Orphaned at age 11, he was sent to study liturgical singing at a seminary in Vagarshapat (now Ejmiadzin) in Armenia. He graduated in 1893 and adopted the name Komitas, that of a 7th-century Armenian hymn writer. He had already become interested in Armenian folk songs as well as church music, and he began composing his own music on Armenian motifs while studying composition in Berlin in 1896-99. Upon his return to Armenia he began collecting Armenian folk songs in earnest, and he eventually accumulated several thousand of them. He also published numerous papers on the subject and sang Armenian songs himself at concerts he organized in western Europe, arousing international interest in his countrymen's music. He settled in Constantinople (now Istanbul) in 1910, but the Armenian massacres of 1915 in Turkey so affected him that he had a nervous breakdown, and from 1919 until his death he lived in a hospital in Paris.
Komitas was the most important collector of Armenian folk songs, and his exact and detailed researches established Armenian musicology on a scientific basis. His own folk-based songs and choruses and his liturgical chants are still popular among Armenians, many of whom regard him as their foremost composer.