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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