Byzantine Chant

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BYZANTINE CHANT

Ecclesiastical music of the Byzantine liturgical rite practiced in the Christian East, originating from the establishment of Constantinople in the 4th century, and surviving beyond the Fall of Constantinople (1453) to the present day. Included under this heading, though not part of a church service, are the acclamations addressed to the emperor and his family as a matter of courtly ceremony. These acclamations are religious in character: of purely secular Byzantine music no evidence exists save in literary references. The same may be said of instrumental music. Though instruments might accompany the imperial acclamations, they were altogether excluded from the church service proper; Byzantine musical notation, presumably the invention of clerics, was developed for the sole purpose of recording the melodies of a monophonic and unaccompanied chant. Even in this domain, the oldest surviving Byzantine musical documents can scarcely be earlier than 10th centuryby which time virtually all the texts that were to figure henceforth in the standard Byzantine ritual had taken their place there, and the order of service itself had, at least in large part, assumed definitive shape. Hence, while it is reasonable to suppose that many Byzantine melodies are much older than the earliest sources preserving them, one can speak with assurance only of the textual forms of Byzantine hymnody during the period of its greatest poetical creativity.

In Eastern liturgy as in Western, the intonation of scriptural lessons and the chanting of Psalms and canticles (Psalm-like texts from other books of the Bible) always played an important part. The Byzantine liturgy, however, tended to accord a prominence to original (i.e., non-Biblical) hymnography, which the hymns, tropes, and Sequences of the Latin world never achieved. Scattered examples of hymn texts from the early centuries of Eastern Christianity still exist. Some of these employ the metrical schemes of classical Greek poetry; but the evolution of pronunciation had rendered those meters largely meaningless, and with rare exceptions when classical forms were imitated, Byzantine hymns of the following centuries are prose poetryunrhymed verses of irregular length and accentual patterns. The common term for a short hymn of one stanza, or one of a series of stanzas, is troparion (this may carry the further connotation of hymn interpolated between psalm verses). A famous example, whose existence is attested as early as the 4th century, is the Vesper hymn Φ[symbol omitted]ζ λαρόν (O Gladdening Light), still a part of the Orthodox Vesper Service; another, μονογενζ [symbol omitted]ιόζ (The Only-Begotten Son), ascribed to Justinian I (527565), figures in the introductory portion of the Byzantine Divine Liturgy. Perhaps the earliest set of troparia of known authorship are those of the monk Auxentios (first half of the 5th century), recorded in his biography but not preserved in any later Byzantine order of service.

Development of the Kontakion. At the end of the 5th and beginning of the 6th century came the development of the first large-scale form of Greek hymnody, which only at a much later date received the special name kontakion (literally, scroll). This has been described as a kind of poetical sermon, in general setting forth the narrative theme of one of the great feasts with much rhetorical embellishment. Modern scholars have traced the derivation of the genre from Syriac prototypes. Formally, the kontakion consists of 20 to 30 or more stanzas (oikoi, literally, houses), all metrically identical (though of the characteristic irregular meter), so that each might be sung to the same musicthe whole series prefixed by a metrically independent stanza known as prooimion or koukou-lion. (Not only were succeeding oikoi within a given kontakion modeled on the first; it became common practice to borrow the metrical structure of a preexisting kontakion for a new poem, perhaps with the object of making use of an already well-known melody.) The stanzas were further linked together by the occurrence of a short refrain (ephymnion ) at the end of each, and by an acrostic formed of the initial letters of each stanza, which might spell out the author's name, the alphabet, etc. (both devices are characteristic of Semitic poetry). The most illustrious composer of kontakia was Romanos (called the "melodist"), a Syrian Jew converted to Christianity and active at Constantinople in the first half of the 6th century; to him some 80-odd poems are ascribed. But the most celebrated example of the genre itself is the anonymous akathistos hymn, the times intact with all its stanzas. Other kontakia suffered drastic abridgment with the declining popularity of the genre: by the 10th century they had by and large been cut down to the prooimion and a single oikos. Some new kontakia were written even at this late date, but in the truncated form to which the old ones had been reduced.

Development of the Kanon. It was in fact the second of the two large-scale forms of Byzantine hymnography that seems to have supplanted the kontakion in liturgical favor: the kanon, which first appeared in the second half of the 7th century. For an indeterminate time before this, a central position in the Morning Service (Orthros ) had been occupied by the chanting of a group of nine Biblical canticles: (1) and (2) those of Moses (Ex ch. 15 and Dt ch. 32); (3)(6) those of Anna (1 Kgs ch.2), Habakkuk (ch. 3), Isaiah (ch. 26), and Jonah (ch. 2);(7) and (8) the Canticle of the Three Young Men, in two parts (Dn ch. 3); and (9) the Magnificat (Lk ch. 1). The kanon had its origin in the practice of interpolating a certain number of troparia between verses of these canticles, so that to each there corresponded a set of hymns, newly composed, but showing their relation to the original by textual quotation or allusion (and often combining this reference with references to the feast of the day). In time these new compositions came largely to supplant the canticles themselves in the service; and the term "ode" (δή)at first simply the equivalent of "canticle" was applied as well to the set of stanzas corresponding to any individual canticle. The term kanon designates the resulting non-Biblical hymnodic complex: thus a kanon has, in principle, nine odes (in fact, the second is usually omitted outside of the Lenten season); an ode in turn consists typically of three or four stanzas or troparia (several early kanons survive in which the number of troparia to an ode is much greater). Further, in each ode the successive stanzas are exact metrical reproductions of the first, so that the same music will fit all equally well; however, the model-stanzas for the different odes are, save in a few exceptional cases, metrically dissimilar. The Greek term for such a model-stanza is heirmos, from which derives the name of the collection containing model-stanzas (texts and, in general, music as well) for a given repertory of kanons: the Heirmologion, one of the principal types of source-book for Byzantine music. Tradition attributes the invention of the kanon to Andrew of Crete (c. 660c. 740). While there is reason to suppose that examples of the form existed before the period of his activity, he is probably the earliest known poet to whom kanons are ascribed by the sources. Certain aspects of his work belong to the early history of the genre, e.g., the composition of an ode in a large number of short troparia: his famous "Great Kanon" of mid-Lent contains in sum 250 stanzas. Younger contemporaries and successors of Andrew as kanon-writers were men associated with the monastery of St. Sabas (between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea), notably John of Damascus (d. c. 750) and Cosmas of Maiuma. John's celebrity as hymn-writer rivals his preeminence as codifier of theology. Outstanding among his works are the Easter kanon ναστάσεως ήμέρα (Day of Resurrection) and the kanons in iambic meter for Christmas, Epiphany, and Pentecost; in general the kanons ascribed to "John the Monk" have a leading place among the heirmoi in each of the eight modallydivided sections of the Heirmologion. (Indeed, so numerous and varied are the kanons with this attribution in the manuscripts that a number of them must be the work of authors other than John Damascene himself.) In the 9th century the center of hymnography was no longer Palestine but Constantinople, and in particular the monastery of Studion, a bastion of the anti-iconoclastic struggle. The principal representative of this school is the Abbot Theodore (759826), writer of kanons, kontakia, etc., who in collaboration with his brother Joseph composed many of the hymns of the Lenten season. Prominent also among the Studite hymnographers are two Sicilians: Methodios (d. 846), who was to become patriarch of Constantinople after the triumph of Orthodoxy; and Joseph (d. 883), known with special emphasis as "the Hymnographer"his kanons remaining today in printed Greek service-books number in the hundreds. There are a few 9th-century hymn-writers not of the Studion group who are worthy of commemoration, such as the nun Kasia, of whose work there survives a kanon for Holy Saturday and several hymns.

Other Hymn Forms. Though these hymnographers have been mentioned chiefly as writers of kanons, they composed also shorter, monostrophic hymns, some of which have considerable prominence in the service. Such troparia have a variety of denominations, specifying their liturgical function (e.g., hypakoë designates a short troparion of the Morning Office preceding the Gradual Antiphons, or anabathmoi ) or their subject matter (e.g., theotokion designates a hymn in praise of the Mother of God). These categories are too numerous to list in detail. The most important class, in number and in variety of liturgical use, bears the name sticheron (στιχηρόν), deriving from stichos (psalm-verse) and showing the origin of such a hymn as appendage to a verse of a Psalm, or intercalation between verses. Thus attached to selections from the Psalter, the stichera generally occur in groups, of which the principal, throughout the year, are those accompanying the fixed set of Psalms toward the beginning of Vespers (Psalms 140, 141, 129, 116), those at the end of Vespers (called aposticha), and those accompanying the Psalms of Lauds toward the end of the Morning Service (Psalms 148150). By the time the hymnology of the Office had reached its full development, there were proper stichera serving these functions for all the feast days of the year, for the Sundays and weekdays of Lent, and for the recurrent cycle of eight weeks in the order of the modes beginning with Easter. The music book containing these sets of stichera, together with certain other sets of troparia (such as those for special solemnities of the year, e.g., the Great Hours of Good Friday), was known as the Sticherarion; this compilation as suchunlike the Heirmologionexists only in medieval manuscripts. If the metrical pattern and melody of a sticheron were original with itself, it was called idiomelon; if borrowed from another sticheron, prosomoion; an idiomelon, which had thus served as a model for later stichera, received the special name automelon. Most important among the stichera prosomoia are those in the collection composed by Theodore and Joseph of the Studion for the Lenten Office.

Significant additions were made to the Byzantine Office after this 9th-century generation of hymnographers:e.g., the eleven morning hymns (heothina ) by Emperor Leo VI (886912), and the eleven Resurrection hymns (exaposteilaria ), also for the Morning Service, by his son Constantine VII Porphyrogennetus (913959). But in general, with the 10th century the composition of new hymns within the Eastern Empire went into decline; and by the end of the 11th it had all but ceased. Hymnography flourished a while longer in the Italo-Greek world, and notably at the Byzantine-rite Abbey of Grottaferrata (near Rome)today a leading center for the study of Byzantine music and liturgy.

The Later Byzantine Chant. With the cessation of new poetical composition, Byzantine chant entered its final period, devoted largely to the production of more elaborate musical settings of the traditional texts: either embellishments of the earlier simpler melodies, or original pieces in highly ornamental style. This was the work of the so-called "masters" (maistores ), of whom the most celebrated was John Koukouzeles (active c. 1300), compared in Byzantine writings to John Damascene himself as an innovator in the development of chant. The multiplication of new settings and elaborations of the old continued in the centuries following the fall of Constantinople, until by the end of the 18th century the original musical repertory of the medieval MSS had been quite replaced by later compositions, and even the basic modal system had suffered profound modification under Near-Eastern influences.

To a still greater extent than Latin plainchant, Byzantine chant, as shown even in the early MSS, is formulaic in structure. Each mode is characterized by a limited number of musical formulas, ranging in length from a few notes to an entire phrase, which recur time and again, in more or less invariable form, throughout the repertory of pieces within that mode. (The greatest variation tends to occur in the middle of phrases; the most stereotyped formulas are the cadential ones.) Depending upon the literary and liturgical genre of a piece, its musical style may be more or less complex; thus, the kanons and stichera generally exhibit a simple, predominantly syllabic setting, the Communion verses a more ornamental one, while the kontakia are still more elaborate. Yet the principle of formulaic construction remains present in each style. The period of the maistores, however, saw the development of a new style known as "kalophonic," highly florid, not reliant on the traditional preexisting formulas (though observing melodic conventions of its own), and applicable to almost all the liturgical genreskanons and stichera as well as kontakia, etc.

It is generally agreed that Byzantine musical notation derives from the Greek phonetic signs (accents, breathings) introduced by Hellenistic grammarians. The most primitive variety of this notation is that employed by lectionary books (those with readings from the Bible for liturgical use) dating from the 9th to the 15th century. Over that period it remains essentially unchangeda small set of signs that occur as couples (one at the beginning of a phrase, one at the end), and which presumably call for various sorts of simple cantillation formula. This notation, of which nothing more definite can confidently be said, has been named "ekphonetic" by modern scholars (see Fig. a ). Almost as rudimentary are the earliest surviving examples10th century or laterof hymn notation (see Fig. b lower portion, which shows several heirmoi of kanons with archaic notation). Like the early Latin neumes, these signs do not have unambiguous pitch meaning. Yet by the beginning of the 13th century, the system had been developed to the point of expressing all pitch relationships unequivocally: each sign shows the intervallic distance, up or down, from its predecessor; and a key-signature (martyria ) shows the degree of the mode on which the piece begins.

This article has dealt solely with the hymnology of the Greek Church; but that of the Slavic Church as well might be included under the heading "Byzantine." Slavic hymnology, as with liturgy in general, is in all but exceptional details simply a faithful adaptation of the Greek; even the medieval Slavic musical notation is directly based upon an early state of Greek Byzantine notation. And if specific examples of parallelism between Byzantine and Latin chant are far more the exception than the rule, nonetheless such examples in increasing number have come to the attention of scholars. Further comparative study of these relationships will be a major endeavor of future scholarship, building on the pioneering work of Wellesz and Tillyard in the Byzantine field.

Bibliography: e. wellesz, ed., The Music of the Byzantine Church (Cologne 1959). h. j. w. tillyard, Byzantine Music and Hymnography (London 1923); l. tardo, L'Antica melurgia bizantina (Grottaferrata 1938). j. quasten, Musik und Gesang in den Kulten der heidnischen Antike und christlichen Frühzeit (Liturgiegeschichtliche Quellen und Forschungen 25; 1930). o. strunk, "The Tonal System of Byzantine Music," Musical Quarterly 28 (New York 1942) 190204; "Intonations and Signatures of the Byzantine Modes," ibid. 31 (1945) 339355; "The Byzantine Office at Hagia Sophia," Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Harvard University 910 (195556) 175202. k. levy, "A Hymn for Thursday in Holy Week," Journal of the American Musicological Society 16 (Boston 1963) 127175. m. velimiroviĆ, "Liturgical Drama in Byzantium and Russia," Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Harvard University 16 (Cambridge, MA 1962) 349385. e. koschmieder, Die ältesten Novgoroder Hirmologien-Fragmente (Abhandlungen der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften [Munich 1835] Philosophie-Historie Klasse, New Style 35, 37, 41; 195258). b. di salvo, "L'essenza della musica nelle liturgie orientali," Bollettino della Badia Greca di Grottaferrata, New Style 15 (1961) 173191; "Asmatikon," ibid. 16 (1962) 135158; "Stichera Antiphona," ibid. 17 (1963) 3755. The principal publication for sources and studies is the series Monumenta musicae byzantinae, ed. c. hÖeg et al. (Copenhagen 1935). o. strunk, Essays on Music in the Byzantine World (New York, 1977). d. e. conomos, Byzantine Hymnography and Byzantine Chant (Brookline, MA, 1984). b. schartau, "Testimonia of Byzantine Musical Practice, III," Cahiers de l'Institut du Moyen Age grec et latin, no. 68 (1998).

[i. thomas/eds.]

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Byzantine Chant

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