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About the author: Gregorios Th. Stathis is an internationally renowned researcher and author in Byzantine musicology and retired professor in Byzantine Musicology and the Psaltic Art at the Department of Music Studies of the National and Capodistrian University of Athens. He has served as Director of the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece’s Institute of Byzantine Musicology. He has authored a large and important corpus of writings in the form of books, articles, studies, as well as presentations at international conferences in Greece and abroad. His monumentous life-time work is the seven-volume catalog, The Byzantine Music Manuscripts — Mount Athos, of which the first four volumes have been published. In 1983 he established the choir of chanters, Οἱ Μαΐστορες τῆς Ψαλτικῆς Τέχνης (The Masters of the Psaltic Art), which performed during its first years of existence with the famous patriarchal protopsaltes, Thrasyboulos Stanitsas (†1987).
In this article the renowned Greek Byzantine musicologist Gregorios Stathis offers an introduction to Byzantine church music for a western European audience. It was given at Oxford University in May of 1970 to non-specialists as an introduction into the basic character of Byzantine chant giving special attention to the problems relating to the divergent scholarly opinions regarding notational interpretation. It includes a discussion of the centuries-old parallage - metrophonia - melos method of learning the chant, as well as addressing some issues regarding the often misunderstood character of Byzantine chant.
It is Psaltiki’s honor and great joy to initiate our Online Journal of the Psaltic Art by hostinga lecture given during Prof. Stathes’ 1969-1970 stay at Oxford. The present paper originally appeared in the publication Παρηχήματα: θεολογικά - μουσικολογικά - ὁδοιπορικά (Athens 1978) and is reprinted and edited here with the permission of the author.
Keywords: Byzantine chant, Byzantine musicology, notational interpretation.
Please allow me to begin with an apology, ladies and gentlemen, and especially the people of England, for addressing you in poor English: poor in construction and in pronunciation. My main problem will not be in coping with the theme itself, but in using correct English. My English, as that of a child, is six months old; but please pay attention to this child because he is trying to tell you some serious things. These serious things concern Byzantine Church Music—which I love and need as much as I love and need bread for sustenance—and are the main reasons for which I accepted the invitation of the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius to give this talk. I accepted for another reason, also: Dr Zernov encouraged me and assured me that no one would be offended by my grammatical mistakes and, indeed, he thought that the question with which I am now dealing should interest the audience a great deal. Therefore, I hardly need to tell you how much I appreciate your patience and willingness to listen to me.
The theme, as presented by the title Byzantine Church Music, is extremely large. I would even go so far as to say enormous. The difficulties of such a theme are multiplied when speaking to an audience without a deep tradition or knowledge of the terminology with regards to the types of compositions, both poetical and musical, which are used in the liturgical life of the Byzantine Church. It would be better if we took a particular subject and explained it from all angles, illustrating the points that can be illustrated. Since, however, we are in Oxford, which is the centre of research in Byzantine musical notation and interpretation in Western Europe, I would like to give you a general view, as synoptic as possible, of the most important stages of the development of Byzantine musical notation. We can do this by examining the more important points of musicological research on these facts, made by the Greeks in an uninterrupted tradition, and by the Western Europeans, mostly during the last forty years. In the course of this overview we can be shown that Byzantine Music is neither Western European nor Turkish, as many wrongly think, but purely Greek Byzantine. I shall not insist on persuading you that this is so, that is very difficult, but only on presenting the question as it stands.
Byzantine Music, formed in conjunction with Byzantine poetry, is as old as that poetry. The types of musical compositions depend on the types of poetical ones and share the same names. We have the first appearance of musical notation in the tenth century. This notation is called mnemotechnical and is difficult to understand without looking at its development in the subsequent notations. Passing through three kinds of notation, Byzantine Music develops into a complete system in the thirteenth century and comes to be referred to today as the ‘Round Notation.’ Here I must tell you that this evening I am interested in this particular notation , which continued until the year 1814, and in the new notation that was formed then. I leave behind all the previous notations and the problems with which the musicologists and philologists are concerned. The chant notation before 1814 is generally called the ‘Old Method’ of Byzantine Music. The notation which is currently used, the fruit of an entire century’s efforts, is generally referred to as the ‘New Method.’
In the interpretation of the chant notation, especially the Old System, there are two sharply divided groups of scholars. The first group consists of the Greek scholars who have received Byzantine Music from the past generations. Together with the living and uninterrupted traditions, they defend the view that the Byzantine Music of today is the same in its elements as that which has always existed in the Byzantine Church, especially in the monasteries—even though a large group of those compositions are not sung in the Church today. The second group consists of the Western European and American scholars, as well as a few Greeks who follow their interpretation. Most of them are philologists and professors in Universities and come under the flag of the Monumenta Musicæ Byzantinæ in Copenhagen. They denied the New Method as well as the living tradition, or could not understand them. After studying the late Byzantine period, the tenth through fifteenth centuries, and examining the musical notation of that time without the help of the post-Byzantine exegesis and development they gave us some results of their studies. We can understand these facts after explaining what the Monumenta Musicæ Byzantinæ is. The Monumenta Musicæ Byzantinæ was formed in 1931, in Copenhagen, by three professors: Casten Höeg, a Dane; H. J. W. Tillyard, an Englishman (both of whom are presently deceased); and Egon Wellesz, an Austrian, who is a professor here at Oxford. With their pupils, they have worked very hard since 1931 and published many important works in four series. Firstly, facsimiles of eight important manuscripts; secondly, the results of their studies on Byzantine chant notation. We Greek traditionalists must recognize their efforts and the results of their systematic research in the early Byzantine chant notations. It is, however, very difficult for us to accept certain other conclusions they have put forward, because we see a different development and do not see the problem in the same light. Sometimes the western researchers are very enthusiastic at having discovered something they believe was very difficult, while for us Greeks it seems very easy, since it is part and parcel of our living tradition. The other series of MMB publications consists of transcriptions into the pentagram of the most important Byzantine melodies. We Greek traditionalists do not agree with these transcriptions because they are based on the fifteen signs of quantity—intervals only—which we believe do not form the entire melody, but only the frame of what is called the melos. Apart from this, the three genera of the eight modes—i.e., the diatonic, enharmonic and chromatic—and the different intervals of Byzantine Music are lost in these transcriptions. We consistently insist on their existence and have much evidence for their existence since the inception of the chants. Therefore, without these elements and with the Western European musical language expressed in these transcriptions, Byzantine Music is unrecognizable to us and sounds very western. These melodies, interpreted in this way, have nothing to do with Byzantine Music for us. A fourth series of publications deals with the ekphonetic signs that were used in the liturgical readings of the Gospel, Epistle and Prophetic texts.
From our perspective, down through the centuries we have received Greek language theory books explaining the reading and teaching of Byzantine chant notation. Using these books we can better understand the development from the Old Method to the New Method and justify historical facts, giving proper artistic value to the beautiful Byzantine melodies and their great composers. One of these treatises that I would like to mention is by Manuel Chrysaphes, who was lambadarios (lead singer of the left choir) at the time when the city of Constantinople fell (AD 1458). Gabriel Hieromonachos wrote another treatise in the fifteenth through sixteenth century. A few more theories would appear in the eighteenth century before Chrysanthos’ Theoretikon, on which the New Method of 1814 was based. Many manuscripts known as Papadike begin their first folios with teaching methods organized into didactic poems that are chanted; these Theoriai first appeared in the thirteenth to fourteenth centuries and multiplied up to the year 1814.
Let us now see how the Old Byzantine notation was implemented, according to all these theories and theoretical books. In saying “Old Notation” we basically refer to the fifteen signs of quantity or intervals and the forty signs of quality, generally referred to as “the great signs of cheironomy,” which were mostly written in red ink. Other basic elements are the signatures showing the modes and their different notations, the phthorai, a few special signs showing the change of the melody from mode to mode and genus to genus, that is to say, signs of modulation. Also, in the old notations great importance is given to the well-distinguished groups of both signs—of intervals and cheironomy—which are called theseis in the Chrysaphes treatise mentioned above. Specifically, he says, “Certain groups or unions of signs which constitute the real melos are called theseis.”
For a better understanding of all this we can consider an example provided by Chrysanthos, one of the three reformers, who, as you can guess, knew the older notation very well. The example is the hymn Τὰς ἑσπερινὰς ἡμῶν εὐχάς. It looks a bit mysterious, doesn’t it? The first sign is a signature that indicates that the melody belongs to the first mode. It also tells us from which pitch of the pentachord we must begin the singing. The black signs are the signs of quantity, showing the intervals. The red signs are the signs of cheironomy, which form the expression, the rhythm and the full melody of this piece.
We must follow three steps in learning to chant this melody. A. The first one is called parallage. In this stage we pay attention only to the signs of interval, learning these intervals diatonically, as belonging to the first mode; we must chant these voices, known as phthongoi: ανανες — νεανες — νανα — αγια — ανανες, and so on, up to these: νεαγιε — αανες — νεχεανες — ανεανες, going downward. B. The second step to learn is called metrophonia. We again turn our attention only to the sign of intervals, this time applying the syllables of the text of the hymn with the corresponding intervals we just learned in the parallage, trying sometimes to soften the passages of the thirds. C. The third and final step is at the same time the most important and most difficult; it is called melos, the real melody of the musical text shown in this notation. Here we observe two important things: (1) these two red signs are called the Parakletike and the Thematismos. They are two of the most important signs of cheironomy and reveal the full melody. Because these signs on these specific pitches in the first mode have a fixed function and result, this piece is to be chanted as follows [the third musical example, to the right], according to the theories.
The real melody is shown by the groups of signs, together with the red signs of cheironomy. Furthermore, when we study the theory books we learn that the function of these signs is different when they are found on different pitches and in different genera, or different types of compositions. The same holds true for the theseis—musical phrases, initial and final. I should like to show you, if you have the patience, the different melodies produced by the Thematismos when found on three different pitches and how two phrases are different because they belong to two different genera and pitches.
Now, the Western Europeans believe that the melody of this piece is the “metrophonia,” while we Greeks say, “No, this is only the framework of the melody; the real melody is this one which we now have written down—according to the New Method—analytically and exactly the same in hundreds of cases, if they correspond to the same old notation.” Perhaps you can now understand the difficulty in learning Byzantine Chant and in memorizing so many melodies by seeing some red signs. Perhaps now you can also guess the importance of the New Method of Byzantine notation made, I repeat, in the year 1814, when it was introduced by three men: an archimandrite, Chrysanthos; a Lambadarios of the Great Church, Gregorios; and another important master of the chant, Chourmouzios.
The New Method is nothing else other than the clear transcription of the melodies, which were hidden mostly in the forty signs of cheironomy, written now using only ten of the fifteen interval signs. This method, called “exegesis” or “analysis” of the Old Method, has saved Byzantine Chant and preserved all its beautiful melodies. The New Method did not change Byzantine Chant; only its notation changed. This change came about through the century-long efforts of more than forty people to analyze the musical content of the red signs, special fixed groups and combinations of signs. Bishops and Patriarchs wished for this change and, at last, this change was accepted by the Œcumenical Patriarchate and in a very short period of time spread to the monasteries all over the Orthodox world—Greece, Romania, Palestine, Egypt and beyond. This general acceptance, along with the strong, uninterrupted tradition of the Church shows that there was no change in the chant, but only in its notation.
Everything we can now enjoy with the New Method has always been in practice, a living tradition. All this variety of composition, all these different intervals, different genera, and these eight modes are well evidenced throughout the centuries. Allow me to present some references.
1. That the different function of the signs in different positions and in different kinds of compositions has always existed is taught to us by Chrysaphes (15th c.):
There is a certain way of composing a sticheron and another for a megalynarion; again, another way of composing an alleluiarion and another for a cheroubikon, and so on.
2. The fact that the intervals and, therefore, three genera systems (diatonic, enharmonic and chromatic) of intervals existed is attested to by Gabriel Hieromonachos (15th-16th c.).
There are two reasons why we go up and down by mistake (in the nenano and chromatic melos); one is the parechia and the other is the nature of the melos; and again, the reason for these is the halves and thirds of the tones.
And you can see here in this chromatic melos, the number 4 is exactly one-third of a whole tone, a major tone.
3. That the melos, the real melodies which were hidden within the red signs has always been a fact in Byzantine chant is revealed to us by the prayer written by a man in his chant manuscript from the year 1700. We read two notes: “15 December 1700. I began to learn the first plagal modes from this Old Sticherarion, which are known as metrophonia.” And further down, “Thursday, 19th of December 1770, at six o’clock in the evening. I completed the metrophonia of the first plagal modes from the beginning to the end […] and may God also make me worthy to learn the melos—real melody—so I can chant it in my home country, Philipopolis.” The metrophonia, the signs of intervals only with the syllables of the text were not the melos, the real melody of the hymn.
4. Again, that this tradition was stable and very important in Byzantine chant can be read in Chrysaphes’ treatise:
We do not often find a phthora of mode four, but we change the mode when we sing the melos.
But how can one be sure in transcription, even the metrophony alone, without knowing the living tradition and exegesis in post-Byzantine developments of the Byzantine chant notation?
5. We can now better understand, I hope, why thirty years before the New Method was formed there were also other men pretending to teach other much easier methods for writing melodies. The inherent difficulties of the old Byzantine notation were an obstacle to be overcome.
6. Moreover, when the New Method finally did arrive and the three teachers with their pupils transcribed more than one hundred volumes (the greater part of the repertoire of the chant from the Old Method) there were men who protested that this exegesis or analysis of the red signs, which was now not necessary since their content was now written out analytically, would cause the older books to be incomprehensible.
Basil Stephanides protested in 1819, saying:
I see that the formation and the meaning of those great signs is being destroyed from day to day, because the students are not learning them through the living tradition, but are trying to learn them with some kind of exegesis [interpretation and analysis] which, whatever they are, should have been used by the students to call to mind these signs after they had learned them through oral teaching [tradition] and came to know them; these exegeses should not, on the other hand, cause the chant books to become completely incomprehensible to the students!
In this way, seen through its development, Byzantine Music presents itself as being very different from Turkish music. Many people, especially Western Europeans, when they listen to a melody which is clearly not Western and sounds strange to their ears, say, “Oh, this music is oriental,” and they do not make any real discernment as to how it is Turkish, Arabic, Armenian or Persian. Sometimes they comment on Byzantine chant, saying, “Oh, it sounds like Turkish music!” This is not so. All these different kinds of music have many scales and intervals in common, but we must know that Turkish music was not a written music; a Turkish musical notation does not exist. All these melodies depend on rhythmic shapes. We know that Petros Peloponnesios, a very famous Greek chant master and composer, gave to the Armenian singers in Constantinople by way of the Armenian composer and singer known as Hambarjoun, the Byzantine parallage of the three genera before the year 1777. On the other hand, we have many Turkish melodies that have been written using the New Method of Byzantine chant notation and published so we can compare to see if there is any influence. Byzantine Music is chanted in the Christian Orthodox Church. Turkish music is sung in the Mosque. Just as the differences between these two religions (and nations) are large ones, so, too, the elements used in their worship differ greatly: the language, the iconography, the mosaic art, the hymns and the music. It is difficult to explain these differences in a few words at this time. We must know that Byzantine Music and Turkish Music have many technical elements in common, but they are two well-distinguished kinds of music and each has its own character.
Now that we have seen that Byzantine Music is neither West-European nor Turkish, let us now examine what it actually is. Byzantine Music in all its particular melodies is not anonymous music, as many wrongly believe. There are more than five hundred composers, of whom 80 to 100 are very famous and important. Each of them has left a large corpus of work that would require four to eight volumes to fit all their compositions. Their work is almost completely ignored. In the chant books we now use are found only fifteen to twenty of their compositions. The rest of their work is found in libraries, mostly monastic, written in both the Old and New Methods of notation. In the near future, I hope their splendor will be widely published. What we listen to in Church is only the alpha and beta of Byzantine Music: it is just the minimum that serves the most basic needs of worship. The treasure of Byzantine Music as an art form is for the most part ignored. And if I told you that Ioannes Koukouzeles’ (14th c.) wonderful compositions could fill six to eight volumes, Chrysaphes the Younger’s (18th c.) work more than seven volumes, Petros Bereketes’ (18th c.) more than five volumes, and Petros Peloponnesios’ about five volumes, perhaps you would not believe me. Or, again, if I told you that one composition which is written to be sung at the end of Vespers, on the feast of Saint Nicholas, or in the Refectory in monasteries, takes thirty-five to forty minutes to perform, you would hardly believe me. We have about nine hundred to one thousand compositions of this kind. In these and other types of compositions we can witness the monophonic Byzantine richness produced during the parallel period during which Western Europe was producing its polyphonic masterpieces.
Furthermore, let us examine the music that is used in the services. There we have eight modes that belong to three genera: the diatonic, chromatic and enharmonic. The genera and, therefore, the modes differ from each other in the intervals utilized. Each mode can be sung in four different ways: 1) the very simple, each syllable corresponding to one sign [heirmologic]; 2) the slow [sticheraric]; 3) the more slow [papadic]; and 4) the calophonic, very melismatic. Most people know only the first two ways of singing and most will use only the first, the quick one. Some special hymns, such as the cherubikon (cherubic) or the koinonikon (communion) are sung in a special, slow way of their own. The hymns, troparia sung in the church are basically divided into two categories: the prosomoia and the idiomela. Prosomoia are the troparia patterned after the melody of some other troparion. These troparia patterns and, therefore, pros-omoia (toward-the same) form five categories: 1) the kontakia;2) the heirmoi-kanons; 3) the kathismata; 4) the exaposteilaria; and 5) the prologoi. These troparia are many more in number than the stichera idiomela. When we chant these troparia in the first and second manner mentioned above there is very little freedom in how we will perform them; we must follow the pre-fixed melodies in an exact manner. However, in the calophonic way of singing we can follow some personal embellishment (and feeling) in composing and singing. When a chanter knows the eight modes well enough, can easily distinguish them and knows these troparia-prosomoia, he can sing in Church in all the vespers and matins services without using music books. It is no wonder that these troparia take up such a major portion of these services.
Idiomela are the troparia that have a unique melody all their own. They are also called stichera and form the book known as the Sticherarion.
In order to better understand the eight modes in their first, quick way of singing, let us listen to the troparion Τὴν τιμιωτέραν τῶν Χερουβίμ. In the fourth plagal mode there are actually two melodies used, belonging to two different systems of intervals:
Tὴν τιμιωτέραν τῶν χερουβὶμ
καὶ ἐνδοξοτέραν ἀσυγκρίτως τῶν σεραφίμ,
τὴν ἀδιαφθόρως Θεὸν Λόγον τεκοῦσαν,
τὴν ὄντως Θεοτόκον, σὲ μεγαλύνομεν.
In order to gain an idea as to how the prosomoia are sung with their pre-fixed melody, we will listen to the first Ode of the Small Supplicatory Kanon (Paraklesis). The first troparion is called the Heirmos and gives the melodic pattern for the other troparia in the same Ode of the Kanon form. We will listen to the quick way, due to its simplicity:
Πολλοῖς συνεχόμενος πειρασμοῖς
πρὸς σὲ καταφεύγω σωτηρίαν ἐπιζητῶν·
ὦ μῆτερ τοῦ Λόγου καὶ Παρθένε,
τῶν δυσχερῶν καὶ δεινῶν με διάσωσον.
Now let’s take another prosomoion, a kathisma this time. We will listen to how it is performed using the first two ways, the quick and the slow.
Τὸν τάφον σου, σωτήρ, στρατιῶται τηροῦντες,
νεκροὶ τῇ ἀστραπῇ τοῦ ὀφθέντος ἀγγέλου
ἐγένοντο κηρύττοντος γυναιξὶ τὴν ἀνάστασιν·
σὲ δοξάζομεν τὸν τῆς φθορᾶς καθαιρέτην,
σοὶ προσπόπτομεν τῷ ἀναστάντι ἐκ τάφου
καὶ μόνῳ Θεῷ ἡμῶν.
Finally, I should also like to present to you the third way, the calophonic. In almost every circumstance, in this manner of chanting we end singing what is called the teretisma or kratema; it is chanted using the syllables τοοτο, τορρορον, τεριρεμ, τενενα, and others, which have no meaning in and of themselves. They simply extend the melody. The terirem form their own type of composition book known as the Kratematarion. We will listen to the troparion Ὤ θείας, ὢ φίληςfrom the kanon of Pascha (Easter). We will hear it three times, chanted in the three different manners. The third, calophonic composition is by Petros Bereketes.
Ὤ θείας, ὢ φίλης,
ὼ γλυκυτάτης σου φωνῆς·
μεθ’ ἡμῶν ἀψευδῶς γὰρ
Μέχρι τερμάτων αἰῶνος, Χριστέ,
ἣν οἱ πιστοὶ
ἄγκυραν ἐλπίδος κατέχοντες
Fortunately, I have with me a section of a performance from Thessalonika so we can listen to a sticheron idiomelon in its third way. It is chanted here by a choir of 50 people. We will also hear the sticheron performed in the fourth, calophonic, and very melismatic manner. This latter composition is only an eighth of the composition by Petros Bereketes in its entirety. We will hear the following pieces: Θαυμαστὴ τοῦ Σωτῆρος in the first mode by Iakovos Protopsaltes and Μαρία, τεριρεμ in mode three, by Petros Bereketes.
Θαυμαστὴ τοῦ σωτῆρος, ἡ δι’ ἡμᾶς φιλάνθρωπος γνώμη· τῶν μελλόντων γὰρ τὴν γνῶσιν, ὡς παρόντων κεκτημένος, τοῦ Λαζάρου καὶ τοῦ Πλουσίου, τὸν βίον ἐστηλίτευσε· τῶν ἑκατέρων, οὖν τὸ τέλος ἐνοπτριζόμενοι, τοῦ μὲν φύγωμεν, τὸ ἀπηνὲς καὶ νισάντρωπον, τοῦ δὲ ζηλώσωμεν, τὸ καρτερὲς καὶ μακρόθυμον, πρὸς τὸ σὺν αὐτῷ τοῦ Ἀβραὰμ κόλποις, ἐνθαλπόμενοι βοᾶν· Διακιοκρίτα Κύριε, δόξα σοι.
Ladies and gentlemen, I would have liked to offer a more comprehensible overview of the problem of the Old and New Byzantine chant notations and how Byzantine Music is sung today in the Churches. I thank you, however, very much for your attention today.
The documentation of my views and theses, as well as the various sources used in my lecture are based on the the following books:
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