Mother of Light – Armenian hymns and chants in praise of Mary

Program Notes:

Notes by Isabel Bayrakdarian

In 2016, I released a CD called Mother of Light, Armenian hymns and chants in praise of Mary. The idea for this project materialized during a very dark moment in my life. A couple of years previously, I had made a desperate plea to God to spare my mother’s life, and in return, I promised that I would sing the praises of His mother, Mary. The recording, which includes music written from the 5th century onwards in arrangements for solo voice, women’s choir, and cello by my husband, pianist and composer Serouj Kradjian, is entirely devoted to Armenian hymns dedicated to Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, and is the fulfillment of my promise.

I grew up singing in the Armenian Apostolic Church. My mother was the choir director, and she often let me join the adult choir, even though I was too young to contribute effectively. That particular music, with its exotic melismas, Eastern melodies, and long legatos, formed the early foundation for my musical education, and continues to be my inner compass, by which I find and stay on my personal path in life.

Researching the repertoire for this recording yielded an exciting discovery of rare gems and a treasure trove of hymns dedicated to Mary. In Armenian Church doctrine, Mary has a primary place of honor, because it was of her and by the Holy Spirit that God became incarnate. She is seen as the image of humanity fully obedient to God, and she’s ultimately sanctified by accomplishing God’s will.

For tonight’s Canadian premiere of these settings, I have chosen six of the eighteen hymns on the recording. They represent three types of hymns in the Armenian sacred music tradition: “sharagan” (hymn), “dagh” (ode) and “megheti” (canticle). Sharagan refers to a sacred hymn sung during liturgy, having specific musical patterns and restrictions. Sharagans are distinguishable by the specific musical keys in which they’re written, referred to here as modes unique to the ancient traditional Armenian singing system. Dagh and megheti are sacred songs, which have been accepted as additions to the sung liturgical repertoire, further enriching an already-rich tradition. The long melismatic vocal lines and brevity of text characteristic of megheti further distinguishes it from dagh.

It is no coincidence that our performing musical forces are women: what better way to use the collective feminine power to exalt the virtues, sorrows, beauty, and glory of Mary, the most celebrated woman of all time.

Conductor Notes:

The haunting and effective arrangements for soprano and women’s choir of Armenian hymns represented in this collection vary in voicing and with the presence or absence of cello accompaniment. We had the pleasure of performing them with the soprano for whom they were arranged, which made decisions about language and phrasing easier to tackle. These are beautiful arrangements that I would definitely want to do again, but the score is full of errors and inconsistencies that I have offered to help edit if this set is going to be published. At the moment, it would be Serouj Kradijian who would sell you the right to make photocopies, but definitely contact me as well. I made lots of decisions about divisi and lots of error corrections that could save you a lot of time. Nos 4,5,6 are linked above. The whole set (and more) are available on a CD by Isabel Bayrakdarian with Coro Vox Aeterna under the direction of Anna Hamre.


This lists any discs, concerts or collections where this piece is included.




1. Khngi Dsarin (Frankincense Tree) by Anonymous (medieval) (no cello) 3:35

(2. Zartir Nazeli (Arise Graceful One) by Baghdasar Tbir (1683-1768) – soprano and cello – no choir)

3. Mayr yev Gouys (Mother & Virgin) by Ara Bartevian (1902-1986) (with cello) 3:00

4. Diramayrn (The Mother of the Lord) by St. Gregory of Nareg (951-1003) (no cello) 2:55

5. Varaneem (Burdened with Sins) by Anonymous (medieval) (no cello) 4:20

 6. Oor Es Mayr Im (Where are you, my Mother?) by Anonymous (18th-19th century) (with cello) 6:20


Khngi Dzarin (Frankincense Tree) is a dagh, which is sung on the Feast of Assumption of Mary, during the Divine Liturgy, or “Badarak.”

Khngi dzarin nman es,
Bdoogh tu kaghtsraham es,
Zpari bdough peryal es,
Asdvadzadzin megha kez.

Tu hoghanyout srovpe es,
Harsn i hergre hergins es,
zAsdvadz marmnov dznyal es,
Asdvadzadzin megha kez.

Tu hortarad aghpyour es,
Dzaravelots arpoumn es,
Meghavorats kavitch es,
Asdvadzadzin megha kez.

Tu looseghen dadjar es,
Vosgiabad khoran es,
Tu markarid, ankin es,
Asdvadzadzin megha kez.

You are like the frankincense tree,
You are a sweet-tasting fruit,
You bore the good fruit,
Mother of God,  I have sinned before you.

You are an earthly seraph,
Earth’s bride to Heaven,
You gave birth to God in the flesh,
Mother of God, I have sinned before you.

You are like an overflowing spring,
You quench those who are thirsty,
You are atonement for the sinful,
Mother of God,  I have sinned before you.

You are a temple of light,
You are a golden tabernacle,
You are a priceless pearl,
Mother of God,  I have sinned before you.


Mayr Yev Gouys is a sharagan, written in mode 6, that is sung at the Morning Hour service. It was harmonized by the French Armenian composer Ara Bartevian.

Mayr yev gouys,  
Aghakhin Krisdosi,
Vor parekhos es mishd ashkhhi,
Kez yeranen amenayn azink.

Makoor aghavni 
Yev harsn yergnits Mariyam,
Dadjar yev ator Asdoudzo Panin,
kez yeranen amenayn azink.

Mayr yev gouys, harsn yergnits,
Kez yeranen amenayn aink.

Immaculate mother and virgin,
Servant of Christ,
You are the constant intercessor for the world,
all nations bless you.

Pure turtle-dove,
Mary, bride of heaven,
Temple and vessel of God’s Word,
All nations bless you.

Mother and virgin, bride of heaven,
All nations bless you.


Diramayrn is a dagh sung during the Feast of the Holy Cross, and it’s considered an Armenian equivalent to the classic Latin Stabat Mater. However, only a single verse has reached us. In this arrangement, the choir sings the narration and the solo voice expresses Mary’s anguish.

Diramayrn hanteb vortvouyn
ee khatchin
Gayr drdmakin  
Yev lselov zdzaravin
harachmamp layr tsavakin.

Ee poosh bsagn tidelov,
voghp, godz, vay dayr yoor antsin.
“Achats-s louys vortyag im Hisoos
voh yes ent kez meranim.”

The Mother of the Lord stood before her son on the cross,
Full of sorrow,
And hearing the thirsty one,
She sighed and wept painful tears.

Seeing the crown of thorns,
her soul moaned, wailed, and lamented.
“Light of my eyes, my son Jesus,
Oh, I die with you.”


Varaneem is a medieval dagh. It asks for the intercession of Mary for the forgiveness of sins.

Varaneem i meghats,
Tu azadich meghoutselouys
Ov diramayr, voh, ov diramayr
voh tsoghia gatil mi goosa gan zoregh genats,
Voh zoregh genats

Him nakhgin vayelmants
Arjanabes ardaksetsa,
Voh yeghgelouys, voh yeghgelouys.
Voh poosh yev dadasg poosouyts yergir voghormelouys
Voh voghormelouys

I’m burdened with sins,
Only you can save me, great sinner that I am.
Oh Mother of the Lord,  Oh, Mother of the Lord.
Oh, bedew upon me a drop of your pure and life-giving power,
Oh, life-giving power.

I was rightfully expelled,
From the honour which I enjoyed before.
Woe to me! Oh, Woe to me.
Oh, the ground brought forth thorns and thistles for me
Pitiful person, that I am.


Oor es Mayr im is one of the most poignant hymns of the Holy Week.  It is sung during the Maundy Thursday Tenebrae service, when at midnight, the lights of the church are gradually extinguished to symbolize the darkness enveloping the hearts of humankind, and their choice to kill the Light. It is in this darkness that Jesus calls for the one person who is dearest to him: his mother.  

Oor es, Mayr im, kaghtsr yev anoush
Ser dznoghit zis ayre.

Ltsan achk im tarn ardasvok,
Voch zok ounim vor srpe.

Tchour khntretsi, katsakh arpi
Hanorinats tserane.

Tkin, harin, abdagetsin,
Bsag yetin ee pshe.

Azt ararek morn imo,
Vor yes sirem ee srdes

Oor es, Mayr im, yeg zim dzarav
Gatampt arpo kaghtsrakin.

Where are you, my most delicate and sweet Mother?
Your motherly love I seek fervently.

My eyes are full of bitter tears
I have no one to wipe them away.

I asked for water, but drank vinegar
Given to me by the wicked.

They slapped my face, spat at me, and beat me
And crowned me with a crown of thorns.

Go tell my Mother
That I love her with all my heart.

Where are you, my Mother? Please come and quench my thirst
With your sweet motherly love.