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Sunday, 14 July 2013

Grigor Narekatsi

The latest ArtWay meditation concerns a piece by Dutch artist Hanneke de Munck, who scraped out a piece of driftwood to make a primitive field shrine to which she tied the sculpture of a young desperate girl, cut from purple wood from South America. The poem by which the work was inspired is part of the Book of Lamentations written by Grigor Narekatsi, a 10th-century Armenian monk.

Saint Gregory of Narek (Grigor Narekatsi, c. 945-1005) was son of the learned bishop Khosrov Andzevatsi and most renowned pupil of the Narek School. The first great Armenian poet, Narekatsi skilfully united the finest achievements of his country's hymnography. Adopting a liberal approach to Armenian folk and bardic styles, Narekatsi ascended to the intellectual and artistic level of the foremost Byzantine, Persian and Arab literary movements of his day and with deep emotional intensity and fiery imagination, he added new aspects to Armenian poetry. He opened up new horizons for Armenian culture through his 'Book of Lamentations'. In the 'Book of Lamentations' Narekatsi is filled with a sorrow embracing the whole universe and conducts a heavenly discussion with the supreme Self. In his poems he has his feet firmly on the ground and directs his gaze towards the world around him, radiating wonder and ecstasy at the sight of the natural beauty of his native land, as in the hymn for the Transfiguration:

'The gem-rose bloomed with brilliance
From the radiance of the sun.
While high above that splendour
Floated the flower of the seas.'

As a musician Narekatsi gave a tremendous stimulus to medieval Armenian hymnography, imparting it with new life and soul. His words have since inspired at least one other musical masterpiece; Alfred Schnittke's Choir Concerto is a setting of words from 'The Book of Lamentations' written in 1984/5 and scored for very large choir. 

Here is another of Narekatsi's poems:

The Christ Child

The lips of the Christ-child are like two twin leaves;
They let roses fall when he smiles tenderly.
The tears of the Christ-child are pearls when he grieves;
The eyes of the Christ-child are deep as the sea.
Like pomegranate grains are the dimples he hath,
And clustering lilies spring up in his path.

Translated from the Armenian by Alice Stone Blackwell (1857-1950)


Alfred Schnittke - Choir Concerto.

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