Byzantine music


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Byzantine music,

the music of the Byzantine Empire composed to Greek texts as ceremonial, festival, or church music.

Long thought to be only a further development of ancient Greek music, Byzantine music is now regarded as an independent musical culture, with elements derived from Syrian and Hebrew as well as Greek sources. Its beginnings are dated by some scholars to the 4th cent., after the founding of the Eastern Empire by Constantine I.

Although two Greek instruments, the kithara and the aulos, were used, the principal instrument of Byzantium was the organ. No purely instrumental music is extant, however, and the exact nature of the instrumental accompaniment of vocal music is not certain. The eight Byzantine echoi (singular echos) correspond roughly to the eight modesmode,
in music. 1 A grouping or arrangement of notes in a scale with respect to a most important note (in the pretonal modes of Western music, this note is called the final or finalis
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 of plainsongplainsong
or plainchant,
the unharmonized chant of the medieval Christian liturgies in Europe and the Middle East; usually synonymous with Gregorian chant, the liturgical music of the Roman Catholic Church.
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, but they were groups of melodies made of certain definite formulas. The Byzantine music that survives is all sacred, with the exception of some acclamations for the emperor. Byzantine chant was monodic, in free rhythm, and often attempted to depict melodically the meaning of the words. The language was Greek.

The Byzantine hymn, of which there were three types, was the greatest contribution of this culture. The troparion, a hymn, was inserted between the verses of the Psalms, and eventually the troparia overshadowed the Psalms. The origin of the kontakion, a hymn important in the 6th and 9th cent., is ascribed to Romanus, active during the reign of Anastasius I; it consisted of 18 or 24 strophes all in similar meter, with a contrasting introductory strophe. The subject matter was usually biblical. Often an acrostic is formed by the first letter of each stanza.

The time of Romanus and of Sergius (fl. early 7th cent.) is called the golden age of Byzantine music. In the 8th cent. the outstanding hymn writers were St. John of DamascusJohn of Damascus, Saint,
or Saint John Damascene
, c.675–c.749, Syrian theologian, Father of the Church and Doctor of the Church. He was brought up at the court of the caliph in Damascus, where his father was an official, and he was educated by a Sicilian monk.
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 and Cosmas of Jerusalem. The chief type of hymn was the kanon, a series of odes, theoretically nine but often only eight in number, referring to the nine canticles of the Old and New Testaments. Until the 9th cent., poet and composer were always one; later, hymns were set to already existing melodies. With the codification of the Greek liturgy in the 11th cent. came a general decline in hymnody. Musical activity ceased with the fall of Constantinople (1453). Russian chant, the chant of the modern Greek Orthodox Church, and to a small extent Gregorian chant all owe something to Byzantine chant.

Byzantine notation was originally only a system of ekphonetic symbols serving to remind a singer of a melody he already knew. Neumes derived from the ekphonetic notation were in use from c.950 until 1200. From 1110 to 1450 a staffless notation was in use that indicated the echos, starting note, and subsequent intervals of a melody. It is largely decipherable today. Signs were added to it in the centuries that followed. The notation used in the Greek Church today was devised in the 19th cent. by Chrysanthus, a Greek archimandrite, because of the confusion in deciphering the manuscripts of early Byzantine music.

Bibliography

See G. Reese, Music in the Middle Ages (1940); studies of Byzantine music and hymnography by S. I. Savas (1965) and A. L. Burkhalter (1968).

References in periodicals archive ?
Mishaqa probably uses the terms "modern Greek" as a synonym for "Byzantine." In fact, in Byzantine music and up to this day, "Pa" is the first note of the octave and "Ni" is the last one.
I have left the second and fifth essays until last, because it seems to me that, from different starting-points, they approach one of the most crucial problems of research in Byzantine music, namely, that so often when one sets out to investigate chants that one knows were sung in the Middle Ages one is confronted with a complete blank.
Professor Levy was a distinguished music historian whose wide academic interests ranged from early Christian and Byzantine music to Western medieval and Renaissance music.
Due to the fact that the fall of Constantinople that initiated four centuries of isolation of the Greek Orthodox church from the West, occurred synchronously with the invention of music printing, manuscripts were the only means of disseminating written Byzantine music up to 1820, when the first books of Byzantine music were printed in Bucharest and Paris, as in the 18th century the isolation had gradually diminished.
He also studied Byzantine music with Christodoulos Papastefanou and took part in over 50 guitar performances mainly in Cyprus but also in places such as the USA, England and Bulgaria for solo and chamber music.
Some of the more volatile complaints, however, were coming from Greek scholars such as Grigorios Stathis, who had come to work with J[empty set]rgen Raasted and ultimately convinced him that there were serious problems with the transcriptions of medieval Byzantine music into Western staff notation.
For this solo disc, the pianist leans towards his classical side, interpreting ancient Greek Orthodox hymns and interspersing a few of his own tunes inspired by this Byzantine music.
The seminar will take place at the School of Byzantine Music of the Archdiocese of Cyprus, Lefkonos 8, 1011, 2nd floor, next to Faneromeni Square on April 10 from 5pm until 8pm, on April 11 to 14 from 10am until 1pm and 5pm until 8pm and on April 15 from 10am until 1pm.
Scholars, researchers, students, and anyone interested doing research on the musical sources of Byzantine music at the National Library of Greece have to face a frustrating reality: the lack of an current, accurate, and scholarly descriptive catalog that brings to light the holdings of one of the richest repositories of Byzantine music manuscripts in the world.
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