One of the most renowned Armenian Churchmen and musician of modern times was Komitas Vardapet, also known as Gomidas. He was born Soghomon Soghomonian in Kutaha, Asia Minor in the year, 1869. His life had an interesting turn of events, when at the age of eleven, he was orphaned, and at a young age he was sent to a Seminary in Echmiadzin to study. Because of his singing prowess, he decided to teach music at the Seminary after he completed his studies. In 1896, Soghomon was ordained a monk or “apegha” of the Armenian Church. A few years later he was ordained a “Vartabed”, and as is the practice in the Armenian Church assumed his new name “Komitas” (or Gomidas).
Komitas learned a great deal of music from the monks and continued to study music with the famous composer Kara-Mourza, which eventually led Komitas into both secular and religious music. Komitas continued to study music, and in 1896, he was awarded a doctorate degree in musicology. He later returned to Echmiadzin as a choir director, and Instructor of music at the Seminary.
Komitas wrote over three thousand songs in Armenian, Arabic, Kurdish, and Persian, and also contributed significantly to the modern Armenian Badarak. His main contribution was to rediscover Armenian folk music. He spent years traveling throughout the provinces and visiting many villages listening to native songs and dances, and making notes of them for further analysis. His work in arranging and collating the folk music he had collected over the years eventually became excellent songs for chorus music, and made the public aware of the existence of true Armenian music. In addition to the folk music, Komitas arranged the entire music of the Divine Liturgy (Badarak) of the Armenian Church, for male voices.
The internationally known priest was the first non-European to be a member of the International Music Society. Komitas performed concerts in Paris, Geneva, Berne, Constantinople, Venice, and Alexandria. It is interesting to note that in the spring of 1915, during the imprisonment of leaders of the Armenian community, Komitas too was taken into custody. Through the efforts of Henry Morgenthau, Ambassador from the United States of America, and the Turkish poet Mehmet Emin Yurdakul, who admired Komitas’ work, Komitas was released.
After the April 24, 1915 massacres of the Armenian people by the Turks, he succumbed to mental and physical anguish and never fully recovered. Komitas lived as if a walking corpse for the next twenty years. The revered holy man died in Paris on October 22, 1935 in a mental hospital. One year after his death his ashes were transferred to Yerevan and interred in the Yerevan Panthenon. In the 1950’s his manuscripts were transported from Paris to Yerevan where they were being studied and published
“Komitas Vartabed is considered one of the immortals of the Armenian Church and is remembered in the minds and hearts of Armenians”.