Fundamental Course in Reading and Singing of Ancient Greek-Byzantine Music
Project location: ITALY, Rome
Project start date: February 2012 - Project end date: June 2012
Project number: 2012-002
Beneficiary: Pontifical Greek College of St. Athanasius
Timeline of the present activity report: From February 2012 to June 2012
The course ‘Theory and Practice of Byzantine music’ was presented in the first semester of the year 2012, from the month of February to June in the Pontifical Greek College of St. Athanasius.
The Byzantine liturgical and para-liturgical music represent a chapter of fundamental importance in the area of music, historically, culturally and aesthetically, as well as in many other aspects.
Firstly, it is necessary to consider that, despite all the changes and modernizations which have taken place over the centuries, the Byzantine liturgical and extra-liturgical music certainly represents one of the oldest musicalrepertories in the sphere of Christian worship and in the life of the oriental Churches and Eastern communities, where it has contributed vastly to a privileged rapport with the Greek musical tradition, the Hebrew liturgical chant, and to that of the primitive Christian Eastern traditions.
Secondly, the fact is to be considered that every repertory of Eastern liturgical music, Slav, Russian and Greek-orthodox is derived from Byzantine music.
Thirdly, it has been established that the Byzantine liturgical and para-liturgical music influenced partially some of the western liturgical music repertories (especially the Mozarabic in Spain, the Beneventano style, the ancient-Roman and the Ambrosian as well). Furthermore, in this context, it will be useful to make known the fact that the Byzantine melurgical tradition (in the Greek language melos is song and ergon is action) represents one of the ancient and archaic basesof the liturgical and para-liturgical music which was sung in southern Italy, particularly in Calabria and Sicily, during the Byzantine presence.
The Byzantine music, song and chant, interprets in a perfect way the contents and forms of oriental action of the spirit and soul, characterized by a strong creation of one connection realizing a deeply spiritual sympathy. This music, when expressed in celebrative liturgy, reaches moments of absolute beauty and spiritual profundity.
The music of the Byzantine tradition, which for the most part is sung in Byzantine churches, along with some popular chants, has always been the prerogative of the Pontifical Greek College. Taking advantage of the incomparable melurgic patrimony of the College, and in the area of its almost 500 years of activity, the Superiors together with the students (alumni) in recovering this tradition commit to collaborate in a continuous and dutiful manner, without relegating to the background the ambitious project of preservation and maintenance of this tradition, studying the chants and the musical strophes dedicated to the celebrations of Holy Week and the entire Divine Liturgy, as well as the related para-liturgical chants. The lessons were conducted in tripartite methodology: the study of history and the cultural context of liturgical and para-liturgical byzantine music; learning to write and read graphic signs of ancient Greek Byzantine music, and liturgical and extra-liturgical historic-musical contextualization, in accordance with the pedagogical moments based on the circulation of the teaching of modern didactic principles.
The first part of the course dealt with the history and the culture in which they were formed and became Byzantine music: the history of liturgical and para-liturgical Byzantine chant is very complex, many aspects of which are yet to be studied adequately, while for the rest there may exist some basic studies. Until the Xth century, we have only indirect sources, because the primary sources are still lacking, especially in the musical sector, either because the transmission of a liturgical chant was principally entrusted to oral tradition, or because the written sources, if they were any at all, were destroyed for several reasons, among which could one have been the grave Christological and Iconoclastic wars.
For students, the loss of the sources constitutes a difficult circumstance, which consequently has prevented an adequate knowledge of the centuries of liturgical tradition and para-liturgical music where a person, the melodious, prevails. At the time, such a person was both a poet and musician, and was able to realize a perfect fusion of these two elements. Among the most important melodious persons, we remember Cyriacus, Romanus the melodious, and Anastasius in the V-VIth century, Andrew of Creta and St. Germanus of Constantinople in the VIIth century, John of Damascus, St. Cosmas of Mauimà and Cosmas of S. Saba in the VIIIth century, and finally Theodore and Joseph Studita, Cassius and Joseph Hymnodist in the IXth century.
The earliest musical codes were written around the Xth century, and they present a musical notation of pneumatic type, which the traditions refer to as "paleo-bizantine" that was in vogue till the XIIth century, though it was difficult to read and interpret. The musical notation of this historical period (XIIth-XVth centuries) is called by scholars "medio-bizantine." The tendency towards the vocalization of the melodic line brought it to an “embellished” musical line, called “calofonico” (a combination of vocal sounds, pleasing, enjoyable and harmonically blended into each other), characterized by a great virtuosity.
The compositive art is called papadica (an adjective derived from the word Papàdes, Fathers); in the papadikon style, new melodies were composed or adapted to the already existing traditional ones. This tendency towards vocal virtuosity increased especially after 1453: in fact, the Turkish advent also provoked a strong and inevitable influence on the part of Arab music.
The musical notation which ranges from the XVth to XIXth century is called "neo-Byzantine" or late Byzantine. In 1814, the reformation work of Byzantine music was begun by Crisanto of Madito and carried out in collaboration with Gregory Levìtes Protopsalte (who died in 1822), a work that saw the light in two publications, and the work of Crisanto of Madito which had the great merit of having simplified the complex semiographic system. On the other hand, he made no effort to restore to the chant (song) to its original form, the primitive "purity".
Having dealt with the historical study of Byzantine music, the second part of the course was devoted to the musical semiography. That is the part of music theory that deals with the signs and symbols used to transcribe music to paper, id est to transform the sound and the rhythm of a tone into a note by registering it as a written score. This is certainly true, but it is also true, that the time was not yet ripe to carry out restoration work on philological Byzantine music. This music, in its aim and majestic blend of tones faithfully followed the magnificent content of ancient hymnology, in the richness of harmony and profundity of sentiment that distinguish these hymns. The Byzantine music, like any other music, is an expression, especially of the heart as understood in Eastern tradition, that reflects the senses of man with the proper elements of a language. These properties that Byzantine music uses for its learning are called characters, while the script is made up of musical notation. For the reading of these characters and the application of the melody, special tones were used and studied which only came from the natural human voice.
In a period of time, in which the studies of civilization and Byzantine traditions became very popular both in Europe and the United States. For various reasons, this cannot be said of the study and rebirth of Byzantine music. In fact, among the objective difficulties in the continuity of this traditional music, in the first place one can observe the difficulty of learning the tonal characters and of an ancient musical annotation which, as mentioned, is not constituted either by the pentagram or by the tetragram of the Gregorian chant. It speaks of graphic signs which indicate how the notes vary in height, for example, the oligon which gives an interval of a second like re-mi (however, there are six diverse symbols for the interval of second, for example if it is accented or read). There are composed signs grouped in eight notes. Each sign (in Greek neuma) effectively indicates the interval with respect to the preceding sound and often adds some expressive nuances (accents more or less marked, tremolo of the voice). These signs of time can be very simple (doubling, prolonging of sound and possibly little of others), whereas the notation is much more precise in modernity.
The study of Byzantine musical semiography includes musical modes (four authentic tones and four plagali tones or harmonic modulation and progression) that are real and proper repertories of cadences, of formulae; for the first mode, for example, there is a recurrence in the succession of notes sol - la - la - la, while for the fourth it is typical to begin with the leap of the fifth sol - re. In fact, to know the note with which to begin a song, martyria (also called witness) has to be of assistance (translated with the term key) which indicates the musical mode in which the chant (song) should be sung, and, as well, from which note it should start. According to tradition, the symbol of martyrie is a kind of summary of intonation (apichima). This last is a set of intonated notes in order to reach an accord among the singers on the proper beginning of the melody. The intonation was a lead, meaning for example, for the first mode the intonation is a-na-ne-a-nes, often sung to the notes la- sol-fa-mi-re-la. The conclusive la indicates that the chant in the first mode begins with the note la.
The tones of Byzantine music are eight in number, receiving their names from the first letters of the Greek alphabet. The eight tones are:
- The first (Dorio)
- The second (Lydian)
- The third (Phrygian)
- Fourth (Missolidio)
- The other four are the plagali tones of the first four.
The times do not exist (the phrase that gives time) except that the signs are equivalent to our plan or design, pianissimo. The absolute value of the notes does not exist, but the sign of the tone at the beginning which at times (rarely) is repeated because of control.
Therefore, the aims of the course have their scope as learning, knowledge, study and passing-on the memory of the popular Greek byzantine traditions, which are not only expressed in the liturgical sphere, but also in the extra or para-liturgical area. Actually, some moments of cultural cohesion together with the musical tradition between different peoples took place after the dissolution of the Byzantine Empire, especially during the passing-on of the liturgy with its celebrations and rites, principally the conservation and continuity of the liturgical year.
However, the theme of the choral community in its technical and artistic content, as well as a psychological and spiritual component in the dynamics of interpersonal relationships, became however, means of education on choral activity, as understood with respect and acceptance of oneself, and singing together. Mere listening to whoever sings in the choir has certainly facilitated all this. Despite the diversity in national languages and cultures of the youths who lived in the Pontifical Greek College, the course has served as means of affirming a common sense of belonging, and also the acceptance of national and local diversities, and a matured sense of community living or sharing.
The duty and purpose of this course are unique: to follow up in an explicit and easy manner both on theoretical and practical grounds, the music of the Byzantine tradition is a necessary prerequisite for continuing a tradition that has taken place for almost five hundred years.
It must be said that the Pontifical Greek College was and still is the only institution that, for nearly five hundred years has kept active and continues the tradition of Byzantine music. The Pontifical Greek College is part of this continuing and conservative dynamic Greek Byzantine culture, through the arts, chants, dramatic representations, processions, liturgical and popular music as well.
The time required for teaching the theory in a strict sense is about 30 hours. In this way, it was possible to demonstrate the most important aspect in its basic meaning, where theory (which must be followed by practice) constitutes the criteria of assurance not only for the historical genesis, but also the actualization, cultivation, if not evolution of Byzantine music.
Furthermore, the theoretical-practical formation, with the historic cultural, and liturgical and extra liturgical combination continued in those practical performances, inserted in the celebrations according to the Byzantine liturgical calendar. The practical performances from April 1st to April 8th took place in the typical and proper context, and also were very specific for Holy week till Easter Sunday. In these processions, chants and representations, we did have the opportunity of studying and deepening the oriental spirit inherent in the proper traditions of the students (alumni): from the chants of Greek origin, and those of Arab-Melkites, up to those of Italo-Albanians, including also those of the Serbs and Slavs. All this has to be seen in the historical context and background of the Greek-Byzantine culture. Thus, the days 17th -20th of May 2012 were intensive days of practical performances celebrations and representational performances.
This course certainly was very useful not only for creating the opportunity of re-studying, safeguarding and maintaining the Byzantine culture in its music systematically, but also in the rediscovery of a tradition together with its roots in a community with a sense of belonging.