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Musicologist, composer and an ordained priest, the man history remembers as "Komitas" is among the seminal figures of Armenian national music. "Komitas, The Artist and The Martyr," Serge Momjian's historical/biographical fiction may be the only novel to use dialogue to address Komitas' life. Komitas studied music in Berlin from 1896-99 and he's credited with making use of this training to build a national music tradition.Despite not knowing the language, Komitas' precocious singing abilities landed him a spot in the church's prestigious Kevorkian Seminary.Eventually Komitas published his first collection of transcribed folk songs.During a six-month stint in the Georgian capital of Tiflis, now known as Tbilisi, Komitas encountered a young soloist named Margaret Babayan, with whom he embarked on an intense, and apparently platonic, lifelong friendship, via correspondence. Momjian prefaces his discussion of Komitas the martyr with an exhaustive description of the Ottoman administration's systemic extermination of innocent Armenians.Komitas himself was detained and shipped off to a death camp, Momjian writes, but was saved by a letter from the U.S. ambassador in Constantinople, requesting his immediate release. Komitas' associates eventually had him admitted to a mental asylum.
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