Alexander Brincken

Alexander Brincken: ‘Armenian Language Is a Great Treasure for Me’


By Artsvi Bakhchinyan

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

YEREVAN/LUCERNE, Switzerland — In the intellectual and musical circles of Yerevan many know Swiss musician Alexander Brincken due to his exceptional connection with Armenia and Armenian language and culture. There are few foreigners, even among the Armenologists, who possess Alexander Brinken’s knowledge of literary Armenian. Even many Armenians in Armenia do not speak Armenian as fluent and clear as Alexander does, which he acquired thanks to his diligence and great love of the Armenian language. And this person is not a specialist of Armenian studies; he does not even live in a place with an Armenian population and has no Armenian family. However, he consistently and actively maintains his knowledge of Armenian, both Eastern and Western Armenian, supporting classical orthography and even writes articles in Armenian. Among his articles, the most notable is the review (published in German and Armenian) of Amalia van Gent’s volume Den Ararat vor Augen: Leben in Armenien, where he reveals several anti-Armenian preconceptions of the author.

Alexander Brincken is originally from Russia, He has Georgian, Russian, German and Polish roots. He was born, grew up and received his education in St. Petersburg. Since 1992, he has lived in Lucerne with his Swiss wife, becoming a Swiss citizen in 1998. He teaches music in two schools in Nidwalden (a canton of Lucerne) and plays the organ in a Catholic church of the canton. He regularly visits Armenia, follows closely the political and cultural events of the Armenian world. His favorite places in Armenia are Geghard, Garni, Lori, Tavush and Artsakh.

Alexander, how many times have you visited Armenia?

To be honest, I have not counted, but it definitely will be more than ten times. The first time was in April 1975, at the All-Soviet Student Music Conference held in Yerevan, where I was invited from the Leningrad Conservatory. I read a report about Gustav Mahler and then was introduced to Armenian composers and musicologists. Tigran Mansuryan, Yervand Yerkanyan, Anna Arevshatyan, Armen Budaghyan and some young musicians and songwriters left the greatest impression on me.

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So your interest in Armenia and Armenian music started in this way?

Actually, two years before my visit to Armenia [i.e. 1973], at the Leningrad conservatory we attended a series of lectures on musical culture of the peoples of various Soviet republics and the only composer amidst that musical sea, who impressed me with the highest quality, was Komitas Vardapet. In particular, the first Armenian song which I heard in my life was his Chinar es (You are Like a Poplar Tree). I fell in love with that music and that was the beginning of my love for the Armenians and the Armenia style.

Have you used Armenian melodies in your creations?

I must say that Komitas’ style has deliberately had a great impact on my Mass in Latin, which I wrote in Switzerland in 1993. In addition, of course, there is my Armenian Oratory, in which I used the Armenian style purposefully, largely from the hymns of music and influenced by Komitas.

Are they being performed often?

My music is not being performed often in the West. This is a great and painful issue in general for modern composers because our world, in my (and not only my) opinion, is in a deep and comprehensive crisis. Cheap, mass “culture” is being supported mostly, which is just a surrogate. And serious artists, both in the East and the West, are facing major problems and have to struggle to reach audiences and readers.

What can you say about Armenian professional music?

There are definitely quite interesting and powerful personalities in Armenian music, I must say, with such names as Tigran Mansuryan and Yervand Yerkanyan first of all. There are, of course, other names that I do not know, but one can be sure that the school of Armenian composers is quite strong. If my memory serves, in 1985, a Music Festival of Armenian Composers was held in Leningrad Composers’ Hall, and many young Armenian composers performed their works through their recordings. It was a great and striking phenomenon for us.

As a composer and as one for whom Armenian is not a native language, but who possesses a good knowledge of it, what peculiarities does Armenian have?

For me, from the very beginning the Armenian language has been seen as a very beautiful, very musical, very melodic language with great sounds and it is like that because Armenian has very subtle differences and shades in its phonological system. There are such nuances that, for example, Western European languages do not have at all. This fact raises difficulties for the non-Armenians, but we, musicians, with good ears, delicate and sensitive hearing, see it otherwise. I have to admit that the effort we exert to possess Armenian is justified and rewarding, because it enriches our listening, our musical presentation, and our perceptions in general about language, and hence, about human thinking in a unique way. Consequently, Armenian, in my deepest conviction, is a great wealth that should be cherished and brought up in the younger generations, so they speak in a clean, beautiful way. I must also say that in this sense, Western Armenian inspires me very much. I regularly read the New Harach newspaper, which I receive from Paris, and I have to admit that its language is a genuine, very clean, great Armenian. And I would also say that it would be better if the language in Armenia was used more clearly. I also support the return to classical orthography of Armenian.

How did the concept of your Armenian oratory emerge?

The idea of that work was born in the early 1980s, when I began actively to read about the Armenian Genocide and decided to write an oratory on the basis of Western Armenian poetry, in memory of these martyrs and as an expression of my sympathy with the Armenian people. And already at that time I was thinking it will be very good if this work will be performed at the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. So, in 1982, I was thinking about 2015, and since those distant times I have made initial drafts of my Armenian oratory. At that time, I was well aware that the creation of this work would last for many years, as I need a long preparation period, the formation of common concept and composition, the selection of poems, collection and development of pieces. Besides, I was engaged in many other projects and could not be systematically drawn to that work. However, thanks to God, this idea has come to pass; from 2009 to 2011, I worked ardently and have done a great deal of work over those three years. It lasts one and half hour. The literary basis is first of all Western Armenian poetry, most of Daniel Varoujan’s poems, as well as a major episode of Siamanto’s “The Vision of Death.” Besides, I converted three relatively short poems by Avetik Isahakyan into the music, written in different years, under the title “To My Homeland,” as well as a long excerpt from Vahagn Davtyan’s “Requiem,” which I named “Der Zor’s Lamentation.” And at the end of my oratory, I used Varoujan’s “Ode” as the symbol for demands and an appeal to the Armenians, who would reach his national goals, including territorial demands. It is addressed to the Armenians, as well as to the world community, so they also strongly are aware of the demands of the Armenian people.

And your Song About Armenia finally performed on April 30, 2016 in Yerevan, by the Academic Choir of Yerevan? Please tell us about this performance.

It took place at the Aram Khachatryan Concert Hall of Yerevan on April 30, 2016, one year after the centennial of the Armenian Genocide, although it was presented to the Ministry of Culture of Armenia and to the Commission on the Centennial of the Genocide already in 2011. This sad fact I explain by Armenia’s situation in those years, in particular with the negative factors of the former regime. Nevertheless, the performance of this oratory found great success; the audience and the performers highly appreciated it. There was also a very positive response from the Ministry of Culture (I mean Marieta Makaryan’s article, published in the ministry’s official journal). The performers of the stage were the following persons and musical associations: Armenian National Philharmonic Orchestra led by Eduard Topchyan, Armenian National Academic Choir led by Maestro Hovhannes Chekijyan, soloist Perch Karazyan (tenor), poetry readers Silva Yuzbashyan (Eastern Armenian) and Sargis Najarian (Western Armenian). The general conductor was Eduard Topchyan.

I hope my Armenian oratory will be performed again in Armenia as well as abroad, and thus it will fulfill its mission.

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