Boghos Gelalian (1927 - 2011)

An Armenian composer, arranger, pianist, piano and harmony teacher residing in Beirut, Lebanon, Boghos Gelalian was born in Alexandrette (then in Syria), in 1927. 

As a child, he grew up in a community of survivors of the Armenian Genocide, surrounded by Armenian and Turkish music, while receiving his classical (western) music education in the school of the Italian Carmelite Fathers. Arriving in Lebanon during the Second World War as a teen-ager, he found it hard to pursue music lessons regularly. But playing fashionable "light" music in night-clubs and classical music in upscale hotels, accompanying the classes of voice teachers such as Mme Marie Koussevitzky, as well as the Armenian Church choir, along with sporadic lessons with the Russian Baron Erhast Belling, previously the conductor of the Imperial Court of Russia, and the French organist and mathematician Bertrand Robilliard, gave him a unique exposure to different styles of music. Later in life he also collaborated with renouned Lebanese musicians such as the Rahbani Brothers and the Lahoud Brothers, especially within the frame of the Baalbeck International Festivals, which introduced him to Arabic music.Gelalian's music is a unique blend of the influences mentioned above. 

In the 1960's, while his career was developing, Beirut was being introduced to the latest avant-guard music of Europe. Several European composers visited the city, including Karlheinz  Stockhausen who composed the work Jeita to be performed in the cave of the same name north of Beirut. Gelalian was sensitive to the new influence, but resolved to find his personal voice, inspired by Armenian and Middle-Eastern modes. By creatively exploiting the chromatic fragments of such scales, and experimenting with their harmonization, Gelalian reached a degree of chromaticism that approached atonal music. He also experimented with the use of modal cadences as well as Armenian and Middle-Eastern rhythmic patterns.

Gelalian has invented the adjective "orientalisant" (French) to describe his work which alludes to the Middle-East and is inspired by it without thematic borrowing. Intensely melodic, driven by incessant rhythmic energy, harmonically quite intricate, and highly original, Gelalian's music strives to transcend all national and cultural barriers to reach a universal public.

Throughout the 60's and the 70's Gelalian was hailed as one of the most outstanding talents in his country. He won First, Second and Fourth Prizes at the first Grand concours de la composition libanaise in 1964, and Second Prize at the third Grand concours in 1966 receiving the acknowledgement of such renouned European composers as Pierre Petit, Henri Dutilleux, H. H. Stuckenschmidt, and others.

His talent and contribution to culture have been crowned by several prizes and decorations, including: 

  • The Saiid Akl Prize, (Lebanon), 1969;
  • Two decorations from the Armenian Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, in 1973 and 1977;
  • The rank of Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, from the French Ministry of Culture, 1985;
  • Order of the Knigts of Saint-Sylvestre (Papal decoration), 1986;

His contribution to Lebanese cultural life has been acknowledged by his peers:

  • Boghos has been the beacon of his environment. All Lebanese composers benefited from his experience. -Georges Baz
  • He has the merit of enhancing the value of Lebanese music. Lebanese folklore is indebted to him. -Raiif Abillama
  • Boghos's work reflects the civilized Lebanon. - Roméo-Lahoud
  • With his professional conscience and his quest for perfection, Boghos is a musical model.  -Nahi Lahoud
  • It must be known better, it must be said better: Gelalian is the greatest, the best, the first.  - Cécile Ronzevalle
  • There is not a single work of ours, the Rahbani Brothers, in which we have not consulted him, or in which he was not present. Boghos is a great composer of my country that I'm proud of. - Mansour Rahbani

Gelalian's multifaceted musical career also included collaborating with singers, such as soprano Arpiné Pehlivanian, and the great diva of Lebanese song, Feiruz, orchestral arrangements for the Lahoud Brothers' musical shows, and teaching piano and harmony at the Beirut National Conservatory of Music. He is the author of a didactic book, Harmonie tonale et modes (1971, 1973).

He has composed for piano, violin, cello, oboe, flute, voice and orchestra, along with numerous choral and orchestral arrangements. Among his published works are worth mentioning: Sonata per pianoforte, Éditions Françaises de Musique, Maison de L'O.R.T.F., Paris, 1965; Due Vocalizzi per Soprano, Edizioni Curci, Milano, 1968; Sept Séquences pour orchestre, Peters, Leipzig, 1971; Tre Cicli for piano, Ricordi Americana, Buenos Aires, 1969; Quatre Jeux pour flûte seule, Éditions Robert Martin, Macon, France, 1979.

Boghos Gelalian, l'homme, le musicien, l'oeuvre, by Araxie Altounian (2002), is published by:

Centre d'Édition et de diffusion du livre (CEDLUSEK)

Université Saint-Ésprit de Kaslik

B.P.: 446 Jounieh, Lebanon