Khaz

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Khaz is the Armenian Music notation system which dates from the 9th Century. The system uses neumatic signs, without traditional musical lines, placed over the liturgical texts, allowing free variation within a prescribed modal structure.

Every sign of the Khaz notation, plus or minus 25 neumes and 12 Armenian consonants, denotes the rising and falling direction of the standard melodic motifs, as well as rhythmic and even expressive details of the manner of performance.

From the 16th Century the KHAZ notation became progressively more complicated and it eventually became incomprehensible to church musicians. At the beginning of the 19th century, the system was reformed by "Baba" Hambardzum Limonjian.


Since ancient times, the Armenian nation has 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 monovocal 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 for about 10 centuries, from the 8th to the 18th centuries. 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 from the beginning of the first quaarter 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 Hampartsum 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 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 facillitating 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 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 this notation.


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