Music

Armenian religious or sacred music is contained in the following books: Sharaknots (Hymnal), Gandzaran (Canticles), Manrusmunk' (Collections of anthems, and introits) and Tagharan (Chants).

The sharakans (literally, 'row of pearls') are arranged in canons proper to the several days of the church year. The word derives from the root shar or shark' denoting order or sequence, and each canon is divided into rhythmical sections intended to be chanted after or instead of certain psalms and canticles, and so correspond to the Latin antiphons. Each section is distinguished in the margin by the first letter of the psalm or canticle in connection with which it is sung: (1) Orhnut'iwn (aw) or Benediction (Exod. 15); (2) Harts (hts) or Of fathers (Dan. 3); (3) Medsatsustse (m) or Shall magnify (Luke 1); (4) Oghormea (o) or Have mercy (Psalm 60) ; (5) Ter yerknits (t) or Dominum in caelis (Psalm 148); (6) Mankunk' (mk) or Pueri (Psalm 112); (7) Chashu (chsh) or Praise (extracts from psalms); (8) Hambardzi (hb) or Levavi (Psalm 120). Each of these sharakans or sections of a complete canon is sung in one of the eight modes, of which four are known as tones (dzayn, dz) and four as koghm (k), i.e. plagion.

P'awstos Buzand, in his History, states that St Sahak in the fifth century was 'perfectly versed in singer's letters', by which we understand the early musical notation called khaz (neumes). By the middle of the sixteenth century, the khaz system of notation ceased to develop and gradually fell out of use. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, a new system of notation was created on the basis of the old by H. Limondjian (1768-1839). In 1873 Catholicos Geworg IV (1866-82) invited the musician Nikoghayos Tashchian from Constantinople to Ejmiadsin, to notate the sacred musical books of the Church; this he did and they were published as: Hymnal (1875), Liturgy (1874) and Breviary (1878). The Hymnal has been converted to western musical notes and published in Ejmiadsin in 1997.

Traditional Armenian music is distinctive not only in terms of its sound, but also in its structure, which differs in major ways from western forms. It is monophonic, consisting of a single melodic line without support for harmony. It is built on melody-modes, as opposed to the major and minor scales used in the West.

The Armenian liturgy has been set to music employing western compositional methods by the Italian Pietro Bianchini (1877), Makar Ekmalian (1896), Amy Apcar (1897), Komitas vardapet (1933) and Khoren Mekanidjian (1985). Of these only the Ekmalian and Komitas choral settings have achieved popularity and are used in Armenian worship. The organ was introduced into church services in the twentieth century.

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