Critical Editions of Near Eastern Music Manuscripts

From the early nineteenth century onwards, the courtly and urban music of Ottoman Istanbul was increasingly recorded in writing. The principal notation system used for this purpose was invented in around 1812 by the Ottoman Armenian musician Hambarjum Limōnčean (Tr. Hamparsum Limonciyan, 1768–1839) and a number of other collaborators. “Hampartsum” (or “Hamparsum”) notation was well adapted to the modal and rhythmic principles of Ottoman music, and was used by both Armenian and Muslim–Turkish musicians throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In addition, European staff notation was used by Ottoman musicians from the 1830s onwards. The large number of extant manuscripts in both notation systems are of major significance as documents of a musical culture that was shared across the urban centres of the Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean well into the twentieth century.

These sources are of prime importance both for musicological research and for the broader cultural history of the Ottoman Empire. They offer the opportunity to uncover forgotten repertoire, to shed new light on Ottoman sung poetry, and to contribute towards a diverse, multidisciplinary history of the urban culture of the region. The aim of the long-term project is, firstly, to prepare critical editions of manuscripts of Ottoman music written in Hampartsum notation during the nineteenth century. The second phase of the project will focus on the critical editing of manuscripts written in staff notation during the same period. As an interdisciplinary project, Corpus Musicae Ottomanicae will produce a parallel edition of song texts found in the manuscripts as a contribution to the study of Ottoman literature. Lastly, the CMO online catalogue will provide a major resource for researchers and performers by compiling a comprehensive database of printed and manuscript sources for Ottoman music.