Béla Bartók set out with the phonograph to collect and research the folk music of Transylvania, Hungary and Romania. At this time 3,000 kilometres further south-east, the monk Komitas had already gathered a magnificent archive of songs and dances, both religious and folk, from his culture, ancient Armenia. In an unusual double portrait, Steffen Schleiermacher shows the differences and similarities between these two artistic personalities, whose compositions are decisively influenced by their engagement with the original music of their homeland.
Although Komitas travelled a lot through Europe to present his research results, there is no evidence of a personal encounter with Bartók. In Armenia, however, musicians of all styles, from church choir to heavy metal, still pronounce his name with the greatest respect. During his lifetime he was met with hostility from many sides: The common origin of folk and sacred music postulated by Komitas did not fit into the theological concept of the clergy; Armenian nationalists condemned his intercultural approach; conservative circles complained about the profanation and commercialisation of old Armenian cultural assets.
Komitas succeeded in a striking way to transfer the sounds of folk instruments into a piano movement. In the "Seven Dances" one thinks one hears the tambourine, or in "Shoror" also the famous duduk, which is today considered the Armenian national instrument. However, he completely refrains from complex harmonization or contrapuntal processing; only the tonal system based on tetrachords, i.e. four-tone rows, gives the music a peculiar exoticism.
Bartók's piano music has always been permeated by this. Schleiermacher's selection ranges from the early "Folk songs from Csik County" with simple song transcriptions, through the popular and much more sophisticated "Romanian Folk Dances" to the rarely performed "Romanian Christmas Songs", which suggest a less contemplative but all the more exuberant Christmas celebration. Dance and joy instead of silent night - Gaudete!