Dikran Tchouhadjian was born in Constantinople in 1837 and died in Smyrna the 25th February 1898.
His natural talent for music blossomed quite early. In Constantinople, his father entrusted his musical education to Mangioni then a few years later he went to Milan to round out his education (1862-1864). At that time Milan was one of the major centres for European opera and the young Tchouhadjian plunged enthusiastically into a heady life of music. He studied harmony and instrumentation, he learned to master composition, and at the same time he devoured the great classics. This was when he was drawn to opera, in particular.
Upon his return to Constantinople he became an active member of the Kousan Musical Society. He published newsletters and gave lectures and concerts. He founded a small orchestra and worked with the musical theatre Kousanerkagan and with the Arevelian Tadron (“The Oriental Theatre”).
In 1868, he completed the opera Arsace Secondo (“Arshak II”) working on the Italian libretto by Tovmas Tersian. The entire opera was never performed during his lifetime, though excerpts were presented in concert form in Constantinople, Venice, Paris and Vienna. The score, which was believed lost, resurfaced in the 1930′s and was sent to Yerevan. In 1942 Alexander Shahverdian and Levon Khodjia-Eynaytian created a revised version based on a new libretto by Armen Gulakian and it was performed in 1945. Thanks to the restoration made by The Dikran Tchouhadjian research Center the real world premiere of the original 1868 score took place in 2001 at the San Francisco Opera House directed by Francesca Zambello. The complete conductor’s score, vocal score, orchestral parts and librettos in Italian, English and Armenian were published thanks to the efforts of the D.T.R.C. in Paris, with funding provided by the A.G.B.U. of Egypt.
In the 1870′s Dikran Tchouhadjian composed several operettas: Arif’s Imposture (based on Gogol’s comedy “The General Inspector”), Kyose-Kyokhva (“The Beardless Elder”), Leblebidji Hor-Hor Agha (“The Chickpea Vendor”), as well as the opera Zemireh inspired by Arab folk tales.
Tchouhadjian also composed chamber music and orchestral works as well as piano music (dances, marches, fugues, fantasies), which were published in Constantinople in the 1870′s and 80′s.
As the father of Armenian opera, Tchouhadjian is a major figure in the cultural history of the Middle East. He knew how to use his European musical education in the service of his Levantine roots. He introduced European style classical music to the entire Middle East and his operettas became famous in many countries such as Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Vienna and Egypt.
Tchouhadjian’s style was forged from several influences: the Italian school of opera (in Italy he was known as “The Armenian Verdi”), French operetta (when he performed his music in Paris, where he lived in 1891 and 1892, the Parisian press nicknamed him the “Oriental Offenbach”), and, above all, Armenian urban folklore, which is particularly evident in Kyose- Kyokhva and Leblebidji Hor-Hor Agha.
His musical language is deeply rooted in the airs of urban traditions: he would stroll through the streets listening and noting down snatches of songs, rhythmical patterns and even bits of conversation to use as raw material. Tchouhadjian was also fully aware that, contrary to the trend of the times, a “national” composer had to draw on the experience of the worldwide musical culture. French musical critic Adolphe Talasso wrote in the Revue Theatrale, «Dikran Tchouhadjian was the first to use European techniques in Oriental music. His very original ideas, the freshness of his musical language, his colorful orchestration – it’s all overflowing with the light and sun of the Orient. His compositions, full of power and enchantment, are remarkable in their mastery of harmony and counterpoint.”