By Father Zaven Arzoumanian, PhD
This year the Armenians worldwide are most worthily celebrating the 150th year of Gomidas Vartabed’s birth, the internationally distinguished Armenian talented musicologist of all times, who revived the Armenian art of music and placed it on highest pedestal. He stands the first who introduced the Armenian authentic music to the West through his performances in Paris and Berlin. Gomidas Vartabed studied at the Kevorkian Seminary in Holy Echmiadzin, went to study first in Tiflis under Makar Ekmalian, an Armenian composer and conductor, and soon after to Germany where he specialized in music and piano performance. He finally went to Constantinople at the dawn of the 20th century and organized unprecedented choral groups and numerous performances.
In his four accomplishments, vocal, instrumental, composition, and as a conductor of large choral groups in major metropolises in the Middle East, Gomidas’ talents radiated lights through the mirrors of a clear crystal as it were, ever illuminating both the Armenian generations and the European international art of music in the last one hundred years. Gomidas Vartabed was the unique musicologist who gathered our popular songs from ancient provinces of Armenia by hundreds, placing them on highest echelons, both in Armenia and Europe.
Gomidas cultivated double fields of music. The Armenian Church music from ancient sign notes of music written above each word, known as khaz, by way of revising the performance of the Holy Mass which has always been the pride of our past generations, as it is today. The second field was the fertile land of Armenian ethnic music, kept in the dark at a very low key, for which Gomidas Vartabed felt most ambitious in touring remote villages and collecting those remnants personally, qualifying them before giving his seal of approval with a European touch, so that the entire world seriously and with admiration would recognize the ethnic nature of the Armenian folk music, now expressed in highest classical format from the very source of the Armenian people.
In his own words, Gomidas has stated quite simply that “One single and pure musical note is worth a thousand lectures, because a speech must be clearly heard, understood, and digested, in order to get some nutrition from it, and that requires some time, whereas a musical note penetrates directly in one minute.” He gave many lectures before international critics and composers, but he also sang, using the piano, and teaching the Armenian music transferring it from the East to the West. In his own words, “recently I read two lectures in the Conservatory of Berlin on the Armenian music in general. It was truly a success, as I added to it special data on the Eastern music. Both lectures revealed my reputation in front of the world of music as a qualified musicologist.”