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Old Armenian Notation – Khaz

Since ancient times, the Armenians had its own system of notation, which is called “the system of the Armenian khaz.” It is a type of neumatic notation. The khaz system made it possible to put down mono-vocal melodies and sharakans, as they indicated the voice pitch, its duration, the strength of the voice, hue, the ornamentation of the melodic line, and other elements.

Khaz notation was used from the 8th up to the 18th centuries – in the beginning, only for religious songs, later on also for folk music. However, as it contained a great amount of different symbols and conventional signs, khaz notation was difficult to use on a practical basis, in respect of putting down the melody and reading it. This is why it was gradually put out of use, and in the 18th-19th centuries it was completely forgotten. Starting at the beginning of the first quarter of the 19th century, a new, simpler and easier-to-use system was introduced in Armenian music.

The new system was compiled and developed by the musician and reformer of the Armenian notation, teacher Hampartsoom Limonjian (1768-1839). After thorough and careful study of Armenian spiritual music throughout many years, he created the {Armenian new notation} in the years 1813-15. The reasons for creating this new system are the following:

1) To make the notation system easier to learn and use

2) To compile a system which would use some elements of the old khaz notation.

As the new system is also neumatic and as it is not applied to the European 5-line bar system, it gives the chance to write the melody in the space between the lines of the text of the {spiritual} poems, thus facilitating the vocal performance of the texts. On his journeys of studies and recording of folk music, Komitas mostly used this notation system.

There are many text books teaching this notation system, the most famous of which are those by Nikoghayos Tashjian {Vagharshapat, 1874}, Arshak Broutian {Vagharshapat, 1890}, and Robert Atayan {Yerevan, 1950}. This notation has been used till our days, and it is being taught at the Yerevan State Conservatory, Gevorgian Seminary, and other musical establishments. Thousands of sharakans, chants, melodies and the Armenian Mass have reached us in the form of this notation.




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