Xaz (խազ, neumes / musical notation)

We have collated samples from nine Armenian manuscripts in the Bodleian library which contain a form of musical notation; these are available for viewing in the window below.

Below is a fairly typical example of Armenian musical notation as found in MS Arm. g. 12, fol. 226v, a 1654 ժամագիրք (breviary) copied in Ēǰmiacin. The passage in focus is the beginning of the penultimate stanza of a hymn:

“Եւ յորժամ շարժին երկինք և երկիր ի յահէ փառաց բանին տեառըն …”
ew yoržam šaržin erkink‘ ew erkir i yahē p‘aṙac‘ banin teaṙən
“And when Heaven and Earth begin to shake from fear of the glory of the Word of the Lord…”.

This manuscript, as typical for the period, is written in bolorgir, slightly slanting to the right. Above the line in which the lyrics of the hymn appear (and on occasion encroaching on that line), there are a number of different signs denoting the flow of the melody. These signs, called խազ (xaz – neume) in Armenian, like their western counterparts, do not bear an absolute value as does most modern musical notations, but indicate relative movement of the melody within the mode indicated.

As indicated by the use of colour and gold in the initials of stanzas, and the colour transfer from a marginal ornament on the facing recto folio, MS Arm. g. 12 is relatively ornate for a small-scale breviary.

Similar in function, but rather different in execution is MS Arm. f. 22, a մանրասումն (manrasumn – antiphonary). The page in focus is fol. 57v:

Dating to 1295/6 CE, MS Arm. f. 22 is roughly 350 years younger than MS Arm. g. 12, but exhibits the same bolorgir writing style. Line spacing, ductus, musical notation, etc., are visibly different, however. Where in the previous manuscript there were a small number of relatively minor intrusions of the xaz in the line, many lines in the current MS are indeed almost wholly taken up by these marks (see blue rectangle).

Yet, not all instances of muscial notations take this shape; in many instances, less detailed annotation occurs, as for instance in MS Arm. f. 16, a collection of poetry and songs by the Armenian poets Frik and Aṙak‘el. Folio 68v below is the beginning of song on the ‘Love of God’, written in nōtrgir.