* 26.09.1869, Kütahya, Turquia † 22.10.1935, Paris, França
Komitas, a.k.a. Soghomon Soghomonyan, Armenian priest, singer, composer and poet, was born on September 26, 1869 in the Anatolian province of Western Armenia (now Turkey). He grew up in the town of Kütahya where he spent a joyless childhood. He became an orphan at the age of 11.
He was known for his beautiful voice and in 1881 the priest of Koutina took the gifted orphan boy to Echmiadzin to study at the Church Seminary. As it was forbidden to speak Armenian at that time the boy, in his early years, spoke only Turkish but learned Armenian at the seminary.
During his time at the seminary Soghomon organized a choir and an orchestra of folk instruments and made the first researches in the field of Armenian Church music. He finished studying at the seminary in 1893, when he was ordained a priest and acquired his new name “Komitas” - the name of the outstanding poet of the VII century.
In the autumn of 1895 he left for Tiflis to study music and moved to Berlin one year later where he took singing classes at a private conservatory. At the same time he attended lectures on philosophy, aesthetics, general history and history of music before he was accepted into Humboldt University of Berlin. In 1899 Komitas returned to Echmiadzin and radically changed the system of teaching music in the seminary. He travelled through various regions of Armenia putting down thousands of Armenian, Kurdish, Persian and Turkish songs and started serious scientific research work, studied Armenian folk and church melodies and worked on the theory of voices. As a composer he began thinking over big, monumental musical forms and continued working on an opera. . His masterpiece “Patarag” (“Liturgy”) is written for the male chorus.
In 1906 after one of the concertos the outstanding French composer Claude Debussy exclaimed excitedly: “Brilliant father Komitas! I bow before your musical genius!”
In 1910 Komitas left Etchmiadzin and went to Constantinople to establish a National Conservatory but failed. Instead he organized a mixed choir of 300 men, singing mostly Armenian folk songs. Komitas spent his time touring, giving presentations and lectures, and acting as a soloist and conductor.
In 1915, during World War I, members of the Young Turk government directed Ottoman soldiers in Eastern Anatolia, near the Russian front, to deport or execute millions of Armenians. Komitas was arrested together with a number of outstanding Armenian writers, publicists, physicians, and lawyers. After the violent arrest he was deported far in Anatolia where he became a witness of the brutal extermination of the nation’s bright minds. And in spite of the fact that due to the intervention of influential figures Komitas was returned to Constantinople, the nightmare he had experienced left a deep ineradicable impression on his soul. Komitas remained in seclusion from the outer world, absorbed in his gloomy and heavy thoughts – sad and broken.
In 1916 Komitas’ mental health deteriorated and he was put in a psychiatric hospital. He found his final shelter in Paris, in the suburban sanatorium Vil-Jouif where he spent almost 20 years of his life.
On the 22nd of October 1935 the life of the Great Komitas came to an end. In the spring of 1936 his remains were transported to Armenia and buried in Yerevan – in the Pantheon of prominent art figures.
No less tragic was the destiny of Komitas’ creative legacy. The majority of his manuscripts were destroyed or lost all over the world…
Komitas was not limited to music only; he is also the author of dozens of poems but they have not been published during Komitas lifetime. The collection of Komitas poems was published in 1969, on his 100th anniversary.