Alexander Comitas

Why comitas.org redirects here,
what is behind the pseudonym Alexander Comitas,
and why I don’t use it any longer.

 

1. Why comitas.org redirects here

This is because in 1990 I adopted the pseudonym Alexander Comitas. I used to run a website called comitas.org, but once I decided not to use my pseudonym anymore, I rented the domain name eduarddeboer.org and redirected the previous site to here. Be welcome.

 

IIa. What is behind the pseudonym Alexander Comitas
(short version, full story below, for who is interested in it)

Comitas is a Latin word, meaning politeness, courtesy, kindness, etc. For me, it stood for: I will keep pursuing my path and keep composing the way I want to compose, but I will always remain friendly and polite about issues concerning contemporary art music. At the same time, both Alexander and Comitas are a tribute to two men I admire: Dutch pianist and composer Sas (Ernst Alexander) Bunge and the Armenian ethnomusicologist and composer Komitas.

 

3. Why I don’t use it any longer

After I had written my third symphony, entitled A Tribute to Komitas, and once it had been performed, I gradually came to the realisation that my pseudonym had served its purpose. Eventually, I stopped using it, returning to the name I was born with.

 

 

IIb. What is behind the pseudonym Alexander Comitas (long story)

 

I studied composition at the Utrecht Conservatory during the late 70s and early 80s of the previous century. It was a period that some defined as the age of ‘post-modernism’. Concerning art music this implied a break with traditional tonal music by reaping what was called the benefits of the modernistic philosophies of the line Varese – Xenakis while discarding the perhaps overly rigid elements of strict serialism. I diligently started to study scores by ‘modernist’ composers such as late Webern, Boulez, Stockhausen, Berio and Xenakis, only to eventually come to the realisation that I still didn’t like their music, even after having reached the point that I had come to understand how it was made. So, I changed my focus and started to study music of composers such as Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Britten and late Sibelius instead. And a few years later, thanks to a piano professor by the name of Sas Bunge, I came across a number of eye-opening books and articles, among which Charles Rosen’s magnificent book The Classical Style, which for me turned out to be the best book about composing ever, even though it deals exclusively with the ‘traditionalist’ and exclusively tonal composers Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.

My first composition that reached a wider audience than the Utrecht Conservatory visitors and fellow students was a Homage to Dmitri Shostakovich.

Performances of the piece within the Netherlands and abroad started an outpour of criticism that has gone on for many years since: that the music I write isn’t music of our time, but instead of a past we don’t need. It even came to the point that, in 1984, the director of the Conservatory wouldn’t let me do my final examination in composition, as, according to him, I hadn’t made sufficient use of ‘modern’ composition techniques in my compositions. I had to insist on my right to do the examination – and the jurors’ right to let me fail it – in order to push it through. (Parts of the composition I wrote for the occasion, a song cycle called Neue Galgenlieder (New Gallow’s Songs), for baritone, chamber choir and orchestra, can be heard here on Youtube, by the way:

I did pass the examination, though, and then went on to research all kinds of folk music from all over the world. In doing so, I came across Armenian folk music and I became enthusiastic about it right away. In this way, I learned about the Armenian ethnomusicologist and composer Komitas. In the course of the following years, I composed a number of pieces where the influence of Armenian – and, by extension, Caucasian – music is obvious, like for instance a Caucasian Epode

and three Armenian Rhapsodies

In 1990, I was asked to write a composition for the Utrecht Students’ Choir and Orchestra USKO’s 50 year jubilee. Meanwhile, I had collected a number of neo-Latin poems from ca. the 12th century that can in an allegorical sense be interpreted as dealing with ‘modernistic’ art. I had intended to set these to music once I would be at least. However, during a meeting with the USKO’s conductor and board, the board members (being young students, by the way, and knowing no more about me than that I am a contemporary composer) very politely asked me if I would be so kind as to compose a ‘beautiful rather than a modern piece’, since it was be to be for a special and festive occasion, with many former members and family of members and former members attending. I thoroughly enjoyed the humour of the situation and answered that I happened to have come across some poems that had to do with this issue. And so I ended up setting these poems to music for this occasion, earlier than I had intended. The result was a four part song cycle for tenor, mixed choir and orchestra, called Cantica Artis (Songs of Art).

As was usual in those days, all four poets of the texts I used had taken on Latin pseudonyms. This gave me the idea to take on a Latin one myself. In part, it was meant as a tongue-in-cheek joke: I myself had been accused of composing in a ‘dead language’ more than once. After some pondering, I decided on the name Alexander Comitas for several reasons, apart from Latin being a so-called ‘dead language’. The word comitas means politeness, courtesy, kindness, etc. For me, it stood for: I will keep pursuing my path and keep composing the way I want to compose, but I will always remain friendly and polite about issues concerning contemporary art music. At the same time, both Alexander and Comitas are a tribute to two men I admire: the abovementioned Sas (Ernst Alexander) Bunge and the Armenian Komitas.

At the time, I thought the difference in spelling between Komitas and Comitas would be enough of an excuse to use a pseudonym that sounds like the one that the Armenian Komitas (real name: Soghomon Soghomonian) took on. However, I had overlooked the fact that Komitas adopted this pseudonym from a 7th century Armenian monk who had adopted the same name. Since in the Armenian language there is only one character for the k sound (unlike the choice between c and k in phonetic characters), this means that the 7th century Komitas must have derived his pseudonym from Latin, just as I had done. Realizing this reinforced the idea that at some point I would compose a large-scale tribute to the great Armenian bard, as a return favour. During the years 2011 – 2013 I did just that: I composed my third symphony, entitled A Tribute to Komitas