Music of ArmeniaFriday, April 8, 2022
The music of Armenia has its origins in the Armenian highlands, dating back to the 3rd millennium BCE, and is a long-standing musical tradition that encompasses diverse secular and religious, or sacred, music (such as the sharakan Armenian chant and taghs, along with the indigenous khaz musical notation).
Folk music was notably collected and transcribed by Komitas Vardapet, a prominent composer and musicologist, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, who is also considered the founder of the modern Armenian national school of music. Armenian music has been presented internationally by numerous artists, such as composers Aram Khachaturian, Alexander Arutiunian, Arno Babajanian, Haig Gudenian, and Karen Kavaleryan as well as by traditional performers such as duduk player Djivan Gasparyan.
Armenian religious (or sacred) music, which is predominantly vocal, is one of the oldest branches of Christian culture, and was introduced after the Christianization of Armenia in 301 AD. Armenian chant, composed in one of eight modes, is the most common kind of religious music in Armenia. It is written in khaz, a form of indigenous musical notation. Many of these chants are ancient in origin, extending to pre-Christian times, while others are relatively modern, including several composed by Saint Mesrop Mashtots, who also invented the Armenian alphabet. Some of the best performers of these chants, or sharakans, reside at the Holy Cathedral of Etchmiadzin, and include the late soprano Lusine Zakaryan.
Makar Yekmalyan (1856–1905) composed the Patarag, the setting of the Armenian Apostolic Church's Divine Liturgy, which he completed in 1892 in several arrangements and was first published in Leipzig in 1896. This arrangement of the liturgy incorporated polyphonic and homophonic vocal parts into the structure of the Liturgy and saw it be notated in its entirety. This would influence the compositional approach of Komitas, who was Yekmalian's student (along with the works of Kristapor Kara-Murza) and would also see him introduce polyphony with his version of the Liturgy at the end of the 19th century.
Armenian classical composers of Ottoman classical music include Kemani Tatyos Ekserciyan (1858–1913), music theorist Hampartsoum Limondjian (1768–1839) who developed the influential "Hamparsum" notation system, and Bimen Şen Der Ghazarian (1873–1913).
Alexander Spendiarov (1871–1928), Armen Tigranian (1879–1950), and Haro Stepanian are best known for their Armenian operas. Sargis Barkhudaryan (1887–1973) and Garo Zakarian (1895–1967) are representative composers of the pre- and early Soviet Armenian era. The most famous, however, was Aram Khatchaturian (1903–1978), internationally well-known especially for his music for various ballets and the immortal Sabre Dance from his composition for the ballet Gayane. Gevorg Armenyan (1920–2005), Anahit Tsitsikian (1926–1999), Arno Babajanian (1921–1983), Barseg Kanatchian (1885–1967), Edward Mirzoyan (1921–2012), Boris Parsadanian (1925–1997), Ashot Zohrabyan (1945– ), Aram Satian (1947– ), and Vartan Adjemian (1956– ) represent other Soviet-era Armenian composers. Iosif Andriasov's (1933–2000) was an influential composer-symphonist, a moral philosopher, and a teacher. Alexander Arutiunian (1920–2012) is best known for his Trumpet Concerto in A-flat major. Alexander Dolukhanian (1910–1968) composed or arranged numerous Armenian songs, including the well-known "Swallow". Alexander Adjemian (1925–1987), Ashot Satian (1906–1958) and Vagarshak Kotoyan (1921–1992) are known for their contributions to Armenian choral and vocal music. Eduard Abramian (1923–1986) wrote songs on the poetry of Armenian poets Hovhannes Tumanyan and Avetik Isahakian which are now part of the standard repertoire. Artemi Ayvazyan (1902–1975) wrote the first Soviet musical comedies, including the popular "Dentist from the Orient". In recent years, Avet Terterian (1929–1994), Tigran Mansurian (1939– ), Vache Sharafyan (1966– ) and Aram Petrosyan (1972– ) have achieved global success. Another acclaimed, more recent, classical composer is Khachatur Avetissian (1926–1996), many of whose compositions are based on traditional folklore themes. Uruguayan-Armenian composer Coriún Aharonián (1940–2017), besides a notable body of avant-garde compositions has done extensive musicological and political work. The Armenian nationalist composer Alexander Kaloian (1962– ) is known for his overtly nationalistic works for military band and orchestra including marches, tone poems and symphonies immediately recognizable as "Armenian" in their color.
In classical music, many Armenian singers have gained worldwide recognition: sopranos Gohar Gasparyan, Sona Ghazarian, Arpine Pehlivanian, Lucine Amara, Cathy Berberian and, more recently, Isabel Bayrakdarian and Anna Kasyan, mezzo-soprano Tatevik Sazandaryan, tenors Tigran Levonyan, Gegham Grigoryan, and Vahan Mirakyan; basses Ara Berberian, and Henrik Alaverdian, as well as the bass-baritone Barsegh Toumanian.
In the diaspora, Armenian musicians such as pianist Şahan Arzruni, violinists Manoug Parikian and Levon Chilingirian, and composers such as Alan Hovhaness have reached international fame.
Armenian-American composer John Hodian created "Songs of Exile", new music based on poetry by the medieval Armenian painter, poet and priest Mkrtich Naghash. With three female vocalists, duduk, oud, dhol and piano, The Naghash Ensemble has been touring internationally since 2014. Their music has been described as a hybrid of "classical music, jazz, folk and post-minimalism" by the German radio station BR Klassik. Scott Giles (1965–) is an Armenian-American known for his many symphonies and concertos. Armenian-Canadian composer Vahram Sargsyan (1981– ) represents the younger generation of Armenian contemporary composers who is mostly known for his choral compositions.
Armenia has had a long tradition of folk music since antiquity. During the Soviet era, Armenian folk music was taught in state-sponsored conservatoires – in 1978, influential kanon player and composer Khachatur Avetisyan founded the folk music department of the Komitas State Conservatory of Yerevan. Traditional instruments include the qamancha, kanon (box zither), dhol (double-headed hand drum, see davul), oud (lute), duduk, zurna, blul, sring, shvi, pku, parkapzuk, tar, dmblak, bambir, and to a lesser degree the saz. Other instruments often used include the violin and clarinet. The duduk is considered to be Armenia's national instrument, and among its well-known performers are Margar Margaryan, Levon Madoyan, Vache Hovsepyan, Gevorg Dabaghyan, and Yeghish Manukyan, as well as Armenia's most famous contemporary duduk player, Djivan Gasparyan.
Notable performers of folk music include vocalists such as Armenak Shahmuradyan, Ofelya Hambardzumyan, Vagharshak Sahakyan, Araksia Gyulzadyan, Varduhi Khachatryan, Norayr Mnatsakanyan, Hovhannes Badalyan, Hayrik Muradyan, Valya Samvelyan, Rima Saribekyan, Raffi Hovhannisyan, Avak Petrosyan, Papin Poghosyan, and Flora Martirosian.
There are also several Armenian folk ensembles, the Shoghaken Folk Ensemble, founded in 1995 in Yerevan, and others such as the Arev Armenian Folk Ensemble.