In my artist-friend’s studio, a first glance went to two new paintings, or at least paintings I hadn’t seen before. One was of a woman, with the mountains of Garni in the background. “This girl was in a beauty contest in Yerevan,” the painter said. “She reached the finals, then it became evident that a bribe was needed to either win or place in the top five or ten. She didn’t pay, and of course didn’t win. Disappointed with what she had seen, she eventually left Armenia. The other painting is of Beethoven. I tried to capture him as he lost his hearing, which happened when he was a little over fifty. It’s something; Beethoven died in poverty, as did Wagner, who idolized Beethoven. There’s a story of a rich Englishman who had composed a classical piece and took it for Beethoven to listen to. Beethoven, who didn’t like the English anyway, wouldn’t meet the visitor, but as Wagner was there at the same time, the Britisher made his way in to meet Beethoven. Beethoven hated his work, and told him he should stay far away from music. Wagner kept the negative note Beethoven wrote to the Englishman, just to have the handwriting of the great master.
“Notice the Garni landscape in the first picture,” he continued. “Da Vinci used this same backdrop in a few of his paintings. The Italians say Da Vinci was in Armenia, and painted the portraits of several rich merchants. The men are in native Armenian costume, that which only the intellectual class wore at the time.”
On the radio, one of Hayrik Mouradian’s famous songs, “Khio, khane,” recorded years ago with Agunk, was played. “I remember when Hayrik started singing,” the artist said. “The Soviets wouldn’t let him on television, giving airtime only to Ruben Matevosyan, Ophelia Hambartsumyan, those types, who didn’t sing folk music. Both of these singers, and most others who gained fame, sang pure Baku style, which is why both were far more comfortable singing ashoughagan songs than folk, as ashoughagan music is far closer to Turkish and Arabic than Armenian. People here got so used to hearing Ophelia and Ruben singing Baku style that when the famous singer Zaynab came to Yerevan from Baku, the entire Hrazdan stadium was full.
“Once Hayrik Mouradian tried to teach folk songs to Ruben, Ophelia, and Hovhannes Badalyan, for a concert or recording, I’m not sure. Hayrik said that none of these singers were able to sing a folk song from start to finish. Badalyan did succeed on one song, ‘Makruhi Jan.’ The influence of Baku radio was just too much here, and is at least partly responsible for Turkish music being so in demand here, and for the pop singers to sing Turkish songs with Armenian words, or sing songs with Turkish-style melodies. The ashough Jivan complained that if he didn’t write Turkish-style melodies, no one would listen to his music here in Armenia. I understand why the Communists did this, to keep Armenians away from their true culture, but why our leaders are doing it now, not only not promoting true Armenian folk music but not allowing it to be aired on national television or radio, I’ll never understand. Or maybe I understand but don’t want to.”