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Music and the Art of the Book
A. Musical Notations and Instruments
by Robert Atayan

Folk music plays an important part in Armenia"s rich artistic heritage. It is eminently traditional and has a resonance characterized by a delicate structure. Naturally, even today it has an important place in the life of the people.

Armenian music is ancient in origin and continuous in development as seen from pre-Christian mural paintings, archaeological finds, the earliest historical chronicles, mediaeval miniatures, and the songs themselves, some of which have transmitted elements from pagan civilization.

From the fifth to the third millennia B.C., for example, in the higher regions of Armenia there are rock paintings of scenes of country dancing.

These dances were probably accompanied by certain kinds of songs or musical instruments.

Archaeological excavations have uncovered in various parts of Armenia bronze sleigh bells and small hand bells from the second millennium B.C. These instruments were used for the musical accompaniment of ceremonial rituals.

In the Lake Sevan region a cornet and drum skins have been discovered dating from the first millennium. At Karmir Blur, near Erevan, bronze cymbals have also been found. Garni and Dvin double-flutes, probably used by shepherds, made of stork"s claw bones have been uncovered.

All levels of the population loved and practiced music: Tigran II and his son Artavazd II had royal musicians in their court.

In the fifth century Moses of Khoren (Movses Khorenats"i) himself had heard of how "the old descendants of Aram (that is Armenians) make mention of these things (epic tales) in the ballads for the lyre and their songs and dances."

The Epic Histories attributed to P"awstos Buzand, describe a royal feast of the fourth century, during which an orchestra of drums, flutes, trumpets and lyre players performed their polyphonic music for King Pap.

Contemporary musicology confirms the thesis that the main characteristics of Armenian national music are distinguished by a monotone, single voice structure and a special tonal system.

Melodic and rhythmic inventions were created parallel to the formation and evolution of the spoken language (ashkharapar).

Over time, the treasure of popular melodies was constantly enriched with fervor. The ballad "Mokats" Mirza," the vast national epic David of Sasun, a colorful narrative about the period of Arab occupation of Armenia, and other songs dating back to the Urartian period (ninth to sixth centuries B.C.) are musical documents that represent the ancient branch of the epic-minstrel style of Armenian folk music.

The two periods that extend from the fifth to the seventh and from the tenth to the thirteenth centuries mark decisive stages in the evolution of this music.

At both times, numerous masterpieces were created in every domain: pastoral songs, urban music, ancient troubadour style, verse songs for male voice, religion. Music was adapted to a wide range of uses: work, lyricism, epic-historic-heroic, morality and character, etc.

The hymns dedicated to work and the pastoral life that have been preserved are of high quality, including improvised horovels, songs dedicated to nature, hayerens and antunis, mediaeval compositions sung by the troubadours. Profane songs in verse also date from these periods.

In the late Middle Ages, when Armenia lost its sovereignty and was divided between the Ottoman Empire and Persia, the sentiment of the people assimilated and inspired songs of nostalgia and sorrow.

From this period come works dedicated to migration and homelessness: Krunk, Kanch" Krunk, Antuni, etc. In the seventeenth century the Armenian branch of the oriental style of minstrel music developed thanks to the troubadours Sayat Nova and Jivan.

Musical instruments held a very special place in the customs of the Armenian nation during the Middle Ages, as the historians and poets of this period relate in their numerous reports.

For example, Nerses Shnorhali when speaking of the city of Ani, says, "There was always singing and lyre playing."

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Writer: Dickran Kouymjian
Editor: Eugenia Melkonyan
 Date Added: Saturday August 26, 2006 07:28:33 

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