Music of Armenia

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The music of Armenia has its origins in the Armenian Highlands, where people traditionally sang popular folk songs. Armenia has a long musical tradition that was primarily collected and developed by Komitas, a prominent priest and musicologist, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. American ethnomusicologist, Jonathan McCollum is a notable scholar of Armenian music. [1] [2] [3] Armenian music has been presented internationally by composers Aram Khachaturian, Alexander Arutiunian, Arno Babadjanian, Karen Kavaleryan as well as by pop musicians and performers such as duduk player Djivan Gasparyan, composer/instrumentalist Ara Gevorgyan, singers Sirusho, Eva Rivas and many others.


Melodic basis

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. [4] The last note of one tetrachord also serves as the first note of the next tetrachord – which makes a lot of Armenian folk music more or less based on a theoretically endless scale.

Folk music

Armenians have had a long tradition of folk music from the antiquity. Under Soviet leadership, Armenian folk music was taught in state-sponsored conservatoires. Instruments played include qamancha (similar to violin), kanun (dulcimer), dhol (double-headed hand drum, see davul), oud (lute), duduk, zurna, blul (ney), shvi and to a lesser degree saz. Other instruments are often used such as violin and clarinet. The duduk is Armenia's national instrument, and among its well-known performers are Margar Margarian, Levon Madoyan, Saro Danielian, Vatche Hovsepian, Gevorg Dabaghyan and Yeghish Manoukian, as well as Armenia's most famous duduk player, Djivan Gasparyan. [5]

Armenian folk musicians Armenian folk music 3.JPG
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 revered in Armenia. Performers such as Armenak Shahmuradian, Vagharshak Sahakian, Norayr Mnatsakanyan, Hovhannes Badalyan, Hayrik Muradyan, Raffi Hovhannisyan, Avak Petrosyan, Papin Poghosian, and Hamlet Gevorgyan have been famous in Armenia and are still acclaimed. 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.

Armenian emigrants from other parts of the Middle East settled in various countries, especially in the California Central Valley, and the second- and third-generation have kept their folk traditions alive, such as Richard Hagopian, a famous oud-player. 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, Karnig Sarkissian and others performed Armenian Revolutionary Songs which quickly became popular among the Armenian Diaspora, 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, [6] who sings both folk, children's and patriotic songs, performs on keyboards, and promotes the music of "the other Gomidas," Grikor Mirzaian. [7]

There are several folk ensembles from Armenia, the Shoghaken Folk Ensemble, founded in 1995 in Yerevan, [8] has worldwide popularity, [9] and others such as the Arev Armenian Folk Ensemble.

Arto Tunçboyacıyan is a well known Turkish musician of Armenian descent, who is famous in Turkey and worldwide, and currently has his own jazz club in Yerevan, Armenia. He was the founder of the Armenian Navy Band.

Ruben Hakobyan (Ruben Sasuntsi) is a well recognized Armenian ethnographic and patriotic folk singer who has achieved widespread national recognition due to his devotion to Armenian folk music and exceptional talent.

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. Sargis Barkhudaryan (1887–1973) and Garo 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 Gayane . Gevorg Armenyan (1920–2005), Anahit Tsitsikian (1926–1999), Arno Babadjanyan (1921–1983), Barseg Kanatchian (1885–1967), Edward Mirzoyan (1921–2012), Boris Parsadanian (1925–1997), Ashot Zohrabyan (1945– ), Aram Satian (1947– ), and Vartan Adjemian (1956– ) represent other Soviet-era Armenian composers. Iosif Andriasov's (1933–2000) music and ethics made him internationally recognized as one of the most important figures in contemporary culture. Alexander Arutiunian (1920–2012) 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 Adjemian (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 Hovhannes Tumanyan and Avetik Isahakian which are now part of the standard repertoire. Artemi Ayvazyan (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– ), Vache Sharafyan (1966– ) 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. Uruguayan-Armenian composer Coriún Aharonián (1940–2017), besides a notable body of avant-garde compositions has done extensive musicological and political work. 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. [10]

In classical music, many Armenian singers have gained worldwide recognition: sopranos Gohar Gasparyan, Sona Ghazarian, Arpine Pehlivanian, Lucine Amara, Cathy Berberian and, more recently, Isabel Bayrakdarian and Anna Kasyan, tenors Tigran Levonyan, Gegham Grigoryan, and Vahan Mirakyan; basses Ara Berberian, and Henrik Alaverdian, as well as the bass-baritone Barsegh Toumanian.

In the Diaspora, famous Armenian musicians such as pianist Şahan Arzruni and violinist Levon Chilingirian, and composers such as Alan Hovhaness have reached international fame.

Armenian-American composer John Hodian created "Songs of Exile", new music based on poetry by the medieval Armenian painter, poet and priest Mkrtich Naghash. With three female vocalists, duduk, oud, dhol and piano, The Naghash Ensemble has been touring internationally since 2014. Their music has been described as a hybrid of "classical music, jazz, folk and post-minimalism" by the German radio station BR Klassik.

Scott Giles (1965–) is an Armenian-American known for his many symphonies and concertos. Armenian-Canadian composer Vahram Sargsyan (1981– ) represents the younger generation of Armenian contemporary music composers who is mostly known for his choral compositions. [11]

Religious 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 re-introduced 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.

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.”


The first jazz-band of Yerevan was founded in 1936. Soviet Jazz was developed by Armenians such as Artemi Ayvazyan, who founded the Armenian State Estrada Orchestra in 1938. The conventional performers in the vocal genre have been: Georgi Minasian, Artashes Avetyan, and Levon Sevan. There are Jazz influenced singers who are popular in Armenia such as Aramo.

Pop music

Armenian traditional songs can be associated with famous performers such as Rouben Matevosian, Ophelia Hambardzumyan, Varduhi Khachatrian, and Papin Poghosian. In pop music, Suzan Yakar and Udi Hrant Kenkulian were famous cabaret singers in Turkey during the 1920s and 1930s. Other 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, and Tatevik Hovhannisyan. The Armenian male pop performers include Rouben Hakhverdian and in the diaspora are Adiss Harmandian, Paul Baghdadlian, Maxim Panossian.

Rabiz music

Rabiz is a genre of Armenian popular music. Rabiz music is distinguished by lyrics and music with elements of Armenian folk music.

Despite wide use, the term Rabiz is not clearly defined. According to some sources it stems from the Russian phrase "рабочее исскуство"(raboche'e iskustvo) used during Soviet times, literally meaning "labor's art". But even in this case, it lost initial meaning. Though a large group of singers and their listeners refer to Rabiz as a music genre, the term is also used widely to refer to a lifestyle. Rabiz refers not only to taste of music, but also to fashion and lifestyle. [12] Although the meaning of this use is largely dependent on personal taste and/or musical preferences of the speaker.

It is listened widely throughout the youth of Armenians in Los Angeles, Armenia, and Russia called rabiz. Rabiz music is music mostly played by musicians such as Tatoul Avoyan and Hayko Ghevondyan. It has taken the face of Armenian music due to its catchy beats and dance type music. Rabiz music is mostly about love or partying called "kef" but also about love to family or Armenia.

The musical language of the rabiz, being a blend of several musical traditions (primarily Armenian national, ashug. [bard-style] and Eastern in the style of the makam [classical court music]), is marked by delicate Eastern harmony and an abundance of melisinas, which allow the musician to achieve the desired effect by purely musical means. [13]

Rabiz music has recently seen unexpected success in Turkey, with the hit "Mi Gna" by Super Sako and Hayko Ghevondyan (also known as Spitakci Hayko) hitting #1 on a Shazam Top 100 list and its video garnering over 120M views on YouTube as of September 14, 2017. [14] [15] This success is thought to be a result of the similarity between Armenian and Turkish rhythms and melodies.


Among the rock bands of the old generation were the "Apostles" of Arthur Meschian, [16] "Vostan Hayots", "Ayas" and Arevatsaq. Interest in young rock bands as Sard, Bambir 2 is increasing, especially after videos for their new songs were shown on local television. Some groups such as Road Movie, Dogma remain in underground, playing concerts in rock clubs.

One of the most popular Alternative Metal bands in the United States is System of a Down, formed by Daron Malakian, Serj Tankian, Shavo Odadjian and John Dolmayan, all of them of Armenian descent. Serj Tankian has released several solo albums with political and socially conscious content. In addition, the most popular Alternative Rock band in the world from Armenia is The Beautified Project. Since its formation the band has won several awards in Armenia, United States and Moscow and has been aired by international channels such as MTV, BBC, PMC, KCAL, etc. [17] The band has played concerts in Armenia, UK, Austria, Germany, France, Russia and Georgia. [18]


Hip-Hop music in Armenia is gradually having notoriety amongst the youth. One of the notable bands was Hay Tgheq (Հայ տղեք) founded in 2001. Later band members Misho and HT Hayko started their own solo careers. One notable rapper in the United States is R-Mean from Glendale, California. R-Mean gained popularity amongst the Armenian Community with the song Open Wounds which commemorates the Armenian Genocide and started a movement "Open Wounds 1915". The song was recently released with a new video and gained over 260.000 views on YouTube alone. R-Mean has also made songs with multiplatinum rapper Game and Slaughterhouse members Crooked I and Joe Budden. Other Hip-Hop groups were formed in Germany such as Armenios, which was founded in Germany by A-Shot, ArmoX & 15Volt, and Super Sako in the United States. Super Sako's single Mi Gna gained notoriety all over the world with over 190 million views on YouTube, got remakes in over 10 languages and remixes by famous artists from all around the globe like Maitre Gims (France), Balti (Morocco) or DJ Pantelis (Greece).

Armenian musicians from the Diaspora

There is a large number of musicians of Armenian descent or origin but living (or born) outside of Armenia. Some of them are famous all over the world. In France Armenian descent artist Charles Aznavour (born Aznavourian) is much celebrated show and song-stars for decades. [19] In 2009 Armenian-American singer and songwriter Serj Tankian along with his father Khatchadour Tankian sang their rendition of "Bari Arakel" on an Armenian charity telethon. 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. Keyboardist Derek Sherinian is a worldwide rock keyboard legend who has played with Alice Cooper, Kiss, Dream Theater amongst many others. Andy Madadian is a legendary artist who is Armenian-Iranian, and Vigen Derderian is an Armenian-Iranian legendary jazz and pop artist. Vahe Mardirossian another well known guitarist, composer and luthier of Armenian descent, plays flamenco style music on his own custom made, hand crafted flamenco guitars. Armik, an Armenian-Iranian flamenco guitarist and composer. As a guitarist, he is one of the most adulated virtuosos of the Nuevo Flamenco genre, having appeared in Billboard Magazine's Top Ten New Age Artists in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2008. Armenian-American Pianist/Keyboardist/Composer/Vocalist Danny Bedrosian has been the main keyboardist for Rock and Roll hall of Fame inducted band, George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic (also known as P-Funk) since 2003. He has played with the band at over 850 shows and counting, on all six liveable continents and in over thirty five nations worldwide. Bedrosian has played before crowds as big as almost half a million people. He has likewise appeared on several live and studio albums by the group since his induction in P-Funk; Bedrosian's ancestors hail from Kharpert province, his family descending from Genocide survivors in Kharpert City and Habousi Village. George Mgrdichian, an Armenian musician, played several instruments in the jazz genre. He preferred the clarinet, but also learned the oud while joined with an American band. He died at 71 in 2006. [20]


See also

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