Tntesean and the Music of the Armenian  Hymnal

In this paper we attempt to establish, in as concrete and tangible a manner as possible, the procedures used by Ełia Tntesean (1834–1881) when compiling  his hymnal, and the precise manner in which they were applied. Our approach  entails the juxtaposition of his musicological writings with his transcriptions published in 1864 (Bovandakut‘iwn nuagac‘ ) and his realisations of 1869–1871,subsequently revised and posthumously published in 1934 (Šarakan jaynagreal ).
By treating the above sources as a coherent corpus and engaging in an iterative process entailing the testing of our understanding of his writings through repeated comparisons with his hymn realisations, we have identified particular principles that informed his procedures: the desirability to “simplify” the melodies of variants in a search for a common “root”; an insistence on  observing the time durations associated with particular neumes; the conviction that successive stanzas within a hymn ought to be set to the same melody, and the deployment of devices for coping with “excess” syllables; the identification of melody types through the recognition of characteristic sequences of neumes on successive syllables or of especially telling combinations of neumes on single syllables; and the wish to maintain a degree of melismaticity commensurate with the density of the neumatic notation.
Although it is clear that Tntesean was not satisfied merely to transcribe what he heard, and indeed sought to apply his theories when compiling his hymnal,our detailed investigation of specific examples has revealed some surprises.
A particular combination of neumes appearing in nearly all hymns in a given mode is indeed found consistently to have been rendered by Tntesean using the same musical motif; yet the very same combination, when it exceptionally appears in a hymn of another mode, is not realised in a similar manner. Nor is the combination of neumes interpreted in a comparable way when it features  as a subset of a longer combination, found in yet another mode. Other combinations of neumes that are found in only some hymns of a given mode are interpreted in a less strictly consistent manner, (for instance) being subject  to temporal diminution, or to being “spread out” over more than a single syllable. Tntesean often chooses the melody to be deployed on the strength  of recognisable sequences and combinations of neumes, but does not attempt
to fit the melodies in a manner that would maintain consistency with the
disposition of the neumes as he proceeds from one example to the next,
preferring instead to observe the natural stresses in the verbal underlay, and  taking account of the overall musical context as created by turns of phrase heard earlier on in the stanza. Any syllable-by-syllable patterns that emerge seem fortuitous; only the durations associated with the various neumes are  observed rigorously (yet this too fails whenever complex combinations of neumes are encountered). Finally, Tntesean could not have created his melodies in a vacuum; rather, he adopted and adapted turns of phrase already in  circulation, deploying them in a manner comparable to the semi-improvisatory  procedures of singers performing in a liturgical environment, where a convincing  result was a higher priority than apparent consistency in interpreting successions of neumes.

We have indicated how the above investigation may be applied to the
important task of filling the gaps in the published version of the Tntesean
hymnal. Moreover, Tntesean’s work may serve as a point of departure for the  preparation of a critical edition of the neumatically-notated hymnal, for further   neumatological investigations, and for studies of performance practice placing  Armenian church music in an appropriately international context. The present paper is believed to be the first devoted to the Tntesean hymnal, as well as  a first attempt to expound the connections between the procedures professed in his musicological writings and his hymn realisations. Further, we postulate the wider relevance of such procedures to versions by Tntesean’s colleagues,and therefore believe this work to constitute an important step towards a fuller understanding of the manner in which the mediaeval neumes were interpreted and exploited by Armenian musicans in nineteenth-century Constantinople.

The Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church continues to embody a living  tradition of primarily monodic vocal music of exceptional richness and beauty.
Hymnography is attested as having commenced in the fifth century, whilst the canonical Hymnal was definitively closed at the end of the fourteenth century.
As in the case of other churches, the melodies of the Hymnal were associated  with an eight-mode system . In contrast, some of the items in the Breviary  and many of the odes were not necessarily restricted to any simple system of modes. In addition, odes continued to be composed well into the nineteenth century, sometimes as new melodic variants to pre-existing verbal texts. However,the melodies of a high proportion of the Armenian odes and other Breviary chants have been lost, and also there is considerable uncertainty about the antiquity of the extant melodies of both odes and canonical hymns.

1.1 Historical background
From at least the thirteenth century onwards, the melodies of hymns, odes
and other church chants were recorded by means of a system of neumatic
notation . For reasons that are not well understood – one suspects a combination  of political upheavals and geographical relocations, a misplaced secretiveness   on the part of practitioners, the non-existence or possible destruction of  manuals, the apparent non-existence prior to the eighteenth century of any versions recorded in Western musical notation, a growing incongruity between increasingly melismatic versions actually being sung and the simpler and more syllabic notated versions, or an evolution of sung melodies due to foreign influences combined with a conservative adherence to the original notation –by the seventeenth century the notation could generally no longer be read. It is, however, likely that some information on the metrical durations associated
with particular modes, was indeed preserved. Thus, although singers claimed to sing through an accurate recollection of original melodies, there was enormous diversity, and it appears that singers may have engaged in semi-improvisation on the basis of a combination of their knowledge of the features of the given mode, sensitivity to the particular verbal text, and the desire to respect at least the metrical durations they associated with the neumes. Nevertheless, the precise manner in which melodies were created, re-created or otherwise reproduced at this time is not well understood and has not been properly studied. At any rate, by the time Hambarjum Limōnčean (1768–1839) and his co-worker, Fr. Minas Bžškean (1777–1851), invented a new system of musical notation early in the nineteenth century (redefining a handful of the symbols used in the now defunct neumatic notation, to arrive at a system broadly analogous to tonic-sol-fa in the West), there were many rival realisations of melodies for the same hymns and odes; and newer melodic versions of items that had been subjected to a process of continual re-composition over centuries might long since have supplanted more ancient versions. The primary objective of most church musicians of Tntesean’s time does not appear to have been the reconstruction of older melodies and 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. Nor was it considered a priority to preserve and record as much of the wealth and diversity of this melodic material as possible (though this did become important a generation later). And in any case, the cataclysmic events of 1915, the decimation of historical Armenia and the destruction of the living oral tradition were not foreseen.
At present, we are faced with the irreversible loss of orally transmitted
variants (and, increasingly, the gradual phasing out of the liturgical environment wherein hymns may be performed at all), as also with the loss of a high proportion of manuscript material – notated variously in neumatic, Limōnčean or European notation. Given that we are unable to decipher the neumes and  read the music that remains “locked” in an incomprehensible notation, with a modest degree of over-simplification it can be claimed that only a very small,and not necessarily representative, fraction of the music is available to us –namely what was recorded in the Limōnčean or Western notational systems and then published or otherwise preserved. Yet even this apparently limited material has not been properly studied; moreover, further variants are being unearthed, as various manuscript collections gradually come to light. Thus,even if the currently available corpus represents but a fraction of the wealth of the past, it nevertheless constitutes a very rich and fascinating legacy; and of course modern technology permits the gathering, collation and study of
material from diverse sources with greater ease than at any time in the past.
So far this has been attempted to a very limited degree , thus leaving a potentially  rewarding and largely unexplored field open to fuller investigation.
Our investigation necessarily entails the use of extant musical transcriptions of items from the Armenian canonical hymnal, with a view specifically to gaining an insight into the processes whereby hymn melodies were put together in nineteenth-century Constantinople – in a hybrid procedure entailing transcription as well as reconstruction – and into the role which, amongst other factors, the mediaeval neumes, though only partially understood by that time, played in this process. The process is indeed seen to be a complex one,with the partially-understood neumes playing an important, but not exclusive,role. We shall find that much can be gained by comparing Tntesean’s own melodies as transcribed at different stages in his career, and by juxtaposing his writings with his musical realisations. Several issues that were hitherto obscure may be substantially elucidated thereby, and potentially fruitful avenues for further work (such as the completion of incompletely-notated hymns in the Tntesean hymnal) opened up – although certain important questions remain unanswered (though we tentatively propose plausible conjectural explanations,herever appropriate). This limited objective constitutes the primary aim of
the present paper.
The present study is believed to be the first devoted to the Tntesean
hymnal, as well as a first attempt to expound the connections between the
procedures propounded in his musicological writings on the one hand and his own musical transcriptions or realisations on the other; together they constitute a corpus that is uniquely valuable in comprising explicit descriptions of particular procedures with the melodies arrived at (at least in part) through their application.
More generally, Tntesean’s numerous journal contributions (including his public  correspondence with his colleague and rival, T‘ašcean), his various hypotheses,and his transcriptions and realisations (undertaken initially in the 1860s and     then a decade later – thus affording fertile ground for revealing comparisons)  together with the minutes (newly discovered in Jerusalem by Dr. Aram  Kerovpyan and awaiting publication) of the forty-eight sessions (1873–1875) of the Patriarchal Musical Committee, to which Tntesean’s hymnal manuscript was submitted, constitute a multi-dimensional resource which may fruitfully  be brought to bear to shed light on Tntesean’s procedures. We also believe   this study to be the first attempt at a detailed investigation as to the manner  in which the mediaeval neumes were interpreted by Armenian church musicians
in nineteenth-century Constantinople.
The ramifications and potential applications of the present work are to
be expounded in a sequel to this paper, wherein we shall seek indirectly
to demonstrate the wider relevance of Tntesean’s procedures to those of
other contemporaneous Constantinople church musicians, on whose very
transcriptions, as on Tntesean’s, we are now almost wholly dependent – given the disappearance of the last vestiges of an oral tradition. Moreover, from a fuller understanding of Tntesean’s work we may draw useful conclusions as to potentially promising avenues for future neumatic research, an area in which (for various reasons) little real progress has been achieved in the century and  a half since the time of Tntesean. Elements of melismatic elaboration and simplification and of ecphonetic chant will be seen to be of relevance, and in some ways akin to Tntesean’s own procedures. Another important application area is the development of a preliminary framework for a critical edition of the neumatically-notated canonical hymnal (which Tntesean was one of the first to call for, as we shall see in section 2.4 below). The discussion throughout will be supported by case studies. These entail comparisons of variants of the  same hymn in several neumatically-notated versions and with several extaNt  melodic versions (the latter drawing on an unprecedentedly wide range of
sources – geographically as well as chronologically – embracing as they do,
in addition to Tntesean’s transcriptions, also those by Schröder, Petermann,
Bianchini and Apcar, as well as those by Č‘erč‘ean, T‘aščean and  Aznaworean).
This naturally leads to a full discussion of the applicability of Tntesean’s ideas  to modern research on neumatology and on performance practice.

(to be continued)

Haig Utidjian


1.We distinguish between hymns, šarakank‘, and odes, tałk‘. The former are to be found in the canonical hymnal, and for the most part belong to the following types,named after the “preamble” or incipit which is performed immediately prior to the first stanza of the hymn:

Cantemus, Օրհնութիւն – Moses’ Song of Praise, Exodus 15.1: Cantemus
Domino, gloriose enim magnificatus est.

2.Patrum, Հարց – Daniel 3.52: Benedictus es, Domine, Deus patrum nostrorum; et laudabilis et glorisum nomen tuum in saecula. The second part of those hymns invariably includes:
Opera, Գործք – Daniel 3.57: Benedicite, omnia opera Domini, Domino; laudate et superexultate eum in saecula. (Both these citations from the Book of Daniel are from the Deuterocanonical parts of Scripture.)

3.Magnificat, Մեծացուսցէ – The Song of Mary, Luke 1.45: Magnificat anima mea Dominum, et exsultavit spiritus meus in Deo, salutari meo.

4.Miserere, Ողորմեա – Psalm 50.1: Miserere mei, Deus, secundum magnam misericordiam tuam.

5.De caelis, Տէր յերկնից – Psalm 148.1: Laudate Dominum de caelis, laudate eum in excelsis.

6.Pueri, Մանկունք – Psalm 113[112].1: Laudate, pueri, Dominum; laudate nomen Domini.

7.Midday hymn or Prandi, Ճաշու, which does not have any one appellation associated with a psalm, as its incipit is variable: it might be a Magnificat, or Dilexi,Սիրեցի զի լուիցէ – Psalm 116[114].1: Dilexi, quoniam exaudiet Dominum vocem  orationis meae; or, most frequently, Տէր թագաւորեաց – Psalm 93[92].1: Dominus regnavit, decorem indutus est; indutus est Dominus fortitudinem et praecinxit se

8.Levavi, Համբարձի – Psalm 121[120].1: Levavi oculos meos in montes, unde veniet auxilium mihi.
The standard Portable Hymnal, and many mediaeval manuscripts, nonetheless include certain canonical hymns that do not bear any of the above designations but belong to the day’s canon – in some cases constituting the sole hymn particular to the occasion; as well as a small number of hymns which, though long since accepted by the Church, happen not to belong to the Canon of any particular day,but which strictly speaking belong to the Breviary or to the Missal, yet are generally included in the Hymnal. Most, but not all, of these hymns belong to the eight–mode system (in many ways the analogue of the octoēchos associated with other ancient churches).
In contrast, odes are freer compositions, textually, modally, and in terms of
greater melismaticity, than hymns.
Although Armenian modality is a complex matter, and, in any event, in addition to embodying particular scales, embraces particular melodic contours and formulae associated with beginnings, cadences and endings, here we shall endeavour to provide some basic information on the scales associated with each principal mode.
For simplicity, we confine the compass of each mode to the minimum required to capture its fundamental tonal characteristics. To save space, we denote authentic by A, plagal by P (but note that these traditional appellations have no functional significance), and employ a plus sign to denote a very slight sharpening and a minus sign to denote a very slight flattening. Note that here we indicate current usage,which in some ways differs from that of Tntesean; we also gloss over questions concerning possible changes which these modes may have undergone prior to
attaining their current form:
ԱՁ or IA: g, a sharp(/a/a+), b natural, c, d(/d+), e
ԱԿ or IP: g, a(/a sharp), b natural, c, d, e
ԲՁ or IIA: a, d, e, f sharp, g, e, f, e, d, c, b natural, a
ԲԿ or IIP: c sharp, d, e, f, g, a
ԳՁ or IIIA: f sharp, g, a, b flat(/b natural), c sharp, d,e, f
ԳԿ or IIIP: g, a, b natural, c, d-
ԴՁ or IVA: a, b natural, c(/c sharp), d, e, f
ԴԿ or IVP: f sharp, g, a, b natural, c, d.
Microtones (denoted above as a+, d+ and d-) have largely fallen into disuse.
Also, it should be noted that certain notes, denoted above in parentheses, may sometimes be used, in preference to those immediately preceding them in the above table, depending on their position within the phrasal contour, the position of the phrase within the verse, or on local variations in traditional practice. Finally,most modes also possess a secondary or “auxiliary” version called darjuack‘, with a contrasting scale and sometimes also contrasting vocal tessitura to those of the parent mode; and in addition, certain modes (especially ԴԿ) possess rather melismatic and highly recognisable versions known as stełi.

For fuller details the reader is referred to the introductory treatment in
SERKOYAN, Nichan, “Les huits modes de l’hymnaire arménien”, in: Essays on Armenian Music, ed. Nersessian, Vrej, London 1978, p. 52–82; the insightful research-level paper by HAKOBIAN, Levon, “The Šarakan hymn tunes and their subdivisions”, in: Revue des Études Arméniennes, 33 (2011), p. 283–315; and,above all, to Tntesean’s own Bovandakut‘iwn nuagac‘, published in Constantinople in 1864, and of which the examples have been reproduced in full in the present study in section 5.1 below.
Opinions vary on the system, or indeed layers of system, in question. Armenian neumes have been deployed in a sparsely-notated system used for ecphonetic chant (employed, for instance, in singing from the gospel); in a more sophisticated system used for the hymnal; and within a particularly densely-notated system (known as manrusumn), apparently able to capture intricate melismata transcending the eight-mode system (and found in breviary chants and para-liturgical odes).
It has also been intimated by the Soviet scholar Tahmizean that the neumatic notation of the hymnal permitted, indeed relied upon, an element of improvisation (yankarcabanut‘iwn) – see, for example, ԹԱՀՄԻԶԵԱՆ, Ն. Կ., Արդի խազաբանութիւն [Modern neumatology], Pasadena, 2003, p. 6. However, one might well be justified in suspecting that this assertion betrays an underlying confusion between the manner in which nineteenth-century church musicians semi-improvised whilst looking at the already largely incomprehensible neumes, and the way in which mediaeval musicans may have employed the neumes. Furthermore, the oldest neumatically-notated extant hymnals are of roughly the same age as the
oldest extant ode-books, dating as they do from the thirteenth century (a partial exception is the Yerevan Matenadaran MS hymnal No. 9838, which dates from the year 1193, but of which the usefulness is limited by its extremely abbreviated nature – to the extent that only a few words from each stanza are given, and which contains a number of considerably later interpolations); and there is no firm evidence to suggest that manrusumn is a fundamentally different system, incompatible to that used in connection with the hymnal – as opposed to being one extreme of
a single continuum embraced by one integral system, deployed in a fuller way or less so, depending on the practical requirements of the genre.

4.The single systematic comparative study available at the time of writing remains  the ground-breaking work of the Paris-based, Constantinople-born musicologist  and church musician Aram Kerovpyan (L’Oktoechos arménien: une méthode d’analyse modale adaptéé au répertoire des Charakan, unpublished doctoral dissertation, École pratique des hautes études, Paris 2003).

Haig Utidjian, Cert. of Adv. Studies GSMD, M.Sc.(DIC), B.Sc., was
educated at the Universities of Sussex, London and Cambridge and at the
Guildhall School of Music and Drama in the UK, and by means of consultations
with Carlo Maria Giulini, Hugues Cuenod, Lothar Zagrosek, Vilém Tauský
and Josef Kuchinka. In his native Cyprus he was a pupil of Archbishop Zareh
Aznaworean, and was ordained a deacon of the Holy Armenian Apostolic
Orthodox Church in the year 2000. In Prague he regularly assists in services
at the church of St. Giles. He is a professional orchestral and opera conductor
and choirmaster. Since 2001 he is the chief conductor of the Orchestra and
Chorus of Charles University in Prague. In addition to his musical career, he
is a scholar of the Armenian hymnal and patrology, and is a regular participant
in international armenological conferences.


About sooteris kyritsis

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