László Melis, Anna Mailyan, Fruzsina Káli Fonyódi László Melis: Armenian Legend

BMCCD062 2001

A dance cantata written on the occasion of the 1700th anniversary of the Armenian adoption of Christianity

Instrumentation, melodies, expressiveness, these are the musical parameters of László Melis' dance cantata, and the list does not stop there; these are all significant components of a composition with multicultural roots, in the gentler sense of the word.

Endre Olsvay


Anna Mailyan - sarakan vocalist
Zoltán Gyöngyössy - flute (Miyazawa)
Fruzsina Káli Fonyódi - oboe
Csaba Klenyán - clarinet, bass clarinet (Selmer instruments)
György Lakatos - bassoon (Heckel No. 8492)
Szilvia Szigeti - violin
Márta Melis - viola
György Déri - violoncello
Péter Boldoghy Kummert - double bass
Zoltán Lengyel - piano
Boglárka Fábry - percussion
Tamás Schlanger - percussion

Conducted by László Melis

Libretto by Alex Avanesian, Domokos Moldován

About the album

This recording was made on the occasion of the 1700th anniversary of the Armenian adoption of Christianity by the Hungarian Radio PLC’s Directorate of Regional and Ethnic Broadcasts in co-operation with the National Self-Government of the Armenian Minority in Hungary and the Budapest Chamber Opera.

Recording producer: Péter Aczél
Balance engineer: Károly Horváth
Recording assistant: Zsolt Komesz

Cover and portrait photos: István Huszti
Design: Meral Yasar

Produced by László Gőz

The recording was sponsored by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and the National Cultural Fund of Hungary.

3500 HUF 11 EUR

László Melis: Armenian legend

01 The Bells of Khor Virap 1:18
02 Promenade 2:22
03 Pagan Sacrificial Dance at the Statue of the Goddess Anahit 7:50
04 The Appearance of St. Gregory with the Virgins 4:23
05 The Dispersal of the Virgins 1:21
06 The Seduction of King Tiridates and the Murder of Hripsime 3:12
07 Lament for Hripsime 3:29
08 The Stoning to Death 2:09
09 The Removal of the Dead 4:46
10 The Torture of St. Gregory 2:58
11 The Imprisonment of St. Gregory 2:25
12 The Christian Women Feed St. Gregory in Secret 4:44
13 The Revelry of King Tiridates 5:13
14 The Dance of the Swine 3:11
15 The Cure of the King Tiridates 2:30
16 St. Gregory Leaves the Prison 6:02
17 The Retransformation of the Soldiers 3:08
18 The Glorification of St. Gregory the Illuminator 2:09
Total time 63:10

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The Armenian Legend

2001 was a memorial year for Armenia, and also drew our attention to that nation: 1700 years ago, in A.D.301, the Armenian people collectively adopted Christianity, becoming the first nation in the world to do so. Thus the Armenian ruler Trdat III preceded even Constantine the Great (Roman emperor from A.D. 324 to 337), as the first emperor to sanction and support the Christian Church.

Armenian legend, László Melis' dance cantata, immortalizes this historical deed and the events leading up to it. The libretto, written by Domokos Moldován and Alex Avenasian, is based primarily on the works of contemporary historians. The definition - dance cantata - is appropriate as the composition cannot be termed a ballet, and the genre of the cantata, the association of sanctity that goes with it, is more in keeping with its serious subject matter, its intimation of transubstantiation, and its inner scale.

László Melis' interest in different cultures is well known - be they distant in time or in space. To integrate the stylistic trademarks of a given musical world - even if known or evoked in broad outlines only - with his creative language, is not difficult for this artist, in fact he achieves it with remarkable ease. Thus exoticism is not appended knick-knackery, but an integral, organic feature of the characteristic final result.

The same can be said regarding the Armenian Legend. Melis assimilates a number of original melodies and motifs, therefore, with regard to character, the composition represents a Bartókian attitude. He combines traditional melodies with his own music, using permutation as a means to mould the material, as opposed to his earlier "minimal music" compositions. The final result is predominantly "western" in both spirit and structure, which though is not foreign to the Armenian ear, sounds "Armenian" to the listener educated in Europe. The music, though homogeneous, will be unfamiliar in character, due to its changes in melody, tonal system and rhythm. Original Armenian folk music is basically made up of a melody and a rhythm base - which in Melis' treatment, acquires a polyphonic, imitational and harmonized character.

The most authentic Armenian feature of the piece is the sarakan that appears four times, sung by Anna Mailyan from Yerevan. The sarakan is a monophonic, liturgic melody, the Armenian equivalent of Gregorian chant music as it were. At first we hear it sung solo, the second time the strings join in, thirdly with an instrumental accompaniment from the beginning, and at the end of the legend it joins the choir, enhancing the radiance of the enlightenment.

No Armenian instruments are used by the group of eleven musicians (four string, four woodwind, keyboard and two percussion). Because of this, the composition asserts its authenticity with even greater force, though on a more abstract level, than it would have, had it been performed using particular Armenian instruments (duduk, dzurna, thar).

The duduk, perhaps the most characteristic Armenian instrument, has been replaced by the oboe. The suggestive, delineated melody of the prelude is played by the oboe, and it is also given a solo role in the lament and revelry parts.

Instrumentation, melodies, expressiveness, these are the musical parameters of László Melis' dance cantata, and the list does not stop there; these are all significant components of a composition with multicultural roots, in the gentler sense of the word.

Endre Olsvay

The story of the legend

Tradition has it, that we owe the legend of the Armenian adoption of Christianity, to Agathangelos, a historian of the IVth century. The leading characters of the story are King Trdat III. and Grigor, the survivor of an earlier series of polital assassinations, later known as St. Gregory the Illuminator.

The piece begins with the ringing of the bells of Khor Virap, a church fortress (1), where Grigor was incarcerated for thirteen years. It is followed by a promenade (2), which takes the listener back to the age of pagan Mazdeism by means of an ancient Armenian folksong. This is followed by a wild sacrificial dance (3) in honour of Anahit, the pagan goddess of fertility, interrupted by the sarakan melody (4) to which appears a group of Christian virgins arriving from Rome, led by St. Gregory. The soldiers of King Trdat disperse the virgins (5), who take flight. The king is much taken with one of the girls, Hripsime, and begins to court her ardently (6), but the girl declines his advances. This enrages the king and he stabs her to death. The king's sister, Khosrovanduht (who sympathizes with the Christians) and her companions mourn for Hripsime (7). Trdat's soldiers give chase to the fleeing virgins, and stone them to death (8). The dead are carried away so they may be given a proper burial (9). By command of King Trdat, Gregory is submitted to various forms of torture (10), then imprisoned in the dungeon of Khor Virap (11). Led by Khosrovanduht, the girls and women - already converted to Christianity in secret - smuggle food and drink to Gregory in his dungeon (12).

Trdat and his soldiers engage in wild revelry (13), but Trdat is suddenly taken ill; first he, followed by his soldiers are one by one transformed into wild boars (14). The king's sister attempts to cure her brother (15), and upon her suggestion, Gregory, who by now has been incarcerated for thirteen years, is brought out of the dungeon, and cures the king (16). Gregory then changes back the soldiers (17). Led by King Trdat, they fall to their knees and extol the redeemer of the Armenian people who converted them to the Christianity: St. Gregory the Illuminator (18).

The opening performance of the dance cantata Armenian Legend, took place on Armenian Day, June 17, 2001, at the ruined Kiscelli Church in Budapest.
Choreographer: Gábor Mihályi
Conductor: László Melis
Director and costume design: Domokos Moldován
Producer: Alex Avanesian
Performed by the Dancers of the Hungarian State Folk Ensemble


My soul trembles (4)
Author: Mekhitar Ayrivanetzi (13th century)

My soul trembles,
Filled with horror at the thought of Judas.
He does not recoil from his sinful deed
And feels no shame over his pieces of silver.

Sleep, my dead one, sleep (11)
Lullaby (folk song)

Sleep, my dear one, sleep
I will lay you in a golden cradle, wrap you in swadding-clothes of pearl,
I will sing a lullaby to my son, my brother’s son,
I laid him beneath Sahak mountain, beneath Manuk stone,
Ah, beneath Manuk stone.
Sleep, my dear one, sleep,
Beneath the mountain, beneath the stone,
Sleep, sleep.

The bird, the bird (12)
Author: Grigor Narekatzi (10th century)

From its deep sleep he woke
The bird, the bird.
He sung, he sung to the turtle-dove
His beloved sweetheart.

Boundless is your mercy (15)
Author: Mesrop Mastoc (5th century)

Boundless is your mercy
On my sinful soul,
Have mercy on me, Lord, my saviour.

Misadvised by the wicked one I trespassed against you,
My all-forgiving God,
Have mercy on me, Lord, my saviour.

On the day of your Second Advent
When you come to sit in judgement of the world
Have mercy on me, Lord, my saviour.

The dreadful sound (16)
Author: Grigor Narekatzi (10th century)

The dreadful sound that I heard
Moved my petrified heart.

Today a kind, fatherly voice (18)
Author: Hovhannes Erzinkatzi (13th century)

Today a kind, fatherly voice
Called down from the heavens
To acknowledge his beloved son.
And he caused the rivers to rise,
Caused the Jordan river to rise.
And St John the Baptist
Sung heartening words.

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