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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 Christian 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 or sharakans, are at the Holy Cathedral of Etchmiadzin, 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

Armenian scale.png

Traditional Armenian folk music as well as Armenian church music is not based on the European tonal system but on a system of tetrachords[1]. 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 (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 Gasparyan.

Armenian folk musicians

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, Norayr Mnatsakanyan, Rouben Matevosian, Hayrik Muradyan, Hovhannes Badalyan, 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 Samvelyan, Rima Saribekyan, Susanna Safarian, Manik Grigoryan, and Flora Martirosian.

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 Topouzian who performs on the kanun and VANArmenya,[2] who sings both folk, children's and patriotic songs, performs on keyboards, and promotes the music of "the other Gomidas," Grikor Mirzaian.[3]

Classical and popular music

Classical music

Armenian classical composers include Kemani Tatyos Ekserciyan, one of the best-remembered composers of Ottoman classical music. Alexander Spendiarov (1871-1928), Armen Tigranian (1879-1950), and Haro Stepanian are best known for their Armenian operas. Anushavan Ter-Gevondian (1887-1961) Sargis Barkhudaryan (1887 - 1973) and Caro Zakarian (1895-1967) are representative composers of the pre- and early Soviet Armenian era. The most famous, however, was Aram Khatchaturian (1903-1978), internationally well known especially for his music for various ballets and the immortal Sabre Dance from his composition for the ballet Gayaneh. Gevorg Armenian (1920- ), Arno Babadjanyan (1921-1983), Barseg Kanatchian (1885-1967), Edward Mirzoyan (1921-), Boris Parsadanian (1925-1997) and Ashot Zohrabyan (1945 -) represent other Soviet era Armenian composers. Alexander Arutiunian (1920- ) is best known for his Trumpet Concerto in A-flat major. Alexander Dolukhanian (1910-1968) composed/arranged numerous Armenian songs including the well-known "Swallow". Alexander Adgemian (1925-1987), Ashot Satian (1906-1958) and Vagarshak 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 Hovannes Tumanyan and Avetik Issakian which are now part of the standard repertoire. Artemiy Ayvazian (1902-1975) wrote the first Soviet musical comedies, including the popular "Dentist from the Orient". In recent years, Avet Terterian (1929-1994) and Tigran Mansurian (1939- ) 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.

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

Kim Kashkashian is one of the finest violists in history.

Popular music

In pop music, Suzan Yakar and Udi Hrant Kenkulian were famous cabaret singers in Turkey during the 1920s and 1930s. The most prominent female representatives of modern Armenian pop music include Bella Darbinyan, Raisa Mkrtchyan, and the more contemporary vocal performers such as Elvina Makaryan, Erna Yuzbashian, Nadezhda Sargsian, Zara Tonikyan, Suzan Margaryan, Tatevik Hovhannisyan. The Armenian male pop performers in the diaspora are Adiss Harmandian. Rouben Hakhverdian, Forsh, VANArmenya and Aram Avagyan are prominent lyricists and author-performers.

The first jazz-band of Yerevan was founded in 1936. In 1938 composer Artemi Ayvazyan organized the Armenian State Estrada (Jazz) Orchestra. The conventional performers in the pop-vocal genre have been: Georgi Minasian, Artahes Avetyan, and Levon Sevan.

In France Armenian descent artist Charles Aznavour (born Aznavourian) is much celebrated show and song-stars for decades.[4]

Vahe Mardirossian, another artist of Armenian descent, plays flamenco style music on his own custom made guitars.

Armenian-American pop artists include Cher, whose real name is Cherylin Sarkissian and all the members of the popular heavy metal band System of a Down.

Among the rock bands of the old generation were the "Apostles" of Arthur Meschian, "Vostan Hayots" and "Ayas". Although the audience remains small for local rock groups, interest in young rock bands as Sard and Bambir 2 is increasing, especially after videos for their new songs were shown on local television.

American composer Daniel Decker has achieved critical acclaim for his collaborations with Armenian composer Ara Gevorgian. “Noah’s Prayer” (originally entitled “Mush”) chronicles Noah’s journey to Mount Ararat. “Noah’s Prayer” was debuted in 2002 in Sardarapat, Armenia to celebrate Armenian Independence day in the presence of Armenian President Robert Kocharyan, and His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians (head of the Armenian Apostolic Church). A second collaboration called “Adana” tells the story of the Armenian Genocide, during which soldiers of the Ottoman Empire forced 1.5 million Armenians into starvation, torture and extermination. As with their first collaboration, Decker wrote the song’s epic lyrics to complement the musical landscape of Ara Gevorgian. Cross Rhythms, Europe’s leading religious magazine and web portal said of “Adana”, “seldom has a disaster of untold suffering produced such a magnificent piece of art..”

Today's Armenian traditional dances can be associated with performers such as Tata Simonyan. However, true Armenian traditional songs are being passed on by performers such as Rouben Matevosian, Ophelia Hambardzumyan, Varduhi Khachatrian, and Papin Poghosian.


  • Download recording of "Erivan bachem arer", an Armenian-American folk song from the Library of Congress' California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties Collection; performed a cappella by Ruben J. Baboyan on April 16, 1939 in Fresno, California

See also



  • Hagopian, Harold. "The Sorrowful Sound". 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 1: Africa, Europe and the Middle East, pp 332-337. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0

External links


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