Nocturne: a short composition of a romantic or dreamy character suggestive of night, typically for piano.
NEW YORK — When most people think of classical Armenian composers, Khachaturian and Babadjanyan spring to mind, along with perhaps Tigran Mansurian. Komitas Vartabed, the man who saved an entire musical tradition from the flames of genocide, is perhaps understandably seen by many as a composer of folk music or liturgical hymns. Hayk Arsenyan, himself a talented pianist and composer of note, is out to change that perception.
Arsenyan has always loved Komitas, so imagine his excitement two years ago when looking through a publication of works written during Komitas’ so-called “German years” he came upon a nocturne — unknown to the outside world. Published by Diran Lokmagözyan, the nocturne is only one piece in a treasure chest of little-known works by Komitas, born Soghomon Soghomonian in Kütahya in 1869.
Arsenyan has incorporated the piece in a program titled “Nocturnal France,” which was set to premiere and tour in November 2020 but was postponed until September 7, 2021 due to COVID-19. The tour will now hopefully begin with a performance at the Old Westbury Mansion in Long Island and continue throughout the Spring of 2022.
Chopin’s nocturnes of course remain the standard that others are judged by, but the program includes other Gallic composers such as Poulenc and Fauré, as well as newly discovered variations on a Chopin nocturne by Robert Schumann.
To the surprise of many perhaps, the Komitas Nocturne isn’t based on Armenian folk material. Rather it’s a subtle piece that incorporates Western harmonies and places Komitas more squarely within the European classical tradition: “Considering Komitas’ importance as the Father of Armenian classical music and arranger of much of our folk material, this discovery is a real breakthrough,” explains Arsenyan.