Our Music

Armenia is situated close to the Caucasus Mountains, and its music is a mix of indigenous folk music, perhaps best-represented by Djivan Gasparyan''s well-known duduk music, as well as light pop, and extensive Chrisdtian music, due to Armenia's status as the oldest Christian nation in the world.

Christian music

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 invented the Armenian Alphabet. Some of the best performers of these chants orsharakans, are at the Holu Cathedral of Achmiadzin, and include the late soprano Lusine Zakaryan.

Armenian religious music remained liturgical until Komitas Vardapet introduced polyphony in the end of the 19th century. Apart from his contribution to religious music, Komitas may be considered the founder of modern classical Armenian music. From 1899 to 1910, he travelled through the Armenian highlands and collected more than 3,000 folk tunes many of which he harmonized and transformed into Lieder.

The melodic basis of Armenian music

Traditional Armenian folk music as well as Armenian church music is not based on the European tonal system but on a system of tetrachords. The last note of one tetrachord also serves as the first note of the next tetrachord - making the scale on which a lot of Armenian folk music is more or less based a theoretically endless scale.

Folk music

While under Soviet domination, Armenian folk music was taught in a rigidly controlled manner at conservatoires. Instruments played in this way include kanun (dulcimer), davul aa(double-headed hand drum), oud (lute), shvi and zurna. The duduk is especially important, and its stars include Margar Margarian, Levon Madoyan, Saro Danielian, Vatche Hovsepian, Gevorg Dabaghyan and Yeghish Manoukian, as well as Armenia's most famous duduk player, Djivan Gasparian.

Earlier in Armenian history, instruments like the kamancha were played by popular, travelling musicians called ashoughs. Sayat Nova an 18th century ashough, is still revered, as are more modern performers like Armenak Shahmuradian, Vagharshak Sahakian, Norayar Mnatsakanian, Rouben Matevosian, Hayrik Muradyan, Hovhannes Badalian, Raffi Hovhannisyan, Papin Poghosian, and Hamlet Gevorgyan. The most notable female vocalists in the Armenian folk genre have been: Araksia Gyulzadyan, Ophelia Hambardzumyan, Varduhi Khachatrian, Valya Samvelian, Rima Saribekyan, Susanna Safarian, Manik Grigoryan, and Flora Martirosian.

Music and the Armenian Genocide

In 1915, the Young Turk regime brutally murdered about 1.5 million Armenians. Armenians during the Armenian Genocide mainly in the eastern part of Turkey, the native Armenian lands, though other regions where Armenians lived were not forgotten, and oppressed Armenian culture, leading to widespread emigration. These emigrants settled in various countries, especially in the California Central Valley, and the second- and third-generation have kept their folk traditions alive, with oud-player Richard Hagopian being perhaps the most famous of these musicians. Another oud player, John Berberian, is noted in particular for his fusions of traditional music with jazz and rock in the 1960s. From Lebanon and Syria, George Tutunjian, Nersik Ispirian, Karnig Sarkissian and others performed Armenian Revolutionary Songs which quickly became popular among the Diasporan youth, notably ARF supporters. In Tehran Iran the folk music of the Armenian community is characterized by the work of Nikol Galanderian (1881–1946) and the Goghtan choir.


Other Armenian musicians include Ara Topousian who performs on the kanun and VANArmenya, who sings both folk, children's and patriotic songs, performs on keyboards, and promotes the music of "the other Gomidas," Grikor Mirzaian.

Classical music

Armenian classical composers include Kemani Tatyos 

Eksetcian, one of the best-remembered composers of Ottoman classic music. Alexander Spendiarov (1871–1928), Armen Tigranian (1879–1950), and Haro Stepanian are best known for their Armenian operas. Anushavan Ter-Ghevondian (1887–1961) Sargis Barkhudarian  (1887–1973) and Caro Zakarian (1895–1967) are representative composers of the pre- and early Soviet Armenian era. The most famous, however, was Aram Khachaturian (1903–1978), internationally well known especially for his music for various ballets and the immortal Sabre Dance  from his composition for the ballet Gayaneh . Gevorq Armenian  (1920- ), Anait Tsitsikian  (1926–1999), Arno Babadjanyan (1921–1983),Barseq Kanatchian (1885–1967), Edward Mirzoyan (1921-), Boris Parsadanian (1925–1997) and Ashot Zohrabian(1945 -) represent other Soviet era Armenian composers. Alexander Arutunian (1920- ) is best known for his Trumpet Concerto in A-flat major. Alexander Doulukhanian (1910–1968) composed/arranged numerous Armenian songs including the well-known "Swallow".Alexander Adgemian (1925–1987), Ashot Satian (1906–1958) and Vagharshak 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 Hovanes Tumanian and Avetik Isaakian which are now part of the standard repertoire. Artemiy Aivazian (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- ) 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. Uryguayan-Armenian composer Coriún Aharonián (1940- ), besides a notable body of avant-garde compositions has done extensive musicologycal and political work. The Armenian American composer Alan Hovhaness (1911–2000) frequently used Armenian themes in his compositions. 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 colour. Scott Giles (1965-) is an Armenian-American known for his many symphonies and concertos.

In classical music, many Armenian singers have gained worldwide recognition: sopranos Haykanush Danelian, Gohar Gasparyan, Gohar Galachian, Tatevik Sazandarian, Anna Nshanian, Arpine Pehlivanian, Melania Abovian, Arax Mansourian, Lucine Amara, Cathy BArberian, Ellada Chakhoyan , HAsmik Papian, Elvira Uzunian and, more recently, Izabel Bayrakdarian, tenors Tigran Levonyan, Gegam Grigorian, and Vahan Mirakyan; basses Ara Berberian, Shara Talian, Avag Petrosian, and Henrik Alaverdian, as well as the bass-baritone Barsegh Toumanian.

In the diaspora, famous musicians like Kim Kashkashian and Alan Hovhaness have reached international fame.


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