Last week, we discussed the խազ/khaz, the enigmatic signs dotting the liturgical books of the Armenian Apostolic Church. For centuries, these were the only system of notating Armenian liturgical music, the only way of writing down melodies and rhythms that were otherwise transmitted orally. There is also evidence that they were used for non-liturgical music. However, by the nineteenth century, and probably earlier, Armenians lost the ability to understand the khaz. Already a relatively secretive and oral pursuit, the broad study of music known as մանրուսում/manrusum deteriorated. Writing in 1959, Robert Atayan states that, “if in the 18th century and during the beginning of the 19th century a few individuals were able to sing and write with the khazes, by a slightly later date this was completely forgotten and the ‘key’ to the khazses lost” (102). As oral transmission continued, with a flourishing musical center in Constantinople, modern-day Istanbul, and as Western scholars began to take interest in Armenian liturgical music—the German philologist Johann Joachim Schröder (1680-1756) had represented the Armenian Octoechos in Western musical notation (Utidjian 263), a resurgence of Armenian musical interest and musicology developed [Much of the excellent recent work by Haig Utidjian and on Armenian music and Yeghia Dndesian’s Hymnal in particular can be found on the website academia.edu]. Notable among these are Grigor Gapasakalian, born in Caesarea (modern-day Kayseri) in 1740, who wrote difficult, often unclear treatises on Armenian music. His 1794 Nuagaran is one of the earliest “modern” studies of Armenian music. Yet the loss of knowledge about the khaz and the inexact match of Western music with Armenian liturgical music meant that these earlier studies were limited in their ability to transcribe and discuss Armenian music.
Hampartsum/Hambardzoum Limonjian (Համբարձում Լիմոնճեան), affectionately called “Baba Hampatsum” would drastically change this situation. Born in 1768 in Istanbul from a family recently arrived from Kharpert, Limondjian learned Armenian liturgical music from Zenne Boghos and other choirmasters of the city. Eventually, the director of the Ottoman Imperial Mint, an Armenian wealthy aristocratic amira named Hovhannes Chelebi Duzyan, became Limondjian’s patron and allowed him to focus extensively on music. Between the years 1813 and 1815, he worked with the Mkhitarist father Minas Pzhshkian to develop a new system to notate Armenian music. Thought they worked together, today the system bears Limondjian’s name and is generally known as Hampartsum notation or the Limondjian system. They used some of the symbols of the khaz, but deployed them in a radically new way that was ultimately “aneumatic.” Instead, the Hampartsum notation works similarly to the solfege system, where every note or tone is given its own syllable and name. Later, Limondjian’s student Aristakes Yovhanniseanem deployed symbols to mark rhythm and duration. In its mature form, the Hampartsum notation was used to notate not only Armenian liturgical music, but also Ottoman classical and folk music. The Hampartsum system of notation thus preserves important versions of melodies of both Christian liturgical music and folk music. Musical texts using the Hampartsum notation are some of the most important sources for the music of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
With the development of this new system of notation, an entire world opened up to Armenian musicologists. The system itself is not difficult to learn. As Utidjian notes, while there are several textbooks for learning the system (one by Nikoghayos Tashjian, discussed below, and another by the contemporary musicologist, scholar, and practitioner Aram Kerovpyan), “the reader can easily master the system by mere inspection of the table” reproduced from Yeghia Dndesian’s notated hymnal (Utidjian 2011:69). The Zohrab Information Center has a copy of Tashjian’s textbook available. Using the old symbols of the khaz, redeployed for specific tones along the lines of the solfege system, with some basic musical training and this chart, anyone can learn to read the Hampartsum notation. Its ease of use led to several prolific decades when Armenian liturgical music, Armenian folk music, and classical Ottoman music were all notated using the system. Today, that explosion of work by Armenian musicologists and practitioners was is a major repository of melodies that would otherwise be lost. Learning the Hampartsum notation system opens up all of those sources and the full richness of the Armenian liturgical tradition.
|Patmutʿiwn hay dzaynagrutʿean ew kensagrutʿiwnkʿ erazhisht azgaynotsʿ, 1768-1909||A history of Armenian music and the important people involved in Armenian music from 1768, compiled by Fr. Aristakes Hisarlean. It includes biographies of Hampartsum Limondjian, Yegia Dndesian, and other major figures of the period. In Armenian.|
|Dasagirk‘ Ekeghets‘akan Dzaynagrut‘ean Hayots‘ Ashkhatasirets‘||By one of the major figures of Armenian liturgical music in the nineteenth century, Nikoghayos Tashjian, a textbook for learning the Hampartsum notation. In Armenian.|
|Tzayn Hanabadi||“The Voice in the Desert” is contemporary musicologist and practitioner Aram Kerovpyan’s account of the debates over musical liturgical reform in the nineteenth century and the work that produced the first notated hymnals. It includes the minutes of the meetings of the “Musical Committee” set up in Istanbul which met from April 22, 1873- August 22, 1875. In Armenian.|
As Utidjian notes, after the invention of this new system of notation, “the primary objective of most church musicians” “does not appear to have been the reconstruction of older melodies and the decipherment of the neumes; the dominant preoccupation appears, rather, the desire to arrive at a more reliable system for recording the melodies currently sung, to secure its acceptance, and to demonstrate the superiority (according to certain criteria, explicit or implicit) of particular melodies over rival ones” (2011:51). Paramount among these transcription tasks was the notation of the Armenian Hymnal, the Sharagan/Շարական or Sharagnots/Շարակնոց. This volume, containing all of the genre of hymns known as sharagans (to be distinguished from other musical genres, though we today tend to use the word sharagan to refer to all Armenian liturgical music), is the largest collection of Armenian liturgical music. The melodies of the Divine Liturgy and other occasional services were also notated, but the Sharagnots was the central concern and the largest task.
The history of the notation of the Sharagnots is fascinating, including rivalries, that spanned different centers of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Several musicologists notated hymns, including Hampartsum Limondjian himself—though his partially complete Hymnal is lost and we have today only a handful of his notated hymns. In 1873 when Եղիա Տնտեսէան/Yeghia Dndesian (Tntesean) joined the Patriarchal Musical Committee in Constantinople, the group began the work of evaluating potential notations. Limondjian’s student Aristakes Yovhannisean was one of the senior members on the committee, but his ideas about meter were rejected. A version notated by Habarjum Cherchian—arguably the oldest notated Hymnal, with the possible exception of Dndesian’s—was also rejected. Ultimately, Dndesian’s version was accepted as the working model, and the committee began to correct, modify, and work with that draft. The minutes of many of these meetings were kept by Dndesian’s son, transferred to Jerusalem, and recently unearthed by Aram Kerovpyan. His book Tzayn Hanabadi (“Voice in the Wilderness”) details the process of notation and the debates of the time. It also includes printed versions of the minutes. Ultimately, Dndesian’s rival and fellow committee member Nikoghayos Tashjian left for Etchmiadzin, where he prepared a different transcription of the Sharagnots. This version, printed in 1875 with the approval of the Catholicos, has perhaps been the most influential of all the versions produced and annotated using Hampartsum’s notation. However, as Utidjian argues, Dndesian’s version, finally published by his son in 1934 and still used in Istanbul, is a major accomplishment that deserves more attention. All of these notated hymnals were only possible because of Limondjian’s accomplishment of a new notational system. Today, they all remain major sources of liturgical music and musical variation!
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