The man who went by the name Komitas (Soghomon Soghomonian) was an Armenian composer, conductor, and folk music collector. During 66 years of his life he collected thousands of folk songs and authored dozens of choral and vocal music works of his own.
Komitas was born on September 26, 1869 in The Ottoman Empire, Ketaia, in an Armenian family of a shoemaker. As a little boy he was sent to an Armenian monastery where he learned the rudiments of music and the seeds of passion towards music were disseminated in his soul. As one of his classmates recalled, “Soghomon was a frail, weak, pale boy, always thoughtful and kind. He was dressed poorly, and he liked to spend time sleeping on the cold stones of the laundry room, or wandering the valleys”. Komitas became an orphan when he was only 11…
In the early 1890s after being ordained a monk in the seminary, he started writing his own music. In 1893, he was ordained a priest (“Vardapet”), and received the name Komitas for himself (the original Komitas was a famous Armenian Medieval musician). In 1895, the first published volume of his folk songs collection appeared which captured a great deal of attention not only in Armenia, but in Europe as well. Feeling an acute longing for formal training in Western music (as opposed to Armenian traditional music, which is a very different beast indeed), he started his music studies at the University of Berlin (the private conservatory of Professor Richard Schmidt). His studies were financed by the largest Armenian oil magnate Alexander Mantashyan. Moreover, in his spare time he also took some private music lessons on the side from 1896 until the beginning of the new century. Simultaneously with these classes, Komitas also attended the lectures on Philosophy, Esthetics, General History and History of Music. During these academic years he had an opportunity to “communicate” with European music, continually enriching the supply of knowledge, and engaging in musical criticism.
After graduation, Komitas traveled a lot: crossing Europe he went to Constantinople, Alexandria, Cairo, etc. Over the course of the next 20 years, during his travels, he brought traditional Armenian music to displaced Armenian populations, organized various musical events, and formed choirs of Armenian singers. However, the slaughter of millions of Armenians throughout the Ottoman Empire in 1915 left the musical genius a mad man and he spent most of his remaining 20 years a virtual invalid in Paris, in the suburban psychiatric hospital Villejuif. On the 22nd of October, in 1916 the life of the Great Komitas terminated. In the spring of 1936, he was transported to Armenia and buried in the Pantheon of prominent art figures. Currently, the Pantheon is named after Komitas. Recently, near the Pantheon, has opened the Museum of Komitas.
The well-known musicians: Vincent D’Indy, Gabriel Faure, Camille Saint Seans, etc. were in love with Komitas’ creative work. In 1906 after one of the concertos the outstanding French composer Claude Debussy exclaimed excitedly: “Brilliant father Komitas! I bow before your musical genius!”