THE ORIGINAL CHANT ALBUM! Komitas Vardapet (1869-1935), the Armenian priest, ethno-musicologist and composer is regarded as the Father of Armenian music. As Bartok did in Hungary, Komitas established a National polyphonic style of composition based on traditional Armenian chant and folk music. In addition to his arrangement of the Divine Liturgy, he collected and organized more than 4000 folk tunes. This compilation presents rare French recordings made in 1912 by Komitas himself performing his arrangements of both secular and religious songs. Armenians world wide will celebrate his 125th anniversary this coming year. These discs were made available for the first time from the government archives in Armenia.
KOMITAS GOES DIGITAL 16-BIT
by Harold Hagopian
Komitas Vardapet is regarded as a national saint in Armenian history. His contribution to Armenian culture and musical development has been compared to that of Bela Bartok in Hungary, another composer-musicologist who took his country’s folk music and incorporated its characteristics to develop a national musical style. As a music student, I have studied and performed the works of Komitas. While studying at Juilliard, I presented a concert of Armenian composers, including many of Komitas’ arrangements of Armenian folk tunes.
When I heard that there were actual recordings of Komitas himself, I set out to find them. There were many record collectors here who had also heard of the discs but never seen one. They were recorded in Paris where Komitas had lived after the Genocide. It was in France at the international record convention, MIDEM, that I came across a young man representing OCTA Records from Armenia. He was interested in doing joint ventures with American companies. As a producer for RCA/ BMG Classics, my first idea was to record some of the first-rate Soviet trained artists I had heard from Armenia. When he told me that they had access to the actual discs of Komitas from the government archives, I was ecstatic. They had already begun transferring and restoring them in a Moscow studio. By the end of the convention, I had arranged to have their master tape sent to New York where I could process it at BMG’s state-of-the-art digital studios.
My work as a reissue producer for RCA mostly involves the restoration of old material from their archives. Our studio is equipped with state-of-the-art computer systems to restore old recordings and digitally clean them up for issuing on compact discs. I have restored vintage recordings of Sergei Rachmaninoff, Fritz Kreisler, Enrico Caruso, Pablo Casals, Serge Koussevitzky, Arturo Toscanini, Jascha Heifetz, Artur Rubenstein, Arthur Fiedler, Eugene Ormandy, The Boston Symphony, Charles Munch, Fritz Reiner and many others. The Komitas project presented a new and exciting challenge. For one thing, the original Komitas discs were acoustic recordings, meaning that they were recorded before the invention of the electronic microphone. Komitas stood in front of a large horn, like the one on an old Victor talking machine, and sang into it. The reverberation of his voice was captured and inscribed on to a wax plate which was later silver coated and used to stamp 78 rpm records. The sound is remarkably clear compared to the Caruso recordings from the same era, Komitas’ discs being sonically superior in that his voice is clearer and more life-like. The balance of the accompaniment and solo voice is also more accurate.
The Komitas restoration began in Moscow with the transferring of the original discs to digital tape. I fed their digital sources into the CEDAR system, the most sophisticated digital audio restoration system around. Developed in England, there are only about 5 full systems in the USA. The complete system runs on a computer costing more than $100,000. The technology utilized by CEDAR was taken from the information decoding systems used in far range war missiles. The program recognizes the original music and separates it from scratches, distortion, “clicks”, and “pops” which are found on old 78rpm records. It samples the music more than 40 times per second and decides what is noise and what is music. The music signal is then boosted and the noise signal is removed. One has to be very careful with the settings or the sound of the music could be altered. It was rather exciting hearing Komitas play “Groong,” having performed this same arrangement numerous times myself. This was the master himself interpreting his own music! There were fifteen records in all, several with Komitas himself singing. Others feature Armenak Shahmuradian, one of Komitas’ own students, while Komitas accompanies on the piano.
Komitas’ voice is surprisingly folk-like in quality, though his European training is apparent. He traveled throughout Armenia, from village to village, notating more than 4000 folk tunes. Only 1,200 survive today; however, those that Komitas preserved and professionally cataloged are further legacies of his talent and constitute a national treasure of Armenian musical folklore. The recordings made by Komitas offer a wide range of musical genres: agricultural labor songs such as Gutan Yerg, scenes from popular life and spiritual songs taken from the Divine Liturgy. The CD has been issued by Traditional Crossroads in time to commemorate Komitas’ 125th anniversary. The package includes detailed liner notes by the renowned music scholar from Armenia, Alina Pahlevanian, and rare photos of Komitas.
2:10 Mokats Mirza
3:08 Hov Arek Sarer
2:21 Gutan yerg
3:07 Arorn ou tatrakn
3:14 Kali Yerg (with V. Der Arakelian)
3:21 Kele Kele
3:10 Kujn ara /Gna gna
3:15 Alagyaz Khunki tsar
3:16 Hishestuk i gisherin
3:35 Cristos Pataragyal
2:41 Urakh ler
Total Time 46:00