The great Armenian troubadour Sayat Nova was born in 1712 to a peasant family in the village of Sanahin, not far from Tiflis, the capital of the Caucasian nation of Georgia. Named Haroutiun Sayakian at birth, the great musician and lyric poet is remembered by the Armenians as Sayat Nova or King of Songs, an homage to his status in the Armenian community.
As a boy, Haroutiun gained regional recognition for his fine singing voice, interpretations of folk songs, and as an emerging virtuoso of the kemenche (a violin-like instrument with 3 strings, tuned in 4ths and played with a bow, using the German-style bowing often employed by bass players. The normal playing position for the kemenche is on the left knee, fingered by the left hand, and bowed with the right.) The young man also enjoyed some fame as the author or lyric poetry.
In his early teens the Sayakian family moved to Tiflis, the capitol of the Kingdom of Georgia. Tiflis, or Tbilisi, was then as it remains today, an important center of Armenian culture, music and literature. It is generally acknowledged that Sayat Nova served as an apprentice to a weaver. There are references to this detail in some of his songs. Weaving, dyeing of wool, and preparation of products for the weaving industry has long been a "signature" trade of the Armenian peasant community in this region of historic Armenia.
On a daily basis Haroutiun Sayakian was exposed to the rich tradition of troubadour performances in the area. Many of these performers, referred to as kousans, are known to this day. The title kousan is added as a prefix to the name of a well known artist. (i.e. Kousan Ashot, Kousan Setrag, etc.) Had Haroutiun not been endowed with the name Sayat Nova, he is likely to have been known as Kousan Haroutiun.
Sayat Nova was renowned for his superb command of the Armenian language. But his fluency in Georgian, Persian, and Azerbaijani allowed him to perform for the widest possible audience, and to gain fame far beyond his own ethnic group. The cosmopolitan community of Tiflis embraced him and made this young Armenian genius their own. The known body of songs attributed to Sayat Nova numbers about 220, the true volume of work is likely to have been in the thousands. It should be noted that these works, though notated in the 19th century, have been largely passed down as an aural tradition. The songs are in the standard repertory of every Armenian musician, and are widely known in every Armenian community.
As his fame spread, Sayat Nova was summoned to the Court of Heracle II, the 18th century King of Georgia. The King placed him in the service of the Court as a Royal Musician and Poet. His popularity and skill even allowed him to become a trusted advisor to the King in matters of state and relations with foreign powers. In this area, Sayat Nova is believed to have "brokered" an alliance between the Caucasian nations of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan in the struggle to liberate themselves from Persian domination.
His fall from grace in the Court is likely to have been caused by his love for the King’s sister, Princess Anna. The King, fearing the power and influence that would likely accrue to Sayat Nova as a result of a marriage to Anna, expelled the great kousan from the Court.
Sayat Nova spent the remainder of his life as an itinerant bard and singer, plying his services and skills wherever possible. As is traditional for musicians, he is likely to have performed daily in the simplest venues, perhaps even providing extemporaneous entertainment.
Sayat Nova, the greatest of the Armenia kousans, was killed in 1795, by the invading forces of the Persian Knight, Agha Mohammed Khan.
He is the most revered of all the Armenian troubadours.