the Armenian National Education Committee (ANEC)
This year is the 160th anniversary of the birth of composer Kristapor Kara-Murza, introducer of choral music in Armenian culture. He was born on March 2, 1853 (February 18, according to the old Julian calendar) in the town of Gharasu-Bazar, currently Bielogorsk, in the Crimea (Ukraine). He started to play piano and flute at age 8 and also took private lessons from music teachers in the town. He developed his abilities to read and write music. He was just a teenager when he started to organize and offer concerts.
He moved to Tiflis, the capital of the viceroyalty of the Caucasus, in 1882, and then to Baku from 1885-1892. He was the editor of musical criticism for the daily Mshak, edited by Grigor Artzruni. Kara-Murza offered the first concert of choral music in Armenian history, with a program of patriotic songs, at the theater founded by Artzruni in Tiflis. This was a novelty, as Armenian music was fundamentally written on a one-voice basis, as opposed to European four voices (polyphony). During the next seventeen years, until his premature death at the age of 49, the composer organized some 90 choral groups in fifty cities of Armenia and outside the country, including Tiflis, Baku, Etchmiadzin, Nakhichevan-on-the-Don, Odessa, Batum, Moscow, Kars, Shushi, Constantinople, and others, and gave more than 250 concerts with the participation of 6,000 people.
Kara-Murza’s most important achievement was the collection of Armenian religious and popular songs, and their musical arrangement and conversion into polyphonic music. In 1887 he premiered his arrangement of the Divine Liturgy in a concert in Baku. He taught music at the Kevorkian Seminary of Holy Etchmiadzin in 1892-1893, and later settled back in Tiflis, where he gave special courses to musical conductors.
He also composed songs with lyrics by Armenian poets, as well as music a cappella, and also arranged operatic melodies. He presented in Baku fragments of Faust, the famous opera of French composer Charles Gounod (1818-1893), in Armenian translation. Kara-Murza arranged 300 choral and popular songs, among them such classics as “Dzidzernag,” “Zinch oo zinch,” “Kezi mernim,” “Khorodig,” “Lepho lele.” He also composed and transcribed popular dances, and became the precursor to the modern song and dance ensembles.
In recent years, Kara-Murza has been credited with the composition of the music of the song “Mer Hairenik,” with lyrics by Mikael Nalbandian (1829-1866), which he premiered in Tiflis, in 1885. His music was the basis for the arrangement by Parsegh Ganachian (1885-1967), one of Gomidas’ disciples, which is performed today as the Armenian national anthem.