2019 marks the 150th birth anniversary of prominent Armenian composer and ethnomusicologist Komitas Vardapet. “The Future Thinker” is an expression used by Komitas when signing one of the letters he wrote in Paris in 1906 to his close musician friend Margarit Babayan. He recounts about the new piano pieces he is composing and is delighted about the fact that foreigners express so much interest about Armenian music. The 150th birth anniversary of Komitas is the right moment to retrospectively look back at Komitas’s legacy, shed light on how art can become a powerful bond of unity and play a vital role in education and intercultural dialogue.

Text : Nairi Khatchadourian    Photo : Nairi Khatchadourian


Nairi Khatchadourian          

Folk music is inseparable to the human condition. Centuries-old oral traditions contain the stories and voices of those who came before us. Woven together, those songs create a rich tapestry of the human experience. Folk music is both a testimony and an artistic production. Considered as one of the fathers of ethnomusicology in the world, Komitas (Kütahya, 1869 – Paris, 1935) devoted his entire life to collect, transcribe, study, compose, and spread the Armenians’ folk and sacred musical traditions. As singing was an integral part of the peasants’ everyday life, Komitas traveled to the most remote regions and rural villages of Armenia to participate in local ceremonies and feasts and share moments with the peasants during their everyday activity and labor, ultimately collecting over 4,000 pieces of folk music. He used to travel a lot in the villages of Shirak valley, Lori region, Zangezur, and often walk on foot. How many times did he spend the night with the shepherds, in the fields, with the villagers.

Komitas’s sketch from his letter to Margarit Babayan written in December 6, 1906, in Paris


Komitas aimed at studying music beyond a purely sonic perspective by approaching music as a social process and practice, as a human activity which is shaped by its environment and cultural context. By engaging in long, tireless, and meticulous ethnographic fieldwork, Komitas inspected directly at the source of each song, studying the birth of each song and looking at what music peasants were creating, why they differed from one another, how they were conveyed, and which were the specificities of each people’s musical tradition. He effectively preserved an extensive musical heritage of the Armenians for future generations (from rural work songs, ritual songs, nature songs, to love songs and ancient epics), that may have otherwise been lost, and used his collection for scholarly research purposes and for his own compositions. Komitas created a new compositional style when arranging Armenian monodic folk songs. He introduced sophisticated polyphony while maintaining the distinctive Armenian modal scales and musical accents. Komitas contributed greatly to the music world of the 20th century by creating an original oeuvre, both innovative and reformative, where “nature speaks in the songs” as their threads are intimately woven into the fabric of the environment and the society.

Next to his extensive ethnomusicological activities and his creative work as a composer, Komitas widened his musical practice by collaborating with various artists and scholars on small and large-scale projects: he published two volumes of the folk song collection “One Thousand and One Songs” with Armenologist Manuk Abeghyan (with 50 folk songs’ lyrics in each, published in 1903 and 1905 respectively), he envisioned working on a number of operas (of which one, Hovhannes Toumanian’s Anush, has been preserved in draft excerpts), he published in 1912 a vinyl recording in Paris with his own performance along with the voice of his devoted pupil Armenak Shahmuradyan, he authored a great number of scholarly articles and music collections, and toured extensively with his 300-members mixed choir “Gusan”.

Tireless, Komitas always remained true to his principles and was truly beloved for his exceptional human values. “Hard-working, with a strong will, sincere, kind, friendly, sweet, and modest toward all”, “a brave dancer”, “in addition to his musical genius, he also had side talents, like being a poet and a clever comedian who was well known for his jokes!” are how his fellow contemporaries described him. Today, both the veneration of Komitas as an idol and the etiquette he keeps being given as a victim of the Armenian Genocide are problematic as they veil the deepness and quality of his true calling as a truly accomplished artist. In fact, collecting, transcribing, researching the ancient songs and melodies of the regional communities were part of his artistic process to prepare a fertile ground for creation. Komitas unearthed the traditions of the past and awakened the raw beauty of the surrounding musical landscape transforming them into compositional works infused with his aesthetic way of expression for the cultural appreciation of all. Being a future thinker, he pushed the boundaries and constantly brought aesthetic innovation. One that is exquisitely crafted and built on light and minimal elements – intimate miniatures mirroring his own delicate soul.

It is based on this act of aesthetic transformation that “The Future Thinker” open-air poster exhibition was curated this year at the Komitas Park. Fifteen artists from Armenia, Poland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the USA were given carte blanche to create in the genre of poster art, expressing their sensitive vision of the inexhaustible and multifaceted legacy of Komitas. The exhibition was thought of as an exercice de style where to create the posters, the artists used a variety of techniques, such as illustration, graphic design, photomontage, typography, paper-cut work. The exhibition, thought and installed open air, emphasized the link between culture and nature, symbolically reminding the origins of Komitas’s art. With the trees of the park as the new public space around which the posters were displayed, the exhibition embraced the here and now, the present practice, as “The Future Starts Now” writes illustrator Arevik d’Or.

Poster of the open-air exhibition designed by Sargis Antonian


Map of the artistic walk designed by Sargis Antonian


Exhibition introduction text by Nairi Khatchadourian
Design by Sargis Antonian


Komitas’s sketch from his letter to Margarit Babayan written in 1906 in Paris


Poster by Arevik d’Or


Poster by Gayane Sofoyan


Poster by Maida Chavak


Poster by Kevork Mourad


Poster by Adam Rasho


Poster by Tigran Hamalbashyan


Poster by Lilit Altunyan


Poster by Melik Sofoyan


Posters by Kolketiv design room

Siranush Danielyan

Tigran Artenyan


Poster by Karina Manucharyan


Poster by yerevantropics


Poster by Gayane Yerkanyan


Poster by Nouneh Khudaverdyan


Poster by Garegin Martirosyan

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