Armenia, one of the most ancient Eastern Christian civilisations, has miraculously survived a convulsive and peculiarly tragic history. Since its foundation, it has been surrounded politically and geographically by other great cultures with chiefly Eastern and Islamic beliefs, and has endured a cruel history punctuated by ruthless wars and massacres that have led to the disappearance of more than half its population, the exile of many others and the loss of major portions of its territory. Despite all this, throughout the centuries Armenia has preserved the essence of its national identity, first by the creation of its own alphabet (devised in 405 by the monk Mesrop Mashtots) and thanks to its rich architectural heritage, which is scattered beyond the country’s present-day borders. Although this tangible heritage is one of the most striking features of its nationhood, Armenia has also preserved a rich intangible heritage in the form of its music: a very rich and varied, albeit little known, repertory (except in the case of the duduk).
In all highly developed cultures, music – represented and embodied by certain instruments, as well as particular ways of singing and playing – is the most faithful spiritual reflection of a people’s soul and history. Of all the instruments used in its ancient musical traditions, Armenia has given special pride of place to a unique instrument, the duduk. It is no exaggeration to say that this instrument is the utmost expression of Armenia. As soon as we hear the sound of these instruments – they are usually played as a duo – the almost vocal quality and sweetness of their vibrations transport us to an extraordinary elegiac and poetic universe, introducing us to a dimension that is both intimate and profound. The music acts as a genuine balm, at once sensual and spiritual, which touches the human soul and gently heals all its wounds and sorrows.
Montserrat Figueras felt a deep affinity and enormous fascination for these Armenian instruments, especially the duduk and the kamancha, as well as a great admiration for the extraordinary musical qualities of our musician friends from Armenia. After her death, I found great consolation in listening to these wonderful Laments for two duduks and kamancha, and that is why I asked our Armenian friends to take part in the farewell ceremonies that we held for our beloved Montserrat. Their musical performances filled the venues with otherworldly sounds of overwhelming beauty and spirituality. It was after moments of such great emotion, and prompted by the deeply consoling effects of their music, that I had the idea of dedicating this unique project to the memory of Montserrat Figueras, at the same time paying a personal homage to the Armenian people, who have suffered so much throughout their history (a suffering that has yet to be fully recognized) and who, in spite of so much pain, have inspired music that is so full of love and conveys such peace and harmony. It is also a sincere homage to the wonderful musicians who devote their lives to keeping the memory of this ancient culture alive. By a great stroke of luck, back in 2004 our very dear friend, the outstanding kamancha player Gaguik Mouradian, had given me several collections of Armenian music, including the fabulous “THESAURUS” of Armenian melodies, published at Yerevan in 1982 by the musicologist Nigoghos Tahmizian, in which I have found some extremely beautiful examples of this repertory. To these we have added the pieces for kamancha, as well as those for two duduks, suggested by our Armenian friends. Together with another extraordinary musician and very dear friend, the duduk player Haïg Sarikouyoumdjian, I spent several months studying and deciphering the secrets of these ancient and beautiful melodies, listening to old recordings and discovering the “hidden” keys to the style and character of each piece. Over the last several months, not a single night has passed without my spending a few precious hours studying and playing these powerfully seductive melodies.
We finally managed to set aside the time to work on these pieces together, and between the end of March and the beginning of April we gathered at the wonderful Collegiate Church of Cardona to record all the pieces we had selected to form part of this personal and collective tribute to the bewitching, elegiac Spirit of Armenia. Immediately afterwards, together with Lise Nazarian, another great Armenian friend, we set about researching and studying material to accompany the music in the CD booklet: books on Armenian art and history, of which we found an abundance thanks to Armen Samuelian et Alice Aslanian, the curators and driving force behind the amazing bookshop “Librairie Orientale” on rue Monsieur-Le-Prince in Paris, and also to the orientalist Jean-Pierre Mahé for his essential overview of the art and history of Armenia. Finally, we are grateful to Manuel Forcano for his texts on the Memory of the Genocide and the nation’s historical timeline: a history that we hope through our own modest contribution to keep alive through the emotion of the music featured in this recording. Without Emotion there is no Memory, without Memory there is no Justice, without Justice there is no Civilization and without Civilization human beings have no future.
Versailles, 5th July 2012
Translated by Jacqueline Minett