The best known of Gomidas Vartabed’s “five disciples” and an accomplished composer and choirmaster himself, Parsegh Ganachian is also known as the author of the arrangement for the Armenian national anthem “Mer Hayrenik.”
He was born in Rodosto (Oriental Thrace, today in Turkey) on April 17, 1885. He was the son of a shoemaker, and at the age of three, his family moved to Constantinople, where he received his primary education at the elementary school of Gedikpasha. During the massacres of 1896, the Ganachians moved to Varna, in Bulgaria, where the young Parsegh continued his studies at the local Armenian school and studied music theory, violin, and conducting with violinist Nathan Bey Amirkhanian. The family moved again in 1905, this time to Bucharest (Romania), where Ganachian continued his studies of violin and he also took upon piano studies with composer Georges Bouyouk.
After the restoration of the Ottoman Constitution in 1908, Ganachian returned to Constantinople, where he founded the first Armenian orchestra, “Knar.” His encounter with Gomidas in December 1910 and the concert of the 300-strong “Kusan” choir in early 1911 were crucial for his career. He entered Gomidas choir. The great musician selected eighteen members of the choir as his students, and the number gradually diminished to five, of which one of them was Ganachian.
The future composer was drafted by the Ottoman army in World War I and played in the military orchestra until he was exiled to Diarbekir, where he fell gravely ill. He was sent to Aleppo, and he was there when the armistice was signed in November 1918. Along with other surviving intellectuals, Ganachian gathered young people and organized concerts to the benefit of the exiles, creating a wave of enthusiasm in the audiences. At that time, he composed the “Volunteer March” (Կամաւորական քայլերգ / Gamavoragan kaylerk), better known as “Harach, Nahadag” by the first words of its lyrics, written by poet Kevork Garvarentz. He later went to Cilicia, where he also gave concerts, and then returned to Constantinople.
In the Ottoman capital, the Gomidas students organized a group and presented concerts, created a Gomidas Fund and published Gomidas’ works in three songbooks. They also organized choirs and dealt with the education of the new generation. Ganachian composed his well known “Lullaby” (Օրօր /Oror) for soloist and choir.
The Gomidas’ students were sent to Paris to continue their musical education. Going to the French capital in 1921, Ganachian followed the courses of famous composer René Lenormand (1846-1932). Between 1922 and 1932 he toured Aleppo, Egypt, and Cyprus, forming choirs and giving choral concerts. From 1926-1930 he also taught music at the Melkonian Educational Institute. In 1932 he settled in Beirut, teaching at the College Armenien or Jemaran (later the Neshan Palandjian College). In 1933 he organized and directed the choir “Kusan,” which achieved great success in both Armenian and Lebanese circles from 1933-1946. The choir also had presentations in other Lebanese and Syrian cities, as well as in Egypt. It continued its activities until 1961.
Ganachian maintained and promoted the musical principles enunciated by Gomidas, deeply entrenched in national roots. He composed 25 choral songs and orchestral fragments, as well as around 20 songs for children. He also arranged Armenian and Arabic folk songs. Among his most important compositions are the opera “The Monk,” with Levon Shant’s play The Ancient Gods as its libretto, and the cantata “Nanor,” which depicts the pilgrimage to the monastery of St. Garabed in Moush. He also produced arrangements for the Armenian anthem, as well as the Lebanese and Syrian national anthems (1936).
Ganachian lost his sight in 1945, but his choir continued its performances. His works were partly published in Beirut and Yerevan. Among other awards, he was awarded the National Order of the Cedar (1957) by the Lebanese government for his achievements in the cultural life of Lebanon.
The composer passed away on May 21, 1967, in Beirut. The Armenian cultural association Hamazkayin established an arts institute carrying his name in Lebanon. An art school also bears Ganachian’s name in Yerevan.