25,while
the additional 30 symbols are the variant of the basic
Some research was conducted on
this subject by musicologists such as Komitas, Sbiriton
Melikian, Robert Atayan and others but no one came
to a clear conclusion.
In 1813, a self-taught Armenian
musician from Constantinople, Limonjian Hampartsum
began laying the foundation for a uniquely Armenian
system of notation based on the ancient neumes, assigning
new values to symbols that had been meaningless for
centuries. The work was left unfinished when Limonjian
died in 1839. His students eventually completed the
work leaving an essential tool for the future Armenian
composers to transcribe the nation’s musical heritage.
Later by the end of the 18th
century, the Archbishop “Chrisantos Matidetsi”, a famous musicologist
and a professor of the church music, created a new system of “khazes”,
by taking the images of the forgotten “papatarios”, and to this
Notes he gives the following Greek
names- Protos, Teteros, Tritos, Tetcargos, Playosku – Protu, Playosku
– Tefterou, Varis, Playosku, Tekartu.
Subsequently, the group of Limondjian
pupils and followers perfected this system and used Armenian names
as substitute to the Greek names. So this is what it became later
– poush, eqorj, vernakhagh, pegorj, khosrvayin, nerknakhagh, baroig
and to the values sough, get, zoig get, storad, zuig storad, etc.
As we know the European notation
is taken from a Latin Prayer, where the first vowel of each line
represented a note (ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la, si)- the same system
was used by Limondjian followers when they applied it on the Armenian
“khazes”. We make this conclusion: PO-Ush, E-gorj, VE-rnakhagh,
PE-gorj, KHO-srovayin, NE-rknakhagh, BA-rouyg- in result we have:
PO, E, VE, PE, KHO, NE, BA.
This system spread very fast, especially
by the priest musicians who studied in the Seminary, and with
this system they started to notate all the church music, songs
and dances. The reasons behind the replacement of notation were
the ambitions of Limondjian and others to create an entirely new
Armenian national system of notations.
Here is an example of a church
song (Sharakan) written in the old notation system and below it
U can see the nowadays-international notation system:
took the theme of Vagharshabad as a musical subject to work on,
which gave this dance many musical faces hanging between traditional
and international, depending on the time and the style in which
it was arranged. Two of these arranger-composers, Komitas and
Babadjanian, contributed in arranging the folk music, and they
presented the Vagharshabad theme into two different faces: the
traditional and the modern.
3 and 4 will introduce the musical life of Komitas and Babadjanian,
and their influence on the Armenian music, which would give us
an idea of the character and the style that each one of them arranged
the “Vagharshabad dance”, as we will se in the further coming
“Armenian musicologists regard
Komitas as the father of contemporary Armenian classical
music on the basis of his ethno-musicological field
studies, his career as a teacher, his beautiful
baritone voice and his many lectures on the history
of ecclesiastical and folk music”. – Rita Kuyumjian
Komitas (Soghomon Soghomonian),
was born in September 26, 1869 to a poor family living in Kutahya
(Ottoman Turkey), whose members spoke only Turkish.
His mother wove carpets, composed, sang songs and wrote
poetry, while her devoted husband Kevork, a shoemaker by trade,
was a good-natured man who loved music. Soghomon was born into
an atmosphere of intense creativity. The modest, musical family
was soon stricken by tragedy- the child was only six month old
when, in March 1870, his mother died at the age of seventeen.
From his earliest days, Soghomon
was immersed in the blend of traditional musical forms- ecclesiastic
and popular, spiritual and worldly- that would become the consuming
passion of his life. The gifted child was soon noticed for his
mental vivacity and beautiful voice. By the age of twelve, he
had become an accomplished singer of Armenian spiritual pieces
and Turkish folk songs.
In 1881, shortly after being orphaned
(his father Kevork died in 1880), Soghomon was sent to Etchmiadzin,
the spiritual center of the Armenian Apostolic Church, to study
at the prestigious “Gevorkian Seminary”. This was the longest
and the most important journey of his young life.
In the Seminary Soghomon learned
Armenian language through hard study and the practice of music.
He mastered the art of Armenian liturgical singing and conducted
research on Armenian folk and sacred music. He spent four years
in the Seminary and if his first eleven years had been a series
of psychological catastrophes, his years at the Seminary were
a period of emotional and intellectual stability, a time of shelter.
His fellow students remember him as a modest, lively and popular
boy. And he would never refuse a request to sing to his friends.
At the conclusion of his religions
education in 1895, he was ordained Vartabed (celibate priest)
and adopted the name Komitas.
Armenian spiritual and folk music:
Due to the oppression of the Ottoman
authorities, organized musical education and European musical
influence on the Armenian musical life did not exist effectively
(as research and composing) till the beginning of the 19th
century. There were no formal concerts, no professional
composers of performers. Nevertheless,
music, composed and disseminated orally, continued to flourish
among the people, particularly among urban troubadours (kusans
or ashugs in Armenian) and the clerics of the Armenian
Many of the Armenian folk songs
were typically improvised pieces reflecting the facts of rural
life and were transcribed in the late 19th and early
20th centuries, a task to which Komitas would devote
much of his life. The liturgy and hymns of the Armenian Apostolic
Church had been transcribed during the Middle Ages by means of
distinctly Armenian system of notation known as “Khaz”, however
these records were effectively useless as the key to interpreting
“Khaz” notation had been lost for centuries. Therefore the sacred
music passed on orally, till the appearance of the new “khaz”
system by H. Limonjian in the beginning of the19th century.
Mastering the system of Limonjian
became the passion for Komitas and his research and investigation
into this system of notation was the beginning of his career as
ethno-musicologist. For his passion he was called “Notaji Vartabed”
meaning the “the note-crazy priest”.
Between 1893-1896 Komitas founded
and tutored the Seminary choir and published his first volume
of Armenian folk songs (1895)- an anthology of 25 pieces which
included wedding and love songs, lullabies and dances under the
name “Aknay Yergeri Shar” (“The song of Akn”, an old city near
Yeprat lake), Etchmiadzin Press.
In 1895 Komitas was sent to Tiflis
(present Tbilisi, Georgia) to study with another great musicologist
and church music specialist Magar Yekmalyan. After a year (1896)
Komitas was awarded a modest scholarship to further his studies
On the advice of Joseph Joachim, the renowned violinist, he enrolled
in the private conservatory of Richard Schmidt, and few months
later he also began studying aesthetics (philosophy) at the “Friedrich-Wilhelm
Universitat zu Berlin” (Royal Berlin University). For his music studies, he had teachers as R. Schmidt for piano,
choir and operatic performance. For harmony and folk music he
had the guidance of the medievalist Henrick Bellermann, and the
18th and 19th century folk music specialist
Max Friedlander. He was also influenced very much from an expert
on medieval neumes and Christian chants, Oscar Fleischer.
“Fleischer’s vast knowledge of
the subject was to be a key element in Komitas’ own investigations
of the Armenian “Khaz” system of musical notation”.
During his three years in Berlin,
Komitas was active in the city’s musical circle. In May 10th,
1899, he gave a lecture about the “Armenian popular and liturgical
music” for the first time. In the same year he was invited to
become one of the founding members of the International Music
Society (IMS), which was established by Oscar Fleischer (1899)-
the forerunner of the present day International Musicological
Society. Komitas was invited to speak on the subject of Armenian
music at the chapter’s inaugural meeting. At four different conferences,
Komitas delivered lectures on Armenian Music.
In 1900, after three years of studying,
Komitas returned to Etchmiadzin and did not hesitate to engage
himself in the fieldwork, documenting the dance tunes and folk
songs of the Caucasus and Ararat Plateau and continued investigating
the Armenian Khaz (neumatic) notation system of the 11th
“Between 1899-1905, Komitas was
in his most creative time. In this period of time he was confirming
the Armenian National music’s cultural experience in pedagogic,
interpretational art, scientific and creative field”.
After maintaining the European
education he has also developed new system of arranging the Armenian
folk songs, in a classical way – polyphonic more than harmonic
(3-4 voices), which was practiced by the Seminary’ student choir.
From 1905 to 1907 Komitas was active
in giving lectures and choir concerts in Trans-Caucasus, Western
and Eastern Europe- Tiflis, Baku, Paris, Bern, Lausanne and Geneva.
His aim was to present the Armenian musical tradition, virtually
unknown outside Ottoman Turkey, to the European world.
Between 1906 and 1907 he lived
in Paris where he continued his active life of concerts and research
on Armenian notation system. During one of his concerts C. Debussy
was present and was amazed with Komitas’ talent. “If Komitas
would have written only the “Antuni” (a song meaning “the homeless”),
he would have still considered one of the big composers in the
world”. This was Debussy’s impression about Komitas music.
In 1907 Komitas returned to Etchmiadzin
where he realized that during his absence his research and development
of Armenian music was given lesser importance. Finally in 1910 he was hopeless, and decided
to leave Etchmiadzin and move to Constantinople (Istanbul), a
city open to Europe and the Middle East, which had an influential
Armenian community. This change had a good impact on his work
and in 1910 he founded the 300-member “Kousan” choir, which he
conducted. In 1913 Komitas recorded series of 78-rpm phonograph
records in Paris and a year later in the 4th meeting
of IMS, he presented three different lectures on the modal, rhythmical
and the metric structure of Armenian music. Those lectures were
a big success and Komitas was elected the chairman of IMS’ newly
created Middle Eastern section.
During June of 1914, Komitas was invited to Paris along with some
other country’s music representatives and delivered lectures on
folk (keghchuk) music”
“The old and new Armenian notation
in the spiritual (hokevor) music”
At the conclusion of those lectures
concerts of Armenian spiritual music were performed by Komitas’
choir, which proved to be the last public performances by the
In April 24th, 1915,
at the height of the systematic destruction of the Armenian population
of Ottoman Empire, Komitas with 291 other prominent Armenian intellectuals
and artists was arrested in Constantinople and deported to the
interior of the Empire (Chankiri). Only forty survived and Komitas,
as if by miracle was one of them. While Komitas was spared the
fate of his friends, upon his return to Constantinople he found
his life’s work – manuscripts, research findings on the “Khaz”
system and his library – in total disarray. From the 3000-4000
notated and recorded folk songs only few hundred survived. A full
accounting of his research on the “Khaz” system has so far eluded
The years following his experience
of the Genocide are shrouded in mystery, and the circumstances
of Komitas’ eventual mental breakdown in 1919 are not fully documented.
The horrors of the first genocide of the 20th century
had the most profound impact on Komitas psycho- he was first institutionalized
in Constantinople and later was moved to Paris by some of his
friends to be given more care, where he spent the rest of his
life between moments of great lucidity and longer stretches of
total mental chaos.
After 1919, Komitas produced no
music. He fell into a protracted period of silence, which lasted
for fourteen years. He died in Paris in 1935 at the hospital in
the Jewish Quarter. The following year his remains were taken
to Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. In honor of his contributions
to Armenian music, then the newly established Conservatory in
Yerevan was named “Komitas State Conservatory”.
Intellectuality And Musical Character
Armenian music until appearance
of Komitas was folkloric, Armenian songs being spiritual, folk
or national were monodic, simple in its form, which is why for
some time it was as if not a part of the world’s big musical family.
It was Komitas, who first tried to take out the Armenian music
from this archaic state and lay a ground for its musical form.
“The different impressions of the
surrounding give birth to yet different feelings. And as the music
being the mirror of our feelings, it reflects us as sad, joyous
or courageous, by looking to the neighborhood, where we live,
feel and create a whole nation”.
Komitas believed that the Armenian
spiritual music reflected the folk music tradition. For the villagers,
creation of a song was as natural as speaking their mother language.
In this case the process of the creation played more importance,
with less regard to the composer himself. In other words songs,
which were composed, were products of a collective, rather than
an individual effort.
“In villages everyone can sing-
good or bad, because all together are part of the creation of
a song. But no one knows who started that game, because all together
are being part of it”.
Often Komitas was present during
the time of this collaborative creation, witnessing people singing
and dancing. For example in 1905 in the Caucasus he observed a
choral circle dance. The song started with the pattern of four
notes, rest and then two notes. The group was repeating the same,
while the soloists changed with another person every time taking
the lead and singing in a comfortable level to his voice. By the
end of the dance Komitas wrote twenty-one versions of those two
melodic lines. The difference between the first and the last version
was huge, and when he requested to repeat the first version it
was not possible any more, as what was remembered was the last
one. And no one could know who composed it, because it was the
creation of the whole group.
Most of the folk songs were short-lived,
because they were composed as the response to the temporary situation,
with new songs always emerging, in particular with the dance pieces,
which were born in the moment and died in the moment.
By collecting all the folk songs
and dances, the main aim of Komitas was to preserve the pieces,
which were fusing and changing constantly and keep it in their
original form, as part of the Armenian musical heritage. He traveled
all over Eastern and Western Armenia to collect songs and dances
– Shirak, Iktir, Artashat, Kodayk, Ashtarag, Vagharshapat, Abaran,
Van and other Armenian populated territories. The main interest
for the composer was the place and birth of those compositions,
their style of the theme, the occasion of the interpretation,
the used musical instruments, the structure and scale in which
they were played or sung as well as the details of the intervals. Komitas also observed that the folk music
has evolved into a local dialect, as much as the language. The
peasant knew his own musical dialect as well as he knew his own
language. The tunes from the mountainous regions of Armenia had
more of rough, passionate and martial musical motives, while the
tunes from the plains were more mild and gentle.
Although Komitas had a European musical education (German and French),
he used that to enrich his work and help in his research while
staying and preserving the rich Armenian spirit. It was his strength
and value. Being familiar with the Turkish, Persian and Arabic
music, Komitas had a point of comparison, which helped him to
be more specific and certain about the Armenian musical style.
In Komitas’ tempered scale view
he describes the Armenian music as composed of chains of Tetra-chords,
where the last of each is the beginning of the next, which differs
from the European method based on the octave scale. Komitas gives
us these six Tetra-chords, upon which, by having different mixtures
we maintain the Armenian scales.
“The different combination of these six Tetra-chords creates
all the Armenian scales”.
Komitas’ musical thinking was oriented
toward chamber and more vocal arrangements. We can also observe this style in his piano
pieces, for example in “Six dances” (which we shall discuss in
details later), where the structure of the piece is based more
on the melody and percussive accompaniment, just as having the
idea of a vocalist and a percussive accompaniment. It is also
essential to mention that Komitas, while working with folk music,
entered the understanding of form and structure, as in any classical
piece. However he had not completed his musical analysis,
which concerned the dialects, and even if he did, either it was
destroyed during the 1915 genocide or still remains in form of
Komitas played a crucial role in
forming a school of music in Armenia by teaching many subjects,
which we must say, were addressed the first time. In the teaching
process teacher plays the most important role and Komitas with
his multi talent was delivering in-depth first hand knowledge
to his students. We must also note that the musical schools of
the beginning of the century were approaching many subjects sometimes
not even straightly connected to musical studies.
To help his students, Komitas wrote
number of books among which is “Armenian notation”, “Harmony”,
“music Theory”. Apart from teaching folk music, Komitas found
important to familiarize his students with European classical
Komitas’ creative life laid a foundation to the formation of the
Armenian national music school, which united centuries old folk
musical experience and professional music studies. Therefore we
must conclude that Komitas was the most important person in the
history of the Armenian music school.
4. Arno Babadjanian (1921-1983)
Babadjanian was a highly regarded composer in the former Soviet
Union, a colleague of Rostropovich and Shostakovich.
Arno Babadjanian was born and raised in Yerevan, Armenia.
Although there were no professional musicians in his family, his
father loved music and played himself some Armenian traditional
instruments such as Kamancha and Shvee.
In his early days, young Arno was noticed by Aram
Khachaturian himself and was given an advice to pursue a career
of a professional musician. The piano lessons under the guidance
of E.Chosrovian played an important role in the development of
the young musician, first in Yerevan and later in Moscow Conservatory.
Apart from the piano lessons the future composer was given a broad
musical education under V.Talian.
In the following years, under
the guidance of H. Litvinski, N. Peikoi and D.Rozalizki in the
House of Armenian Culture in Moscow, Babadjanian produced his
first important piece of music, which was called “Polyphonic Sonata
for piano”. This work significantly contributed to the Armenian
school of music however it was recognized as such only ten years
In 1947 Babadjanian participated in the first international
competition of young musicians in Prague, where his vocal work
“Raise the flags of friendship” received a wide recognition. In
1950 he completed the work on “Heroic Ballade” which reflected
his impressions from the competition, and followed by “Piano Trio”
proved the successful artistic development of the composer.
Babadjanian’s work and activities as a musician and
composer were inseparable, according to the composer himself,
from the life and development of the city of Yerevan which influenced
Babadjanian’ choices as a musician. His work attracted attention
from the early years and lasted for more than 50 years. During
those years Babadjanian produced number of works, in variety of
musical genres- from piano and cello pieces to popular vocal and
His other works are a violin concerto, Symphonic Variations
for piano and Orchestra, a Piano Trio, a Sonata for Violin and
Piano, three string quartets and numerous solo piano works and
In each case, his compositions bear the mark of the
original and inspiring Armenian talent who managed to promote
through his work the Armenian national music, in former Soviet
Union and abroad.
He died in 1983 in Moscow.
This next chapter will contain
a study of the “Vagharshabad Dance”, the original theme, which
is a transcription of the folk theme taken in the beginning of
the 20th century. This main theme will be the base
of the two arrangements of Komitas and Babadjanian, which we will
study and compare their two versions, and find the similarities
and the dissimilarities, to find their approach in keeping the
theme’s original Armenian folk spirit.
Dance, The Original Theme
According to the sources, the original
theme of Vagharshabad Dance is unknown. It is assumed to be composed
before the 19th century, by the local villagers. There
is no research made on the original theme, which would address
from where or when it has appeared and the circumstances it was
composed. The only sources we have are through the transcriptions.
The first person who studied it
was a composer and a musicologist, N. Dikranian. In his version
we see that he used the name "Ranki". There are no clues why is it called this way
while later it was called "Yeranki- Yerevani" by Komitas,
which also later was changed by a close friend of him M. Babayan,
who changed it to "Yeranki". By further new composers such as Khatchatur
Avedisian, Arno Babadjanian, and some others it was called “Vagharshapat
As referring to the later composers,
we see that they used the name Vagharshabad instead of “Ranki”
or “Yeranki”. The reason might be that because on some occasions
Komitas himself used the name “Vagharshabad” or “on that area
style dances”. And the reason why Komitas used both names (Ranki-Yerevani
or Vagharshabad), might be because in those times both cities
(Yerevan and Vagharshabad) were in a bind, and there were no difference
between their people. So it is very possible that people had the
same habits and the same style of dances. As a conclusion from
the name, we might say that this dance is originated from Vagharshabad
city, and that is also why later composers changed it to “Vagharshabad
Dance”, to keep the tradition and the name.
There is a possibility that Komitas
might have based his version on N. Dikranian work, as both versions
are quite similar. However Robert Atayan concluded that it is unlikely, because even
if both versions look similar they have different ornamentations.
Komitas’ version is more fluent and less ornamented, when Dikranian’s
is richer. Judging from the difference in the ornamentations,
we may conclude that Komitas version was taken from the village
people and is folk in its origin. It is also a fact that at the time when Komitas
wrote it, he did not know or have met Dikranian. So the possibility of adoption of Dikranian’s
work by Komitas is most unlikely. Another thing is that in those
times the idea of writing dances, and especially transcribing
dances and classifying them, as “the Armenian Dances” did not
exist. Therefore we can assume that the 1st version
of Komitas- 1902 and Dikranian’s earlier transcription are written
apart form each other.
It is a pity that the main theme
is left unknown, or in those times no one could remember how it
has began, and through time we only have Dikranian’s and Komitas’
versions, from which the latest is taken as a base for the further
variations by other composers and study by musicologists. This
piece is transcribed to piano, string quartet and chamber orchestral
piece as well.
Through two major musicologists
and composers, N. Dikranian and Komitas, and their efforts, the
two valuable versions of “Ranki” are preserved to this day. Both
represent two different major schools through the way in which
it is introduced in national and instrumental- performance style.
As to the way of its performance,
it may be a solo female dance (according to Komitas piano version,
which we will talk about later in page 45), and is played by Nay
and Tar instruments. The occasion of the performance is not mentioned
anywhere and at the time when Komitas transcribed the piece it
was almost lost and being forgotten.
Nowadays the dance is still alive
and many dance groups in Armenia and the Diaspora use it as a
theme to perform. And as to the dance steps, different choreographers
use the old traditional steps, but enrich it with the new techniques
and modern ideas. This dance is not a piece played or danced in
different occasions such as in weddings or any other traditional
gatherings. It is more a dance piece, which is studied and performed
by new choreographers and the composers create new versions with
As a main reference we are going
to take the first version by Komitas, which he transcribed it
in 1902 from the local villagers in Vagharshabad, because all
the coming composers based their arrangements on his version.
In Komitas first version (1902),
we see that as a tempo he mentioned “presto” on the piece, but
later the piano arrangement (1907) is slower in tempo (….=48),
and characterized by the word “Nazani” (in Armenian meaning “gracious”)
in the header. It is very possible that that the first version
was taken from a fast exciting dance based on the tempo “presto”
he used, but he had in his mind another version to arrange later
in a slower tempo with having in mind the word “Nazani” which
we can relate it to the “Naz Bar” which is an Armenian traditional
female dance, meaning “grace dance” and is always performed by
a group of female dancers or as solo performance. And for this
main reason, it may give us the probability to say that this dance
may be a soft (slow) female dance. Another certainty is that Komitas
mentioned specific instrument names, the “Nay and Tar” (see page
45), to give the inspiration and the spirit, of how to play and
feel the peace. He did not mention any percussive instruments
that are used usually in any exciting and fast dance. Another
evidence is that he is mentioning the “Nay” and not “Zurna” for
example, and what we know is that “Nay” is an instrument used
for calm and soft music, on the contrary from Zurna.
Other composers such as Babadjanian
transcribed the piece in the form of a heroic theme and more suitable
for the male dancers, judging from the form, rhythm and the dynamics
of the dance (we will analyze this in the coming chapters page
55). The possible reason might be in the name of “Vagharshabad”
as a great city bearing the significance of a national symbol
and it's historic values and perhaps also in the mention of “presto”
in Komitas original transcription.
Version 1902 By Komitas
The melody consists of three themes
where the second theme is repeated twice, once in the middle and
second in the end. The first theme consists of 8 measures, the
second- 4 measures and the third- five measures and then in conclusion
repeating the second theme slightly different in 6 measures.
We can divide the measures also
in this way:
4 + 4
2 + 3
2 + 3
4 + 2
As a conclusion we can see that
the form is based on A-B-C-B’. As we see some of the amount of
measures of the dance is not divided equally. In its piano version
of 1907 it is more structured, and the melody has few changes,
which we will discuss later (look to the other versions of Komitas
Also with Babadjanian, we see that he based his piano arrangement
on Komitas’ piano version, where in B and B’ the numbers of the
measures are the same. This symmetric form (having equal measures)
can fit more logically to a classical European dance form, but not specifically to the Armenian folk
dance. This idea is more obvious in C as well, where the measures
of the version 1902 are changed by Komitas later in 1907, and
in Babadjanian version was changed as well to 4 measures, which
helped in not breaking the rhythm and make it more symmetric.
It can be because both had transformed the monodic folk theme
to a classical arrangement, and as well as the unsymmetrical folk
form to a symmetrical classical form.
This transformation from non-symmetrical
to symmetrical number of measures doesn’t prove that the main
theme of 1902 is wrongly transcribed, because the music of Armenia
and its neighborhood is rich by non-symmetrical forms and even
not-paired (odd) rhythms. This change to symmetrical with Komitas
and Babadjanian may be based on their European classical background
As to the tonality Komitas is using
on the key F sharp and C sharp and during the melody we see a
B flat, while in the higher octave we observe a change in the
F sharp becoming F natural. If we put all the used notes together,
in the conclusion we come to this scale, which is the combination
of three chained tetra-chords in the form of 1- ½ - 1 / ½ - 1
½ - ½ / 1 – ½ - 1.
It is 2 kinds of tetra-cords where
the first one is repeated twice. These tetra-cords are also mentioned
in Komitas studies on the origin of Armenian music. (See page
One of the differences between
the classical and the folk music is that the classical system
is based on the Octaves, and the Armenian folk scale is not. In the
folk scale, it is formed by chains of tetra-chords (usually the
sum is not an “octave”), each of these tetra-chords have its strongest
note which we call “tonic of tetra-chord” and from these tonic
tetra-chords, the strongest becomes the main “tonic” of these
chains that form the scale. That is why it is “monotonic”, which
means that they have only one tonic note, and it is never repeated
again (on a higher or lower octave). And also because of this
same reason they have the tendency to go to the middle, that is
all the notes from above and the bottom have the tendency to go
to the only tonic, which is placed in the middle.
If we say so then theoretically
we will have the idea of a non ending chains of tetra-chords,
but practically this is not possible because; first if we start
to go further than the usual scale (2-3 tetra-chords), the binding
and the intensity of the relation between the notes may decrease,
and second because folk music is made by the people and mostly
is sang or played on folk instruments, so it is limited in the
human voice register. Also folkloric instrument register is usually
arranged between one or mostly in two octaves, and it is not large
as the classical instruments nowadays.
In the folk music range, mostly
it is made of three chains of tetra-cords, making a ten notes
consisting scale, which is called “tega-chord”.
The Armenian folk music exists of four main tegachords:
1. Hypoprukian-Lokrian Tega-chord
2. Hypotrian-Eolian Tega-chord
3. Harmonic Tega-chord
4. Hypoeonian-mixolitian Tega-chord
If we analyze “Yeranki-Yerevani”
1902, we can see that the combination of the tetra-chords matches
to the Harmonic tega-chord.
The Harmonic tega-chord is called
so because the middle tetra-chord, which is the main (½ – 1 ½ - ½), is a Harmonic tetra-chord.
As we look to the picture above
we see that A is the tonic and D is the dominant. The reason is
because in the folk music the tonic is usually in the middle (see
page 41). Another characteristic of the Harmonic tega-chord
is that there is the tendency for the “dominant” to become a tonic
as well, and the reason is the “second augmented” that we have
in the middle tetra-chord, it can equally dissolve in both higher
and lower directions, to the tonic and to the dominant.
we can apply it on “Ranki” as well
Also we can realize that if we take
both the tonic and the dominant as beginning notes, the first
ascending and the second descending, we may see that they reflect
each other like mirrors, having the same distance from the note
to the other.
Another characteristic of a Harmonic
tega-chord is the “low note”, which appears in the third tetra-chord,
in the second note. The same note E appears twice in the scale
but only in the higher register changes to a “low note”
If we look to the example above,
we realize that the E, which is below the tonic, as a tending
higher tetra-chord note, is high and has an ascending movement(which is another reason for E to shift to E
sharp), where as the higher E has the tendency to go down to D,
the first note of the third tetra-chord, which is also the dominant
of the whole scale, as well as the tendency to the tonic, so with
these two reasons it becomes logical to have the higher E as a
But as we look to the transcription
of Komitas “Ranki”, we see that he did not mention this low note,
as it is supposed to be in a Harmonic tega-chord, (in his version
the low notes equivalent to E). The reason might be coming from
a classical background he had, also considering that later in
all cases it will be a well tempered piano piece, so any way the
low-note E, will not be possible to play. Another reason is the
fact that he was familiar with all the folk systems and whether
he mentioned it on his paper or not, for him it would be clear
the kind and the tonality of the piece.
of the piece is arranged between F sharp and G
And we see twice a first octave
E sharp, once in the second measure and another time in the fourth
If we try to compare the notes
to the Harmonic tega-chord, we realize that we must have an E
instead of the E sharp because it is the first note of the first
tetra-chord (for this specific scale that we are talking about).
But in Komitas version (1902) we don’t see any E, and what
we see instead is an E sharp which appears twice but only as a
“grace” note. It can be that this piece is played only in this
range and having the E sharp as a “grace” note, we cannot take
it as a main. Also because in the later other versions, he changed
this passing E sharp as a normal E. And also this E sharp in the version 1907
(D sharp in the reality), is written as a main note but in brackets,
which might be meaning that it is as the performer taste, whether
doing it E sharp or E natural.
As a conclusion it might be that
this note is an E sharp, but which if we consider will give another
range of tetra-chord, but being mentioned only as a Cue note and
only twice, and also in Komitas different versions more mentioned
as an E natural except in the piano version (1907) which is an
E sharp but in brackets, we may say that it is more
possible to consider the E sharp originally an E natural, but
attracted to the “tonic” of the first tetra-chord F sharp (see
page tonality 41, or even to the main “tonic” A.
“Yeranki-yerevani” Piano version 1907
The Komitas transcription to “Yeranki”
dance goes to the year 1902, February 22. Later in 1906 it became
a part of a series of dances called “6 dances”. The first time
being played as a dance series, was in a concert in December 1,
1906 in Paris by the pianist Sh. Babayan under the title “Armenian Dances”, in which
“Ranki” was one of the dances.
In the form of “6 Dances”, “Ranki”
is the first dance and it is played as an introduction to the
other coming dances “Unapi” - “Marali” - “Shoushiki” – “Hed-arach”
There are many versions of the
same theme (Ranki) made by the composer, done in different times
between 1902 and 1916, and in different places – Etchmiadzin,
Paris, Berlin, Constantinople. These versions are written almost
the same when it concerns the melody, with slight difference in
the ornamentations or the accompanying notes, and in their relation
with the main melody. But mostly it is different in the tempo
- Presto, Allegro, Grazioso, measures - 6/4, 6/8, 10/16 and the
It is obvious that he made many
constant changes in the piece, and that is may be because he was
experimenting with new ideas and new methods, or simply being
a perfectionist. There are some scratch notation scripts by Komitas
between the years 1904-1905, about some ideas of transcribing
this piece into a small orchestral piece, where he noted about
writing it for string instruments and even later to add percussive
instruments as well. However this orchestral version was never
found. Another idea he had was to write it for two “Nay” and two
“Tar” instruments, and this is the second fact where we come to
the chamber orchestration. But again we have no proves whether
he wrote these versions but got lost in the 1915 tragedy, or he
never wrote them but only had some experimental ideas in his mind.
The version that is printed is the one from the year 1907, and it
is mostly used in the time being. There is also a publishing made
in Paris in 1925, under the name “Komitas Vartapet”, it included
the “Six Dances”.
The name of the Dance is “Yeranki-Yerevani”,
taken as a tempo …=48,
and beside it written “Nazani”
meaning “Gracely”, also mentioning the name of two instruments
“Nay” and “Tar”, where he says it should be played in the style
of these two instruments. It is also written in the beginning
of the piece “to be played always piano (tender) and equally”.
Concerning the rhythm Komitas writes 12/8, although the original
version 1902 is written in 6/8. It is conceivable that the reason
lies in the phrasing sentences of the original version 1902, where
each 2 measures are actually one phrase. And in this piano version
we can see it more clearly because of the writing system of 12/8,
where the whole phrase (which was two measures in the original
version) lies in one measure, divided by a bar into two semi-measures.
He made changes in the rhythm as
well, where he transformed the tempo from a fast “presto” to a
slow tempo ....= 48. This change in tempo made each phrase in
the slower version of 12/8 gain more time, and consequently gave
to Komitas more freedom to play with the rhythm, by using more
rhythmic ornaments in the spirit of the often used Armenian rhythm
in different variations through
the themes A, B, C.
|In part A:
|In part B:
This piano version still contains
three themes on the basis of A-B-C-B. He made few changes in the
structure, where the unequal measures became even, as we
see in the part C where the original version is (2+3) measures,
becoming (2+4) in the piano version, and equal, where the
part B and B’ in the original, which don’t have the same number
of measures B=(2+2) and B’=(4+2), became equal in the piano version
in both B=(2+2). Therefore we have A=2+2, B=2+2, C=2+4, B=2+2.
If we compare this with the first original version, we get:
Original Theme (1902)
As we notice, the C and B’ in the
original version have been changed to even and equal measures
in the piano version 1907.
Scale And Harmony
The tonality of the melody is in
G Harmonic-Tegachord (one tone lower than the original version
1907), where G is the Tonic and C is the Dominant.
beginning of the piece we see a special way of writing the keys
and the reason may be his classical
education, because Komitas knew all the rules of the classical
music. Therefore in order to be able to use the A
flat, he first neutralized the B and E flats, and kept the A.
This kind of writing we can see very often in Komitas’ pieces.
Perhaps he found it easier to write the keys the way they should
be from the beginning, instead of writing in the classical rules
and then make many changes in the piece. Komitas kept the classical
form, just neutralized what was not needed from it, and left what
he needed for the piece. What is a fact also is that he tried
many ways to find the best solution to write the keys. In the
folk style the Gamma is completely different from the classical.
The proof is his many attempts in the method of alteration, where
in each version he tried different ways. But obviously this version
is more logical for the player to read and understand, and that
is why it is more accepted.
In most of the piece Komitas was
thinking harmonically of another “tonic”, which is C, and is shown
especially in the beginning and the end of the theme as a repetitive
As a conclusion, we have two “tonics”:
one melodic, which is G, and the pther harmonic, which is C.
As we go through the piece, we
realize that the way he transcribed it is in the style of “Nay”
and “Tar” instruments (as he shows it in the beginning). When
we look to the notes, we see clearly a melody and an accompaniment,
which are being played.
The melody can be replaced by “Nay”
instrument and we see it marked with the notes whose lines are
tending high, and the duration sometimes when needed are kept
and accompanied with the “Tar”
instrument, marked with the notes whose lines are tending down.
The reason why we can confirm that he wrote exactly the style
of the “Tar” and “Nay”, is because “Nay” is a wood wind instrument
and mostly people play the main melody with it. And “Tar” is an
instrument where in its technique of playing, there is always
a repetitive note, which goes through the melody almost without
stopping and sometimes changing, except very rare, and it is used
as a base-accompanying note. And here in “Yeranki” we can see
those repetitive notes as C, G, F and very rare A flat.
It is common sometimes for the
“Tar” to tune the double string notes, one an octave higher then
the other, therefore while playing on one string we can hear a
tune played as if played with two instruments in different octaves.
This can be another characteristic of this version which gives
us the prove of having the “Tar” specifically as the second instrument,
because both left and right hands (in the piano version), play
exactly the same, without any change, except the right is two
octaves higher than the left.
From the beginning till the end
Komitas kept the spirit of the ”Tar” and “Nay”, and he did not
add any chords and harmonies to sound it richer, perhaps he wanted
to keep the spirit of the piece as pure and simple as it was delivered
to him. This way it is easier to see the reflection of the dance,
although to interpret for a pianist such simple and fine piece
sometimes (not to say most of the times) is very difficult, because
one must find the right atmosphere, the right balance and feeling
to be able to transfer this simplicity.
As simple as the piece is, as much
as little dynamics we find in it, but he made clear all the important
changes he wanted to have through little but clear directions.
It is very possible that because of the simplicity of the piece
Komitas did not want to make it very wavy with dynamics, also
to give the freedom to the interpreter to put his/her feelings
by combining it with the information that is found on the paper.
As we go through the piece we can
realize the whole process of the development, where it starts
gracefully and piano “Always piano and equal”, until we reach
the part C where it becomes more energetic “Poco a poco energico”
and after two measures from C where the bridge starts to go back
to B, we see “Poco a poco animato et frescamente” and the climax
is on the beginning of the second two measures of the bridge where
it delivers the melody back to B, is written “ “Poco a poco vivamente
con spelendore” and on the return to the second B, it calms down
“Con grazia e civettera” which stays till the end. So most of
the time we see that it is in a calm atmosphere, where in C we
see the development of the piece and with it the dynamic which
goes more and more energetic, until it reaches to the Recapitulation
B (the second time) where it relaxes again. We should not forget
to mention that in the end under the last line, it is written
“The second time to play the same more gentle and more piano,
and one octave higher”. By doing so the whole atmosphere goes
even gentler especially when it is played an octave higher. The
piece is already written in the higher octave of the middle register
of the piano (the most used part), where the right hand is in
the second octave. And the second time eventually goes an octave
higher, which is the third octave; eventually we reach to the
high register of the piano, which is mostly used or played to
give a certain atmosphere or character, and most of the time is
meant for “Piano” less sound dynamic, or even to give the impressionistic
figure. But In this case the nearest logical thought is to make
it sound less and more gentle.
We can also find some “crescendos”
(ascending in sound), “Diminuendo” (descending in sound),
which go parallel to the ascending and descending of the melody,
may be to give a better idea and to understand those specific
parts to be played eventually with less sound or louder.
An important role in this piece
to my opinion, play the “Staccato” and the “_”, which create a
special character and style. We find that all the repetitive notes,
which are meant to present the “Tar” character, are marked “staccato”.
It can be because the instrument itself when played, those repetitive
notes are meant to be the base accompaniment, and cannot last
too long, because of the technique how it is played and that is
by pinching the string with hard leather. If we look to the combination
of the “Staccato” and the “_”, and analyze how they sound, we
can find a relation between the piece and the character of the
Armenian “Naz Bar”, which gives us the inspiration of the Armenian
girl who is dancing gracefully and “flirting”. Also as we mentioned
before, Komitas is also uses the word “civetteria” in the end
of the part B’, which means the word “flirt” in Italian.
Alterations D sharp or D, And The E flat or E
Concerning the D sharp which is
an E sharp in the original version 1902, we see the change from
a Cue note in the original to a normal in the piano version (also
in the other versions), but what is interesting is that in the
piano version he mentions it in brackets, which means that it
is not obligatory, only as the interpreter desires. Also in all
the other versions he never uses the sharp, this version is the
only one and still is not obligatory.
There is also some research by
R. Atayan, where he mentions the D sharp as a request from M.
Babayan and her sister Sh. Babayan (close friends to Komitas)
who was the person playing these pieces. Maybe for this reason
Komitas mentions it in brackets, which can give us the doubt he
did not like the idea very much but couldn’t reject the pianists
request. Also may be this is why this version is the only one
where we see the D sharp.
Another reason of using brackets
for D sharp is the harmonic C (see the tonality), which has an
attraction on the D sharp to shift it to D neutral.
And what considers the E, neutralized
on the key and flatted inside the piece in the higher octave,
we can say that Komitas gave the priority to the lower E neutral
in the scale, which has the tendency to go up to the tonic G. In an earlier version he used different method
by putting both E and E flat on the key.
There are many reasons why we can
consider this piece of a high value and important as an Armenian
folk piece. One of the reasons is because he kept it pure and
simple, although he had the European education and knew very well
the Harmony and the Theory of European music; Germany was his
biggest school and which played a big role in his life and education.
But still Komitas stayed loyal to the Armenian spirit and style,
by using as inspiration the traditional instruments ”Tar and Nay”,
and the atmosphere or imagination of the Armenian girl dancing
in grace and “Nazani”. Another reason is that although a part
of his life Komitas spent in Paris, and was very fond of Debussy
and Ravel, as it was the revolutionary time of impressionism,
he did not get in those waves, and we can see that he is out of
those affections. He had his own style and nationality, which
if heard, could directly addresses us to the composer’s inner
– “Vagharshapat Dance”
The name, which was “Yeranki –
Yerevani”, was changed and renamed “Vagharshapat dance” even before
Babadjanian’s version, by other composers too. The reason might
be more historical, to keep the city name “vagharshapt” an important
role in the Armenians tradition, also to relate the piece to its
roots. As we mentioned before as well, sometime Komitas himself
named the dance as “Vagharshabad Dance”, -this might have given
them the permission and the right to change the name, or to rename
Babadjanian has written this piece
in 1970’s. It is a piece that can be played alone, or most of
the time with a “prelude” that comes before.
The tempo here is faster than Komitas version and in general much
more energetic and “masculine”, where the rhythmical and harmonic
richness dominates the piece. He took the tempo “Allegretto” and
as a measure 6/8, on the contrary from Komitas’ piano version,
which is written in “Grazioso” and 12/8. It is very much possible
as well, because the original version 1902 was already in “presto”
The piece starts with two rhythmical
measures, as an introduction, where Babadjanian gives us the character
of the percussive instrument, which brings us, directly from the
beginning, to the energetic atmosphere. If we imagine the Armenian
percussive sensation (specially that all the Armenian dances in
general are accompanied by percussive instruments), where we can
translate it, if it is played on “Tumpook”, in the following way:
…… with stem down = Dum : it is
the base beat played in the center of the skin.
……. with stem up = Tack : it is
the treble beat played on the side of the skin.
We can simplify this rhythm to the following:
After these two measures (introduction),
the melody begins accompanied with the same rhythmical feeling,
even though he doesn’t show clearly the accents as much as he
shows in the first two measures.
The structure goes the same as
Komitas’ piano version A-B-C-B, repeated twice these two times
are repeated with slightly small changes in the harmony and the
register. We also notice that he added two measures of introduction,
which we talked about them in the previous chapter of rhythm,
and in the end there is an extra measure (F major chord), which
comes as a conclusion.
Scale And Harmony
The scale of the piece is as the
which is almost the same as the
original version 1902, but transposed two tones lower. The difference
is in the lower note D flat that he used, instead of the C sharp
(which is an E sharp in the 1902 version).
As to the tonality, Babadjanian
writes it under the B flat major, although in the piece generally
we can see lots of changes in harmony and tonality, as well in
the end he finishes in F major (where F is the “tonic” of the
tega-chord). Of course these many changes come from the reason
that the Gamma of this piece is not classified under the classical
rules because of its folkloric origin, and if we try to write
it under the classical scale, it won’t suit any. But because of
the rich harmony that he is using, and the time he composed being
in the modern epic, where using many different complicated and
unconnected harmonies to the tonality became normal, it can be
On the contrary from Komitas, who
kept the melody pure and clear, and more related to its monodic
folk spirit, Babadjanian used the modern harmonies as a base for
developing the same tune, which took the theme further from its
origin and brought it closer to the side of classical European
form of developing a piano tune. He put it in the common spirit
of the modern Armenian style of his period.
We can have a clear idea about
the style if we look to the dynamics and the “Rubattos” which
Babadjanian uses through the piece. The many “ritenutos” that
we see, which are placed always before the Part B, in the last
measures of A and C, in both times, and that is to prepare the
entrance of the part B. It might be because B is the repetitive
part of the piece, and to make it more showing, he made a big
entrance by using the “ritenutos”.
This version has also many dynamical
changes, from “pianissimo” to “fortissimo”. What we can notice
is that Babadjanian always goes to “piano” or “pianissimo” when
he starts with part B, which is the refrain. So he prepares this
B by first making a “ritenuto” and then starts the B with piano.
There is only one exception and that is before the last B part,
where he goes to “fortissimo”, but that is because it is the climax
of the piece. Later in the same part B, he goes back to piano
and ends it softly.
Of course we shouldn’t forget the
pedaling, which is used very often, simply because it is full
of chords and many hand jumping between the big intervals. To
make the melody go fluently and connect the harmonies we must
use the pedal continuously.
After mentioning all the characteristics
of the piece we can realize that it is completely different and
even opposite to Komitas’ version. This one has more an exciting
character, with many “Rubatos” and dynamic differences, as well
as the harmonic structure which is very much complicated comparing
to Komitas’ version. This makes the piece look more powerful with
sound, and the fast tempo with full of chords makes it more technical,
which takes us to the conclusion of being more of a “male” or
“masculine” dance. And also we can find a little bit of romanticism
with the “Rubattos” Babadjanian used.
If we would compare both Komitas
piano version and Babajanian’s version, we can see that as much
as Komitas’ version is simple from the harmony side and calm in
tempo, on the contrary is Babadjanian’s, which is full of harmonic
complexity and very dynamic in rhythm and very much energetic.
We cannot say that Babadjanian’s version is better because of
the richness of the structure and harmonies; he lived in a time
where to use such chords and harmonic sequences was very common
and very much acceptable. We also cannot say that Komitas version
is “primitive” because, first as him being an ethnomusicologist,
he preferred to stay in the characteristic of the Armenian folk
spirit, which is already rich in its way and its form. Because
of this he had to stay in a certain borders, which made it possible
to keep the piece in its origin, and that is: the Armenian instrumental
characters, the image of the Armenian woman dancing in grace,
and also we might say the transparency of the people who went
early morning to the fields and enjoy work by singing and dancing
and creating music spontaneously. In the end, what is music if
not the creation of joy, peace and simplicity, combined with time
and tradition of the people, each in their own character and style.
As to Babadjanian’s version, we
can see that it is more technical and more powerful with sound
and dynamics, more complex with harmonies and rhythmically it
is faster and more percussive, where as harmonically it is modern-classical,
except that he took an Armenian traditional melody and transcribed
it to a piano piece, as a piece of his time and his own. While
listening to it or analyzing it we can still hear the Armenian
old melody, but as being kept in its tradition or exactly in its
own style, is a bit argumentative. But for sure and with no doubt
it has its own value as a characteristic and classical piece composed
by Babadjanian, where we can see a bit of the Russian influence
as well (in the way he uses the harmonies), him being spent most
of his life time living between Russia and Armenia.
No doubt that these two versions
open to us a different perspective of two different versions of
the same piece, and present to us two different schools in different
times. And by mentioning time, we may see that although the difference
in time is less than a century, but the style and the structure
of the of the music development is very huge.
Komitas by being one of the first
founders of the Armenian music school, and the one who saved most
of the old traditional folk and church music, through time made
possible to the coming composers musicologists and musicians to
develop their style and character based on the old and traditional
system, refreshed by the new and different ideas of the present,
which would also be a bridge to our future.
M. Haroutunian, P. Parsamian,
“Hay yerajshdoutyan Badmoutun”. Edition “Nor Tbrots”, Yerevan,
A. Batmakrian, “Hay Yerke Tareri
Michits”. Offset press Donuigian broth, 2nd edition,
M. A. Proudian, “HayJoghovertagan
Komitas, “Hotvadzner yev Usumnasiroutunner”,
V. Nersessian, “Essays on Armenian
Music”, London, 1978.
R. Soulahian Kuyumjian, “Archeology
Of Madness”- Komitas, Portrait of Armenian Icon, Komitas Institution
Princetone, New Jersey, 2001.
A. Shahvertian, “Hay Yerajshdoutyan
Badmoutyan Agnargner”, Haybedhrad Yerevan, 1959.
V. Vartanian, “Haverj Jamport”,
R. Atayan, “Komitas”- Solo Piano
M. Khorenatsi, “History of the Armenians”