Monday, February 10, 2014

Death of Armen Tigranian - February 10, 1950

They were brother and sister, and had very divergent ways. While Armen (1879-1950) was a musician and became an artist emeritus of the Republics of Armenia and Georgia, Armenuhi (1888-1962) was a poet and became an expatriate with her husband Vartkes Aharonian, son of novelist Avetis Aharonian and a literary critic and public figure himself (people of certain age in the East Coast and particularly in New York will probably recall the Aharonians as teachers, writers, and lecturers).

Armen Tigranian was born in Alexandropol (now Gumri) on December 26, 1879. He played the flute from an early age and participated in the concerts of the woodwind orchestra at his school. His family moved to Tiflis in 1894 when he was fifteen. Eight years later he graduated from the classes of flute and musical theory of the School of Music; he had also taken lessons of composition from Makar Ekmalian, the noted author of the Armenian polyphonic mass. In the same year, 1902, he returned to Alexandropol. He organized school and popular choirs; the latter toured Tiflis, Baku, and Kars. He composed his first songs at this time with lyrics from poets like Avetik Isahakian and Hovhannes Hovhannisian, as well as arrangements of Armenian folkloric songs.
In 1908, at the age of 29, Tigranian started to write his first opera, Anush, based on the celebrated poem by Hovhannes Tumanian, which laid the ground for a new stylistic orientation in the Armenian music theater. Fragments of the opera were presented in Tiflis in the same year. A complete version of Anush was staged for the first time in Alexandropol four years later. The opera was the first composed in Eastern Armenian, and its Alexandropol performance was the first presentation of an opera in Armenia. For the next thirty years, the composer introduced some changes and additions, and revised the musical arrangement of his work. The opera was particularly remarkable for the scenes of popular feasts and ceremonies, as well as its lyrical songs, duets, and choir songs. Some of the melodies composed by Tigranian became very popular and continue to be popular to this day.
Tigranian commemorated on an Armenian stamp.
The composer moved back to Tiflis in 1913. He participated in the activities of the Armenian Musical Society (1913-1921), taught at the Hovnanian School and gave concerts. He wrote new works, such as music for the drama Layla and Majnun (1918), the Oriental Dance for symphonic orchestra, and choral works, and made arrangements of folkloric songs. 

Tigranian continued his creative endeavors during the 1920s and 1930s, and produced songs, cantatas, choral works, and piano works (Dance Song, Suite of Armenian Dances, Oriental Fantasy, Emerald of Shirak, Child Album, etcetera). Anush was staged for the first time at the Opera of Yerevan in 1935. 
During World War II, Tigranian started to work, among other pieces, on a new opera, David Bek, based on Raffi’s homonymous novel. The subject, which was the heroic resistance of the Armenians of Siunik against Persian and Turkish invasion in the 1720s, was suited to fit patriotic feelings, which were on the rise at the time in the Soviet Union. As in the case of Anush, the new opera included many elements of village music. He finished the opera in 1949, but it was premiered posthumously in 1950 at the Opera of Yerevan.
Besides writing music for many plays, Tigranian translated the librettos of Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto and George Bizet’s Carmen into Armenian.
Tigranian’s house-museum is located in his birthplace, Gumri, while streets and music schools in Gumri and Yerevan have been named after him. His statue graces the Ring Park of Yerevan.
A scene from the opera Anush staged by the Gyumri Opera Company