"Over the years I made my plan, from which and until now, I have moved on and will move on as long as I feel there is energy in my veins. No obstacle can stop me in my mission, the sacredness of which I am convinced with all my heart"
Gomidas Vartabed, Father Gomidas, (1869-1935) is a legend and a national saint in Armenian history, saviour of Armenian folk music and founder of the Armenian classic music.
Born in Kotahia, Anatolia (present Turkey) of Armenian parents, his father Kevork Soghomonian from Kotahia, and mother Takouhi Hovannesian from Bursa. He was christened and named as Soghomon.
Soghomons mother died at an early age. His father, who could not endure his dear wife's death, died soon afterwards. Soghomon was orphaned and remained with his aunt Kouline
Kevorks sister. Soghomons uncle Haroutiun, Kevork's brother, noticing this misfortune and Kouline`s inability [to look after the child] adopted him. Thus Soghomon was taken care of and brought up by his close relatives until he left for Etchmiadzin, Armenia.
Gomidas studied at the Kevorkian Seminary at Etchmiadzin where he mastered the Armenian language and the Armenian spiritual music. At age 25 he was ordained a celibate friar and his name was changed to Gomidas named after Catholicos Gomidas, a musician and poet of the seventh century. In one years time he became a celibate priest (vartabed) of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
Deeply concerned by the fate of his people, Gomidas used cultural promotion as a weapon to defend the cause of his people, to show the world that Armenians were contributors to human progress. As a result of his extraordinary talent, he succeeded to capture the hearts of his audience with his songs, and their minds with his lectures thus making foreign experts acknowledge the existence of a unique and beautiful Armenian music and that of a high civilisation whose presence they had so far ignored. Gomidas studied music and composition under such masters as Otto Flascher, Heinrich Bellerman and Shmidt himself.
Gomidas established contacts with European leading musicians and became one of the founding members of the European Musical Association. His contributions to the same associations Berlin branch were considerable and he presented lecture-concerts that offered a methodical introduction to the unique and special qualities of Armenian music previously unknown to European audiences. His greatest success was in 1914 when he participated in the congress of the International Music Society. The three lectures that he gave on Armenian Church and folk music, were described by one French musicologist as the "most interesting" of all the sessions. The principle conclusion of Gomidas lectures was that Armenian music had remained intact and hence could serve as a basis to the study of religious music. As to the Armenian peasant song, it could serve as a key to understand the characteristics of the folk music of other nations.
Since childhood, Gomidas appreciated Armenian musical folklore and he gathered and organised more than four thousand folk songs and instrumental melodies. Unfortunately only 1200 originals of these songs remain: however those that Gomidas preserved and professionally catalogued are further legacies of his talent, and these works constitute national treasures of the Armenian musical folklore.
The Mission of Gomidas
Gomidas Vartabeds mission has been to arouse and to develop national self awareness through Armenian music, and to spread knowledge of the beauty of Armenian music among other nationalities. Did he accomplish this? He did. The goal of Gomidas was to find, to reveal, to proclaim, and to disseminate knowledge pf authentic Armenian music. He found the Armenian music through the tetrachordal system, by clarifying the metric system, and by solving the problem of accentuation. And he began to compose.
He suffered considerable heartache and persecution, unfortunately even in Etchmiadzzin. After all, since he was a vartabed (monk), the Etchmiadzin clergy expected him to be a vartabed, by praying and regularly attending church. However, Gomidas Vartabed did not want to lose a minute, and wherever the opportunity presented itself, he was their to transcribe. It required time. It required seclusion. Only free time and privacy enabled him to present all this to the Armenian public and the world at large. In 1909, the gossiping and unnecessary remarks (which are common in a monastery) grossly offended Gomidas Vartabed and he departed from Etchmiadzin. In 1910 he went to Constantinople. There he had his own 300-member chorus, Kousan. When Armenian songs were presented in concert, they aroused enthusiasm, exuberant joy, pride, and national consciousness. Not only in Constantinople, but wherever he went Berlin, Paris, Geneva, Italy, the Middle East, Alexandria, Cairo, Tiflis, and Baku, he formed choruses and presented Armenian music, including sacred songs. On such occasions, another type of restriction was exercised by Armenian authorities, who questioned whether nit was befitting for sacred songs to be performed on secular stages, and for a priest to rise to the stage and "conduct". Consequently, the Religious Council at Constantibople decided against Gomidas Vartabed. Forbidding the performance of a planned concert program. He survived all these difficulties. Fortunately, since he had made up his mind that nothing would deter him from his goal, he continued on his road.
By means of his harmonised songs, he revealed authentic Armenian melody. Shahan Berberian, who wrote a concise but comprehensive booklet concerning Gomidas life and work, describes that authentic Armenian melody in the following way:
"His greatest accomplishment in regard to Armenian songs has been that of understanding, in the broadest sense of the word, the unique esthetic value of their essence, and a penetration into their distinctive spirit. He has approached Armenian sacred and secular songs with supreme and justly self-assured discrimination and, guided by his intuition about the essence of the Armenian musical style, inherited as it were, from an ancestral musical genius, he has separated the purely Armenian songs from the alien tunes. Again in the light of that intuitive faculty, he has polished these selected songs by divesting them of elements originating from alien or popular distortions which had been superimposed on them and had warped their quality. Moreover, by the verdict of his accurate perception, our sacred songs were divested of the layers of inane drawls, Eastern grace notes, languid and enharmonic utterances, which later centuries had deposited on them.
"The purely Armenian melody, whether sacred or secular, which emerged from this purifying process, is a simple one, of sober and virile lines, solemn even in its joyous vein, and blissful in its moods of sadness. It is rational in its structure, yet amazingly vivid, profoundly vibrant as well as forceful and gracefully pleasing and the supreme mystery of ineffable charm, I might say sublime charm, a majestic, soul-stirring ascent towards a mystical divine presence.
The Armenian music thus transmitted to us by Gomidas Vartabed, with its logical clarity, its virile force, its pure moderation, is unmistakably Western-Aryan; it is also Eastern. But in the last analysis it is neither the one nor the other; it is genuinely and distinctively Armenian music emanating from the Armenian mistique."
The Immortal Gomidas
We [Armenians] have this miraculous Gomidas. The holy Gomidas. The Saint. The voice and the soul of Gomidas will continue to resound in the life of our people from ages unto the ages.
Unfortunately, Gomidas shed the same fate as his people during the Armenian Genocide of 1915 under the reign of the Ottoman Turks. Although his life was spared by the mediation of a German General, whose son was one of Gomidas music students, the ghosts of his slaughtered compatriots continued to haunt him which put an abrupt end to his creative activity and cut short his ascent in the international musical world. In a severe shock and an insane condition Gomidas was hospitalised. In 1919 he was transferred from Constantinople (Istanbul) to Paris where he spent most of the rest of his life in asylums in France. He died in 1935 and was buried in his motherland Yerevan - Armenia in 1936.
Prominent musical figures such as Thomas Hartman, Tikhon Khremnikov, Mikhail Gnessin and Dimitri Shostakovich have expressed their admiration for the genius of Gomidas and the Armenian music which he served and for which he was sacrificed.
The great Armenian poet Avedik Isahakian who attended his funeral, presented the following oration:
"Dear Gomidas, Today and always you are and will be with us with your magnificent songs, with your towering arts, your admirable historic work. You are immortal. So long as the Armenian people lives, will live also with your songs. But you are very tired dear Gomidas, you suffered a lot; you carried many frights, you have seen the sword of the ferocious enemy. Rest now, you are in the bosom of the genuine soil of your motherland. Your loving song of the aromatic plain of Ararat is looming around you, your songs are rippling on you
Rest in peace dear Gomidas, divine Gomidas."
Compiled and prepared by Sebouh Z Tashjian
-Notes by Professor Alina Pahlevanian
Yerevan Gomidas State Conservatory
-Noragnounk: Centre For Christian Studies & Theology Que. Canada
-Notes by close relative Marig -documenter Marig's daughter Zmroukht (Karakashian) Tashjian
"To My Dear Sister Marig, From Your Brother Gomidas Vartabed" Kotahia - 1909
-The Genius of Gomidas, by Archbishop Torkom Manoogian. (Gomidas Vartabed, His Life and Work, On The Centennial of His Birth, 1969, NY, Diocese of the Armenian Church of America pp. 27-28 in Armenian, pp. 104-105 in English Translation, Shahan R. Berberian.)
-The Genius of Gomidas, by Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, 1987 New York, Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, from pp. 55 & 56