THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)
Death of Hampartsum Limonjian
(June 29, 1839)
Hampartsum Limonjian, better known by the sobriquet Baba Hampartsum, was one of the most important figures of Armenian music. He opened a new era in Armenian songs, as he cleaned them from foreign influences, and became the creator of the Armenian new musical notation, which helped maintain the heritage of popular and spiritual songs.
Limonjian was born in Constantinople in 1768. His childhood was marked by poverty. As soon as he had learned how to write and to read, he became an apprentice in a tailor shop and, after learning the trade, became a tailor himself.
He had an innate love for singing and music, and in his free time he devoted himself to learning music, and this is how he advanced in musicology. He later became a student of Zenne Boghos and learned Armenian religious music. He met Turkish dervishes and in a short time learned the style of their classical singing. The mystic teachings of the dervishes made a great impact on him, as well as their introspective life and their prayers that were accompanied by songs, music, and ritual dances.
Afterwards, Hampartsum Limonjian, who was already known as Baba Hampartsum, studied also European musical theory. His acquaintance with Hovhannes Chelebi Duzian became crucial. Hovhannes Chelebi, who was also a music lover, noted the exceptional abilities of Baba Hampartsum and had him hired as a music teacher in the Mekhitarist School of Constantinople. Simultaneously, he also worked as a scribe for the Balians, who were the imperial architects.
Once he assured his living, Baba Hampartsum strove to improve his musical knowledge. He took lessons from Greek musicians and maintained his links with the dervishes. He also studied old Armenian religious songs and tried to transcribe them. The European notation was not appropriate and he invented an Armenian notation system that resembled the khaz (the Armenian notation used in the Armenian hymns or sharagan) and corresponded to the European musical scale. He worked on his invention until 1815. In 1837 he wrote his autobiography, in Turkish, where he wrote about the motives that had led him to create the Armenian notation.
Hampartsum Limonjian had a group of students who continued his work, among them his son Nezen Zenob (1810-1866), Tamburi Alexan, Apisoghom Utudjian, Aristakes Hovhannesian, Bedros Cheomlekian and Hovhannes Muhendisian.
He passed away on June 29, 1839, at the age of 71. Decades later, Kevork IV, Catholicos of All Armenians, took the initiative to organize the teaching and the promotion of the notation system invented by Baba Hampartsum, which was particularly important in the maintenance and the normalization of Armenian religious music.