Komitas: a Biographical Mixtape

The biography and intellectual legacy of Komitas Vardapet, an orphan from Kütahya who became one of the foremost Armenian intellectuals of his day, is firmly embedded within Armenian national lore. Yet, seldom has it been told as an Ottoman story. This mixtape presents the life and works of Komitas through some of the earliest recordings of Armenian music, including his own performances. 

Section 1: From Bursa to Berlin: the Rise of an Armenian Ethnomusicologist

Section 2: Komitas Between Armenian and Turkish Nationalism

Chris Gratien is a PhD candidate studying the history of the modern Middle East at Georgetown University. (see academia.edu)

Note for the listener: Although this podcast refers to certain primary sources, it is not primarily a work of primary source research. It is a synthesis of publicly available information and draws extensively from the following works below, which are also mentioned during the course of the episode. For the purposes of academic citation, we encourage you to consult these works.


Komitas: Essays and Articles : the Musicological Treatises of Komitas Vardapet. Pasadena, Calif: Drazark Press, 2001.

Kuyumjian, Rita Soulahian. Archeology of Madness: Komitas, Portrait of an Armenian Icon. Princeton, N.J.: Gomidas Institute, 2001.

Gasparean, Gurgen. Komitas Vardapet: 1869-1935. Yerevan: Sargis Xačenc̕, 2009.

Azatean, Toros. Komitas Vardapet̕: Ir keank̕n ow gorçownēowt̕iwnë. Istanbul: Kiwt̕emperk, 1931.

Adıvar, Halide Edib. Memoirs of Halidé Edib. New York: Century Co, 1926. (click for PDF)

Komitas Virtual Museum (komitas.am)


This episode contains excerpts of recordings by Komitas, his contemporaries, and his interpreters. All of these recordings are available for download or streaming through Komitas Virtual Museum or on Youtube. Here is a complete list of these music samples as they appear in the podcast as well as links where you can listen to the entire recordings.

To read about the history of the recordings of Komitas, see Will Prentice's commentary.

For the Komitas Virtual Museum, see komitas.am

"Antouni" performed by Armenak Shahmuradian and Komitas Vardapet [audio]
"Qristos i mej mer haycanav" performed by Male Chamber Choir of the Yerevan Opera Theatre [audio]
"Mokats Mirza" performed by Komitas Vardapet [lyrics] [audio]
"Hol Ara Yezo" performed by Komitas Vardapet and Vahan Ter Arakelian [audio]
"Andzrevn Ekav" performed by State Academic Choir of Armenia, artistic director and conductor Hovhannes Tchekidjian [audio]
"Tsirani Tsar" performed by Lusine Zakarian [audio]
"Lorva Gutanerg" performed by Komitas Vardapet [audio]
"Garun a" performed by Armenak Shahmuradian and Komitas Vardapet [lyrics] [audio]
"Krunk" performed by Armenak Shahmuradian and Komitas Vardapet [lyrics] [audio]

Additional Background Music

Zemphira Barseghian piano performances the works of Komitas
Komitas String quartet, 1st violin - Edward Tadevosyan, 2nd violin - Souren Hakhnazaryan, viola - Alexander Kosemyan, chello - Felix Simonyan
"Urakh Ler" performed by Mari Pozapalian [audio]


Komitas in Cairo, 1911
Source: komitas.am
Komitas in Berlin
Source: komitas.am

Komitas in his Pangaltı Apartment in Istanbul, 1913-4
Source: Gurgen Gasparian, Komitas Vardapet (2009)

Komitas's Choir in Alexandria, 1911
Source: Azatean, Toros. Komitas Vardapet̕: Ir keank̕n ow gorçownēowt̕iwnë (1931)

Komitas with Astuatsatur Harents on Büyük Ada near Istanbul, 1916
Source: Gurgen Gasparian, Komitas Vardapet (2009)


Manuk Suren said…
Thank you, I appreciate this greatly. I like how you looked into Komitas's concepts of nationalism, very interesting through music. The "Lorva Gutanerg" means the plow's song(yerg) from Lori which is called Pre Gomesh.

great job!
Artak said…
Brilliant! I love your Ottoman history podcast series. Or what was Ottoman history taught at universities meant for?

--> Advertising Neo-Ottomanism?

Elliptical PR language leaving out whatever reminds of a shameful crime. It is called GENOCIDE.
Lectures ignoring the beam in one's own eye.... Missing important points. Creating the impression historical truth lies in the arithmetical middle as if the victim's word stands against the murderer's word resulting in an average, global truth!

Ommitting long-term consequences, forced conversion to Islam and Turkification, expropriation, demographic changes and policies of centuries, eradication of a Christian nation in its own homeland.

Your whole series shows the long way the ugly face of Genocide Denial has gone. Turkish government-backed and strategically planned smooth metamorphosis of violence and hatred into professional & sterile handling of MASS MURDER of the Armenians under the Ottoman Turks.

This is still called GENOCIDE at the hands of the Turks.

Suya sabuna dokunmadan - estagfurullah, ama çok kibar siniz.
Unknown said…
I think they were very brave. If you look at the post, he labels it genocide, in the podcast he says this as well. This is a very hard thing to do for anyone who wishes (as they must) to be able research a wide range of issues, not just the events of 1896-1919.
Evan said…
This is a wonderful piece. BUT weren't there two parts to it? There were on my podcast receiver...
Chris Gratien said…
both parts are displayed here, are you having trouble accessing one of them?
I'm trying to find the opening/closing audio tune, but can't see it in the list of "Additional Background Music" section above. Could you please point me to it, or at least share it's name and performer?

In any case, this is a great episode of a great podcast.
Unknown said…
Hmm - sounds like a good quality book to add to my mound of books to be read! Thanks for pointing it out. I just completed the new summarize of Paul Sabatier's "street to Assisi" - have you read that one?
Unknown said…
Just to make a correction... the Komitas choir in 1911 picture is in Alexandria. Not in Constantinople.. It says so on the picture!!
Chris Gratien said…
Thanks for catching that Kron Nairakaz
Anonymous said…
Where did this podcast go?
Chris Gratien said…
Thanks for asking, khachaturian. I am updating some of the materials in the podcast and adding a new introduction. We also have an interview coming out soon with Melissa Bilal, a scholar who has studied the issues of history, memory, and politics in Armenian lullabies. Her interview is scheduled to be released on the Ottoman History Podcast website on April 24 this year.
Anonymous said…
Very interesting reactions here!

After listening to this episode, it is not my impression that Chris Gratian celebrates Neo-Ottomanism here, but as an ethnomusicologist I do know the problems, when you deal with a generation which is traumatised by the genocide. They become very emotional when they listen to it.

Ottoman history is full of traumata concerning many ethnic groups, but I think in comparison the genocide of Armenians was particularly unexpected, because their background and contribution was a very important and prominent part of Ottoman culture. Concerning music history, the Armenian population of Istanbul/Constantinople had even their own opera houses and Armenian musicians were very popular, not only among an Armenian audience. The fact that they also formed an important part of Turkish nationalism is not so astonishing, even if it became the common perception after the genocide.

When I came to Istanbul, I was more interested to visit the Armenian than the Ecumenical Patriarchate. I am sure that Armenian culture will become an important part of Turkey again, but this needs time.

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