Seven Armenian Songs, for soprano, percussion, and violin, is a setting of lyrical quatrains traditional to the Armenian culture known as hayrens. The hayrens featured in this suite of seven songs are from the hand of the 16th-century Armenian poet Nahapet Kuchak, who is widely regarded as bringing this poetic form to its pinnacle. Kuchak is known for having written on love, social inequality, and the eventual fates of men. Humanistic in its essence, Kuchak was quietly but powerfully a threat to medieval dogmatism.
Personally, what has struck me so deeply about these hayrens, initially presented to and translated so beautifully for me by scholar and Armenian culturalist Vatsche Barsoumian, is the power given to a female voice. Through the seven settings, a strong female lead is allowed to wonder, to advocate, to mock, to seduce, to regret, and to philosophize. It is remarkable that such breadth of character is achieved in just a few quatrains of fifteen syllables per line.
These seven short songs are:
I. A Spotless Lamb: A holy beginning is to be had for our protagonist she is born sinless (but is destined to sin)
II. Wild Bird: The protagonist resists sinful love.
III. Feet and Wings: Love wins out after all, setting its snare.
IV. Silken Blouse: Our protagonist is complicit and seductive in her tribute to love
V. A Monk and his Peas: Love turns the tables.
VI. Peach Seedling: Our protagonist longs for simpler times.
VII. Adorning: Our protagonist quietly philosophizes on the soul versus the physical, reconciling the sinless and the sinful.
Dedicated to Tony Arnold, Kuniko Kato, and Movses Pogossian; en amistad
— Gabriela Lena Frank