Wednesday, 11 January 2017

The Awesome Ladies project 1 - Sahakdukht - Composer

This blog project is something I have had in mind to do for a couple of years. It originally started, in my mind, as a project for classical composers - I don’t listen to a lot of classical music, and thought “hey, maybe I should change that.” Then my brain saw a squirrel. SQUIRREL!

Anyway, I was kicking the idea around again, and thought, why not expand it because more ladies is always better? So I wittered some more (SQUIRREL) and finally decided on the categories, which are:
  • Composers
  • Scientists
  • Artists
  • Authors
  • Film-makers
Five ladies in each category, spanning (I hope) a wide range of human history and diversity.

So this is the first awesome ladies post, and I’m starting in 8th century Armenia.

Shall we? :)

Sahakdukht: Armenian composer; 8th century.

I started out by googling women composers, and Sahakdukht is, chronologically, the first on my list.

According to the very short Wikipedia entry, Sahakdukht lived in a cave in the Garni Valley, near present-day Yerevan. She composed ecclesiastical poems as well as liturgical chants. The only remaining work of hers is Srbuhi Mariam (St Mary), a nine-stanza acrostic poem, dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

I dug around, but the only versions I could find came from this blog post: which links a couple of YouTube performances of, presumably, the work in Armenian.

Sahakdukht was the sister of music theorist Stepannos Syunetsi.

According to this blog post, Sahakdukht fell into a deep grief when her brother was assassinated, which is when she retired to live in  a cave in the Garni valley.

However, others followed her in her retreat, and she played music and taught from behind a curtain in her cave. She played her lyre to help those suffering from nervous disorders, and this is believed to be the start of music therapy. Her fame was so great that, after she died, people still made their way to her cave on pilgrimage.

Admittedly my scrapings around the internet yielded little beyond what I’ve linked to here, but I find Sahakdukht fascinating nonetheless. Her grief at the loss of her brother drove her to seek retreat, but she still composed music, and is believed to be one of the forerunners of hymnal writing as well as the first music therapist. She also reached out through her music to others who were suffering, and I can imagine she gave many people a sense of peace and hope.

I'm hoping to do one awesome lady a week. Next week, the first scientist of the series – Merit-Ptah, a physician in Ancient Egypt and, apparently, the first woman physician known by name.

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