By Sylvia Alajaji
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Indiana University Press

ISBN 978-0-253-01761-1

216 Pages

PURL 1.1 | "Hoy Nar" on Yerkaran: Gomidas Vartabed, performed by Ashugh Bingyol and arranged by Ari Hergel and Burcu Yıldız, issued by Kalan Müzik (2014).

Media reference: p. 29

About this recording

Ask any Armenian about Komitas Vartabed, the Armenian folklorist and musicologist who spent years collecting and transcribing the rural songs of the Armenian peasantry in Anatolia (along with the music of the surrounding Turkish and Kurdish populations) in the years preceding the 1915 genocide, and you will likely be greeted with a rush of bittersweet emotion. To many, Komitas (as he is affectionately known) saved Armenian music. What he found in the villages in which he worked was no less than a revelation to many, but especially to those who felt that any trace of "authentic" Armenian culture had been lost in the centuries since the fall of the historic kingdom of Armenia. Komitas was among the many Armenian leaders and intellectuals who were arrested on April 24th, 1915. Sadly, although he was released, Komitas never mentally recovered from the traumas of his experience. He continued to be haunted by not only his experiences but by what he saw occurring to his people, and was eventually taken to a mental hospital in Paris. He died there in 1935. Ever since, he has been viewed as no less than a cultural hero among Armenians.

"Hoy Nar" is a dance-song notated by Komitas prior to his imprisonment. This song, from the province of Vaspurakan (in what is today northeastern Turkey), is fairly typical of Armenian peasant dance-songs (barerger) in that it is upbeat, energetic, and full of joy. The lyrics hearken to ancient Armenian mythology, as the soloist and chorus call out to the fiery goddess Tsovinar (or Nar of the Sea): "Hoy Nar!" ("Great Nar!") they repeatedly exclaim. Although a number of barerger feature mixed meters, "Hoy Nar" is fairly straightforward metrically. After a brief, unmetered introductory solo by the zurna (a double-reed wind instrument), we hear the dhol (a double-headed drum) join in, and soon a steady 4/4 meter is established. Midway through the piece, the meter transitions into an ever-so-slightly pulled back triple meter.

This song is featured on the remarkable album Yerkaran, released by Kalan Müzik. This album features stunning, imaginative performances of pieces collected and transcribed by Komitas and provides a fascinating look at the great variety of Komitas' musicological findings and contributions. Among the pieces are those of Armenian, Kurdish, and Turkish origins. Together, they constitute an extraordinary sonic geography of the Anatolian region in which Komitas was working.