I believe that it is essential to study the Hamparsum notation because this type of musical notation was the first serious attempt for the Janissaries’ bands to obtain a notation system to have their music written. As the Janissaries’ bands (“Mehterhane”) had been the oldest wind ensembles in the world — as it is argued1, I think that it would be exciting to study the Hamparsum notation, which had been created by Ottoman Armenian composer Hampartsoum Limondjian (1768 – 1839)2 in the last years of the 18th century, and which dominated in the Ottoman music during the first two decades of the 19th century, until 1828, when Sultan Mahmud II had already destroyed the Janissaries in 1826 and the new Ottoman military bands adopted the Western notation as for their official system of writing their music3.
As a result, we can say that the adoption of the Hamparsum notation — an Armenian’s invention — by the Ottoman music, indicates that the Ottoman culture had been widely open to ideas of members belonging not only to the dominating Turkish ethnicity but also to other subjects to the Ottoman Sultans ethnicities (such as the Greek, the Armenian, etc.). And the Ottoman Empire, during the most time of its existence, needed such cultural ideas invented by people belonging to its multi-religious and multi-national society because this Empire, being traditionally aggressive towards the European nations, wanted to avoid the acceptance of European cultural ideas and, as a result, the acceptance of the European notation system into the Ottoman music. The reason for this avoidance was the fact that the Ottoman society was dominated by a majority of conservative members belonging to different religions, nationalities, and social classes. For example, the Muslim interpreters of the Islamic Sacred Law (called as “ulema”), the conservative Sunni Muslim fundamentalists (called as “Kadi-zadeli,” whose movement appeared in the 17th century), the most conservative Shia Muslims (called as “Jelālīs,” whose action was controlled by Iran of the Safavid dynasty, during the period from the 16th to the 18th centuries) the most conservative Orthodox Christians (called as “Collybades,” whose movement appeared in the 18th century), and the salaried soldiers’ elite (called as “Janissaries,” who, until their destruction in 1826, were responsible mainly for the security of the Istanbul capital city), equally hated and attacked whatever European cultural element as an instrument of the “infidel” — both for the Muslims and the Orthodox Christians of the Ottoman Empire — Catholic Christian Europeans, dangerous for the Ottoman society’s integrity4.
So, we can say that the invention of the Hamparsum notation system in the Ottoman Empire, during the last years of the 18th century, was a natural result of the Ottoman society’s battle against the elements of the European civilization (and, more especially in this case, against the Western notation system).
The trumpet (called as “boru” in the Ottoman case, which was a kind of the natural trumpet), was one of the most important musical instruments in the Ottoman military music because this instrument, with its loud sound, very well served the Ottoman army bands — that is the Janissaries’ bands — primary purposes, which were the encouragement of the Ottoman soldiers and the provocation of terror into the enemies’ hearts5. So, it is very sensible that the Hamparsum notation considered the technical abilities of all the instruments included in the Ottoman marching bands (the trumpet is not an exception to this rule) to adapt its symbols in a way that the musician could easily follow.
So, to see how the Hamparsum notation did function, I decided to transcribe a musical part for trumpet, which is included in the Western European Beethoven’s work called Turkish March, from The Ruins of Athens (for four trumpets), into the Ottoman Hamparsum notation system, because this work indicates that the Ottoman military music had inspired many classical European musicians, such as Ludwig van Beethoven, for their works6. The truth is that the Ottoman trumpet could play only the harmonic notes because it had no valves. But I think it would be fascinating to transcribe a Western European work written for modern trumpet into the Hamparsum notation. In this way, the contemporary trumpeter can come face-to-face with a challenging notation system. So, you can see the transcription of the previous work in the attached picture.
Sources for the Transcription
- Beethoven, L.v., Turkish March from The Ruins of Athens, for four trumpets.
- CMO Editions and Source Catalogue. Welcome to the online publication platform of Corpus Musicae Ottomanicae (CMO), Corpus Musicae Ottomanicae. Last viewed on 8/11/2020.
- Goularas, D., Çinar, K., Optical Music Recognition of the Hamparsum Notation, 2019 Ninth International Conference on Image Processing Theory, Tools and Applications. Last viewed on 8/11/2020.
- “Mehter,” in Campaigns & The Army, The Ottomans. Last viewed 8/16/2020.
- Hampartsoum Limondjian, Wikipedia. Last viewed 8/16/2020.
- Ayangil, R., Western Notation in Turkish Music, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Volume 18, October 2008, pp. 401-447. Last viewed 8/13/2020.
- Konortas, P., Notes for the History of the Ottoman Empire, Unpublished, email@example.com.
- Quataert, D., The Ottoman Empire, 1700-1922, Cambridge University Press, New York 2005.
- Weiss, K., Janissary music in the Western classical idiom: 1775-1824, Music History 349, Music History: 1750-Present, International Studies, Revised September 19, 2017. Last viewed 8/16/2020.