“The boy would grow up to be known as Komitas. He would rise above his humble beginnings to eventually be known as the savior of Armenian music”
Recently I had the opportunity to screen Armenia’s official entry for the upcoming 93rd Academy Awards, the movie is Songs Of Solomon. The movie is based on a story written by Sylvia Kavoukjian and includes an all Armenian cast.
This film is identified as a biographical drama account on the life of Komitas Vartabed (aka Soghomon Soghomonyan prior to becoming ordained as a priest), widely known to Armenians as the father of Armenian music.
The story centers on a childhood friendship which is ripped apart by the Hamidian massacres, also referred to as the Armenian massacres of 1894-1896 (by order of Sultan Abdul Hamid II, 34th Sultan of the Ottoman Empire) in the 1890s as a Turkish woman at risks her own life and the life of her family to save her best friend, who is hunted down for her religious beliefs. The film takes place between approximately 1881-1915, which also marks the beginning of the Armenian Genocide (1915).
As with any movie, the soundtrack is equally as important as the the film. Songs of Solomon features an excellent soundtrack of Armenian songs. Much of the music featured is from the talented Yerevan State Choir, created by Maestro Harutyun Topikyan. Several years ago, my father met Maestro Topikyan on one of his trips to Armenia. The choir at the time was fairly new but their songs were dedicated to preserving the choral music of Komitas. Under my record label, I had released the album The Music of Komitas Vartabed which featured Topikyan’s choir. Sadly, Topikyan recently died due to COVID-19.
I have extreme difficulties watching movies that discuss the Armenian massacres and Genocide, it doesn’t matter if the film is factual or fiction. Many of the components that surround these movies strike a chord into my soul making hard for me to watch without feeling the sadness of our people. You are immediately hit with emotion as you hear Komitas’ music at the beginning of the movie.
At first I was weary about watching this movie for those same reasons but as with any good dramatical motion picture, this captured my attention. Well acted, well filmed and edited. However, if you are looking for a full story about Komitas’ life, this movie won’t satisfy that desire. I must say I was anticipating a fuller story about Komitas with this movie as it is long overdue. With that said, it is my opinion, that the lack of focus on his life does not make this a bad movie or get a poor review from me. Truthfully, any (well-made) movie which depicts the horrors my ancestors suffered by the hands of the Turkish government should be shown and supported.
Songs of Solomon shows how Armenians and Turks lived together harmoniously prior to the massacres. This part is true and I am glad it was captured in film. Not all Turks were bad, many helped the Armenians – as much as they could. The love of a Turkish girl for her friend, Komitas created an interesting plot line.
Much more can be said about Komitas and I would encourage you to research and read more about this important figure within my Armenian culture. Much has been written and archived about his contributions to Armenian music.
Unfortunately, this film is not currently slated for worldwide theater distribution but it has been picked (and only Armenian film selected) by the Armenian National Film Academy to be compete under the “Best Foreign Language Film” category at the 93rd Annual Academy Awards, which will be held on April 23, 2021.
The Academy creates their short list of nominations by Feb. 5th – voting from 94 down to 15, it is my hope that this movie makes the cut.