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Parsegh Ganatchian and Mer Hayrenik

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Parsegh Ganatchian or Barsegh Kanachyan (April 17, 1885 – May 21, 1967) was a Lebanese-Armenian composer and conductor, who most notably arranged the music to “Mer Hayrenik,” the Armenian national anthem, as well as to a famous traditional Armenian lullaby “Oror Im Palas.” Ganatchian was born on April 17, 1885, in Rodosto (present-day Tekirdağ, Turkey), in the Ottoman Empire.  In 1888 his family moved to Constantinople (present-day Istanbul), where he received his primary education. Afterwards, the family moved to Varna, where he studied music theory, playing the violin and having conducting lessons under the supervision of Natanbeg Amirkhanyan. In 1903, he studied playing the piano and harmony in Bucharest, returning to Istanbul in 1908, where he formed the “Knar” wind orchestra. His meeting with Komitas Vardapet in December 1910 was decisive in his career. He also established in Istanbul the “Gusan” choir and continued his education in harmony and conducting.

In 1918, “Mer Hayrenik” (‘Our Fatherland’), with music composed by Ganatchian and lyrics derived from a poem written by author Mikael Nalbandian in 1861, was adopted as the national anthem of the short-lived First Republic of Armenia, which briefly existed from 1918 to 1920.   In 1919, Ganatchian conducted a concert dedicated to Komitas and his works with 300 singers and musicians.  The Red Army invaded Armenia in November 1920 and incorporated it into the Soviet Union.  As an unmistakable symbol of Armenian nationalism, “Mer Hayrenik” was outlawed by the Bolshevik authorities.  In its place, the Anthem of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic was utilized.  Because of this, “Mer Hayrenik” took on a new status as a protest song against Soviet rule during this time.

In1920, Ganatchian continued his musical education in Paris, France, and starting in 1922, he worked in conducting in various Armenian diaspora venues. In 1928, he moved to Nicosia, Cyprus, where he taught music at the prestigious Melkonian Educational Institute and from 1933 at Beirut, Lebanon’s Neshan Palandjian College (Djemaran).    In 1936, he established the similarly named “Gusan” choir in 1933 that he directed and conducted personally. Its first concert was in the American University of Beirut Memorial Hall, where 70 male and female singers took part. “Gusan” has had recitals in many venues in Lebanon, Syria and Egypt and its repertoire also included in addition to Armenian national, folkloric and spiritual songs, songs occasionally in other languages including Arabic, Kurdish, etc. The activities of the choir continued until 1961 under his direction in Beirut, Lebanon.

In 1936, Ganatchian helped to form a music association for encouraging the project and developing love of music and its propagation amongst the Armenians.  The Lebanese government also awarded him with the National Order of the Cedar, a high Lebanese presidential award for promoting friendship between the Armenian and Lebanese peoples. Ganatchian died on May 21, 1967, in Beirut, Lebanon. The Armenian cultural association Hamazkayin established an arts institute carrying his name in Lebanon. Following the dissolution of the USSR and the restoration of Armenian sovereignty in 1991, the song Mer Hayrenik was re-adopted as the national anthem of the newly-independent state of Armenia, albeit with slightly modified lyrics.

The following work by Parsegh Ganatchian is contained in my collection:

Mer Hayrenik (Armenia)

One thought on “Parsegh Ganatchian and Mer Hayrenik

  1. Hi, I’m trying to find more about our family. My grand-father, Tateos Ganantchian, was born in Rodosto around 1900. I know very little about him except he spent time in Bulgaria or maybe Albania, then maried my grandmother Madeleine in Paris. I just found out that Parsegh Ganatchian was also born in Rodosto and then travelled to Bulgaria and Paris… I wonder if there are any of his relatives alive today who may want to make contact as we might have blood connection? Regards. Claire Ganantchian

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