Tel un Ange Noir sur la Neige
( un souvenir d'errance )
Hommage à Komitas (1869-1915-1935)
As a child, around the age of 7, on a Sunday morning, my father and I payed my paternal grandfather a visit. I was watching the objects of the apartment when I was attracted by the reproduction of a picture painted by Sarkis Muradyan. The work represented a man dressed in red playing piano, but all of a sudden interrupted by the violent intrusion of soldiers at night in his home. His left hand still laying on the keyboard. This expressive scene prompted my father's explanation of the events to which the picture related, i.e., what happened on the night of the 23rd to 24th of April 1915.
When I was asked by Anne-Marie Réby to compose a work for the pianist Varduhi Yeritsyan for her festival "Solistes à Bagatelle », her concert taking place within the commemorations of the centenary of the Armenian genocide, I realized it was impossible for me to write a piece for piano in a traditional way. For several weeks I could not hear anything inside myself. Later, at the piano, I tried to play complex chords without letting the hammers touch the strings. During several weeks I boldly wrote an impossible music, barely audible for the player. However I was aware that I refused to comply to the fashionable conceptual music heard here and there. I decided therefore to give up this perspective and to focus on the figure of Komitas to deal with the Armenian genocide — the character of the painting above described. A melody, a harmony, any intervals then became possible, but the piano was still a problem as a mechanical instrument : too distant from the physical aspect of the playing, too far from the strings. I wanted a direct contact of the body of the musician with the strings, given the imperative of contrasts. Then I decided to add a tape and began to work on old or neglected pianos. Some of them had thus oxyded strings, and I played with plectrums. I composed the tape with the recordings I made on my last travel to Armenia. The rain, and a very far away sound come from a liturgical ceremony recorded at Etchniadzin (Komitas was educated there, a place as meaningful for the Armenians than the Vatican) could be heard, as well as the sound of the duduks I recorded during a session of work with Haïg Sarikouyoumdjian.
This piece is composed in 7 parts (the name of KOMITAS gave 7 figures which structure the 13 minutes of the whole piece) played without interruption. The two small loudspeakers must be placed in the piano so that the source of the tape can mingle at best with the actions and movements of the piano player.Tel un ange noir sur la neige, could be heard like an echo of his 20 last years of survival where traces and soundmemories could express some remains.
I took a poem ( see below the one translated by Nikita Struve) of Ossip Mandelstam from 1910 actually written for Anna Akhmatova in which we could also read it like a portrait of Komitas seen by Margaret Babaian. Mandelstam made a voyage in Armenia the year 1930. There he found a new source or a new breath for continuing his work. A revelation. If there was no genocide of the Armenian people or if Komitas would have escaped it without falling into the madness, then maybe these two men would have met each other. It is beyond the historical facts, something I still want to imagine.
Thank you to Myriam and Jean-Pierre Luminet, Janoushka Radion, Joëlle Naïm, Anne-Marie Reby, Pierre-André Valade, Jean-Marc Duchenne
& Haïg Sarikouyoumdjian for their help.
Any photograms from the outstanding movie made in 1988 by Don Askarian about Komitas