Father of Turkish Classical Music

Hampartsoum Limondjian was born in 1768 on Çukur Sokak in the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul. His father’s name was Sarkis and his mother’s, Gaderina, both of whom had recently moved to Istanbul from Harput, were poor, and could only send their son to primary school. Soon after, Hampartsoum Limondjian started working for a tailor. A lover of music, he began attending Armenian churches, where he managed to receive some music lessons. He took lessons in Armenian music from Armenian musicians such as Krikor Karasakalyan (1736–1808) and Zenne Bogos (1746–1826), soon coming under the patronage of Hovhannes Çelebi Düzyan, director of the Ottoman Imperial Mint. This gave him the freedom he required to devote himself fully to music and continue his education within the Düzyan family mansion in the Kuruçeşme district of Istanbul. After serving dutifully in the choir of the Armenian Church, he was made Precentor (first singer) and chief musician.

Around this time, Hampartsoum Limondjian started attending mevlevihanes, places of gathering for dervishes of the Mevlevi order, to learn Ottoman music. In the Beşiktaş Mevlevihanesi, he took lessons from Dede Efendi, one of the greatest Ottoman composers. He was then accepted at the court of Ottoman Sultan Selim III, himself a composer whose music is still performed today, becoming a regular member of the music circles of his day. Sultan Selim III was concerned about the lack of a comprehensive notation system for music and encouraged members of his court to work on one that would be both easy to learn and easy to transcribe in. Two music systems were developed as a result and presented to Selim III, by Hamparsum Limonciyan and Abdulbaki Nasir Dede. Abdulbaki Nasir Dede’s system was based on the abjad system, differing in the ordering of the notes. Hampartsoum Limondjian’s notation that he developed in two years between 1813 and 1815 was preferred over the other and became the dominant notation for Turkish and Armenian music. Using his own system, Hampartsoum Limondjian transcribed most of 18th century Turkish music compositions in a collection of six books, which he presented to Selim III. Only two of the originals survive to date and are preserved at the Istanbul Municipal Conservatory Library.

He worked as a master of music and educated a number of Turkish and Armenian musicians of his day. Besides being known as a leading composer, he was a famous vocal performer and played the violin and the tanbur. 31 of his Armenian hymns, composed with Armenian lyrics in the Turkish melodic system (makam) survive to this day. He has composed a large number of Turkish music pieces, most of which are regularly performed today.

The Hampartsoum notation uses symbols derived from an older notation called խազ khaz used by the Armenian Church. Pitch is indicated by one of forty-five symbols. There are fourteen notes per octave over a range of three octaves and a minor second; a tilde is used in place of a sharp and also to raise or lower a note an octave. All twelve notes of the Western chromatic scale are represented, but in the case of F-sharp (fa diyez in Turkish) and B-natural (si), two enharmonic symbols are used for each, because Middle Eastern music uses microtonal intervals called commas. Above each note is written another symbol, marking its duration. Other symbols are used for rests, repeats and phrases.


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