Byzantine music through the ages

to the present day.

by Rev. Archimandrite Amphilochios PIKIAS,

Professor of Byzantine music and

Greek orthodox religious chant


Byzantine music is a complete musical system using the rich palette of oriental ranges of the Eastern Mediterranean for the enrichment of biblical and hymnological texts that successful expresses the orthodox theology of the Holy Fathers of the Church.

This name is for this music the signature of its origin and its identity. Byzantium, New Rome founded by Constantine the Great on the 8th November 324, was baptized, after the latter's death, Constantinople, Κωνσταντινούπολης, which means: the City of Constantine.

Byzantium would played a major role in the first centuries of Christendom. It is the capital of the Roman Empire, Ρωμαϊκὴ Αὐτοκρατορία, the residence of the Emperor, Αὐτοκράτωρ, and the center of a vast empire. The subjects of this empire are Roman, ρωμαίοι / ρωμίοι. However, Byzantine culture has a double source: Hellenic, Latin.

The language of this empire is Greek, "common" Greek, koinê (in ancient Greek κοινή), a language common to the Hellenistic world. This language has its roots in ancient Greek and more particularly in the dialect of Attica. It is a vehicular, administrative language, but will, above all, become the language of a creative poetry and an abundant literature. The rivalry with the Latin language will not be felt only until later.

Thus, the Byzantine Empire became the ferment of a civilization high in thought, art and spirituality. This is what we still admire today through architectural monuments, frescoes, icons and this music rightly called Byzantine music.

We can, therefore, initially characterize this music as the classical music of Greece, composed under the Eastern Roman Empire, and which has been sung since that time in the Greek Orthodox Church. The term "Byzantine music" can also be equivalent to "Hellenic music".

The development of Byzantine music, from its origin to the present day, has not experienced ruptures or reforms which could substantially modify the system and the ethos (of the ancient Greek ἦθος, Greek word that means the habitual character, the manner of being, the habits of a person), its particular character.

Byzantine music thus includes religious melodies composed during the Byzantine period, but also those which were so during the so-called post-Byzantine period (after the fall of Constantinople). The works produced in the present period can be added to this, when composers carefully preserve the singular lyricism of the chant, the morphological structure of musical writing and its rootedness in oral tradition as it has been transmitted by generations of Psaltes, ο ψάλται, (cantors) and musicians of the Church, throughout the centuries.

We can, for convenience, divide the development of the musical heritage of Byzantine music into three major periods:

1. The Byzantine period, which extends from the foundation of Constantinople to its fall on 29th of May 1453;

2. The period of the great masters known as post-Byzantine, in fact, between the thirteenth and eighteenth centuries;

3. The publication of the New Method in the 19th century, with the three Masters: Chrysanthos of Madytos, Grigorios the Protopsalte and Chourmouzios the Chartophylax. It is the modern period since it extends its ramifications to the present day.

Byzantine music is strictly vocal. In the Byzantine tradition, the profane instrumental and vocal works were not at all written. For post-Byzantine music, however, in a monastery of the Holy Mountain, Ἅγιον Ὄρος (at Mount Athos), there are manuscripts with some transcriptions of demotic, popular songs. The oldest of these transcriptions is found in a codex dated on 1562.


Originally, ekphonetic recitation.

Originally, the early Christians sang essentially psalms, epistles and gospels. The reading of sacred texts was practiced according to the particular technique of ekphonesis (ἐκφώνησις Greek word meaning exclamation, distinct pronunciation). This is not a banal or daily reading. Rather, it is the metaphysical use of speech.

This reading cannot be emphatic or sentimental. It must emphasize the deep meaning of the sentence, its articulation, its intelligibility. In the Orthodox Church we still use the ekphonetic reading or recitation for the Epistolarium (πόστολος, Book of Epistles), the Lectionarium (ναγνωστάριον, Τυπικόν, οrder of the readings for church offices, special book of liturgical readings for feast-day and festival of Saints) or for the Evangeliarium (Εὐαγγελιστάριον, Book of the Gospels). This way of reciting is the foundation on which reposes all the sacred chant. There is an archaic form in the incantations of the choruses of the Greek tragedy.

At that time, we also find the first small troparia (τροπάριον, a short hymn in rhythmic prose sung or chanted liturgically in the Eastern Orthodox Church). These short poems were alternately sung with verses of psalms. The beginning of hymnography thus coincides with the moment when we begin to enrich the biblical text of the Psalter of the Septuagint with small commentaries inserted between the verses and composed in poetic form, bearing the light of the New Testament.


Romanos the Melodist: the Art of the Kondakion.

Towards the 5th-7th century, the poetic genre of the Kondakion (κοντάκιον) was created. The Kondakion is a hymn that consists of a prooimion, (προοίμιον) brief introductory poem, followed by a series of troparia (τροπάρια), usually 20 or 30, in series.

These troparia are called oikoi (in Greek οἶκοι). The Kondakion is in reference to the religious event for which it is written. The first oikos (οἶκος) is used as a melodic and rhythmic prototype for the other oikoi.

Romanos the Melodist, Ρωμανὸς Μελῳδός, in the 5th and 6th centuries, was the main illustrator of the genre of kontakia (κοντάκια). He was born in Emesa in Syria and went to Constantinople under the reign of byzantine emperor Anastasius (491-518). Very quickly, he acquires a very great popularity by the composition of its kontakia. He would have written about a thousand. He composed the poetic texts, and created the melodies to interpret them. If Romanos was an incomparable writer, he was also a composer, hence his nickname "melodist" (μέλος, in Greek means singing).

It is said that a miracle occurs one day when he took his place in front of the lectern (called ambon, ἄμβων) in the middle of the church at that time. Suddenly, enthusiastic, he began to improvise and to sing the wonderful kondakion of Christmas Παρθένος σήμερον:

Κοντάκιον. Ἦχος γ'. Αὐτόμελον. Ποίημα Ῥωμανοῦ τοῦ Μελῳδοῦ

«  Παρθένος σήμερον, τὸν ὑπερούσιον τίκτει, καὶ γῆ τὸ Σπήλαιον, τῷ ἀπροσίτῳ προσάγει. Ἄγγελοι μετὰ Ποιμένων δοξολογοῦσι. Μάγοι δὲ μετὰ ἀστέρος ὁδοιποροῦσι· δι' ἡμᾶς γὰρ ἐγεννήθη, Παιδίον νέον, πρὸ αἰώνων Θεός. »

“Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One, and the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One! Angels, with shepherds, glorify Him! The wise men journey with the star! Since for our sake the Eternal God is born as a little child.”

The audience, overwhelmed, reserved him a formidable ovation. Since this event, Romanos has undertaken the composition of these hymns whose sources are the divine word or the edifying narratives of the life of the saints.


Then came the art of the Canon...

The great hymnographers of the end of the seventh and eighth centuries will undertake the immense task of composing poems for all the liturgical offices of the Church: a work of at least two centuries which will not be completed until about the twelfth century. Thus appears the poetic form of the Canon (Κανών) which will gradually supplant the hymns of Romanos the Melodist.

The Canon is a poem with many stanzas, divided into "nine Odes, Αἱ ἐννέα ιδαί» on the model of the Nine Odes of the Old Testament. Each ode is composed of a main poem called the Hirmos (εἱρμός) and of developments, comments, so-called troparia, similar to musical variations on a given theme.

Famous canons poets are Saint John of Damascus, Ἰωάννης Δαμασκηνός (675-749) and his companion Cosmas the Melodist, Κοσμᾶς Μελῳδός, bishop of Maïouma in Palestine (Gaza region), Saint Andrew of Crete, Ἅγιος Ἀνδρέας Κρήτης (660-740) who became bishop of Gortyne; Saint Theophanes the hymnographer, Ἅγιος Θεοφάνης Σμύρνης ὑμνογράφος, bishop of Smyrna (half of the ninth century), Theophanes the Scribe, Θεοφάνης Γραπτός (dead in 845), or Joseph the hymnographer, Ιωσὴφ Θεσσαλονίκης ὑμνογράφος, (762 -832). But the essential personality remains that of St. John of Damascus, named St. John Damascene, the first source of religious orthodox Greek music.

The end of this first period was between the twelfth century and the capture of Constantinople by the Turks.


The post-Byzantine period:

The period following the fall of Constantinople will not produce a break in the continuum of the Byzantine musical tradition. A new era of great musical fecundity was already emerging in the thirteenth century. In the years 1261 to 1453, under the dynasty of the Byzantine emperors Palaiologoi, the period of great masters, ο Μαΐστορες, of the Cathedral St. Sophia, period of great acme begins.

These masters often compose on earlier poetic texts or they embellish older compositions. The most illustrious are saint Ioannis Kukuzelis, Ἰωάννης Κουκουζέλης, (around the early 14th century), Nikiphoros Ithikos (13th - 14th centuries), Ioannis Glykis (14th century), Xenos Koronis (14th - 15th centuries), and a little later on, Ioannis Kladas (around 1400).


Ioannis Kukuzelis, the Byzantine Maestor/Maestro.

The testimonies we possess about the life of Ioannis Kukuzelis come from two sources: the musical manuscripts (the oldest is 1302) and his biography, for which there exist different manuscripts.

At the time of Ioannis Kukuzeles, it seems that the melismatic style is being developed in a significant way. The melodic genre called kalophonic, καλοφωνικόν, is created. It allows the voice to give all its subtlety, its finesse and its virtuosity.

Nor do composers disdain the anagrammatisms, ἀναγραμματισμοί, long works in which the poetic phrases, taken from an older hymn, are restructured with the addition of new sentences. In these sentences we find again repetitions of phrases linked together by the words "λέγε" (which means “say”) and "πάλιν" (which means "again"), and also the use of new poetic texts.

It is at this time that the process of kratimata, Κρατίματα, free compositions on syllables devoid of meaning, such as "τεριρέμ, terirem", "τορορό, tororo" or "νενενά, nenena" etc., is systematized. . These compositions whose syllables are unintelligible refer to a profound reality of Byzantine chant; it uses speech to rise to the source of this word: it is the mystery which is celebrated with the angels. It has often been said that Byzantine singing was the chant of angels. The overcoming of the word does not mean the non-respect of this word but the state of inner exultation towards which the chant flourishes... It is the kommos (κομμός) of the ancient tragedy! A moment of elevation which, if sung only in a technical way, is likely to cause the listener getting bored...

This work has contributed decisively to the renewal of the musical genres that appeared before him, under the signature of important composers like Nicephorus the Moralist, Νικηφόρος Ἠθικός, or Ioannis the Sweetie, Ἰωάννης Γλυκύς, which was, it is thought teacher of Kukuzelis.

Ioannis Kukuzelis, the second source of religious music, composed great and beautiful kalophonic works in honor of Theotokos, the holy Mother of God and the saints. He has put on music stichera troparia, στιχηρά, repentance, or funerals, or a particular kind called stavrosima troparia, σταυρώσιμα, which concern the crucifixion of Christ (in the term stavrosima, there is the word stavros, σταυρός, which means the cross). He also wrote oikoi for the Αcathist Ηymn, a large quantity of mathemata (compositions), μαθήματα, varied lessons for the Orthros, ὄρθρος (office of Matins) and the Holy and Divine Liturgy and he also contributed greatly to the improvement of the Esperinos, Ἐσπερινὸς, (office of Vespers).

In the precedent centuries before this period, two kinds of books were used for the offices: the Asthmatikon, τ ἆσματικόν, and the Psaltikon, τ ψαλτικόν. The Asthmatikon contained the parts sung by the chorus; The Psaltikon indicated what was sung by the protopsalte, cantor primus, the first singer, or the soloists. Kukuzeles has made it a priority to recast them and to renew these two fundamental works in depth.

The Byzantine "maestor" Kukuzeles, μαΐστωρ, is also reputed to be an important hymnographer. His poems in the Hellenic language are all written with the poetic meter of fifteen syllables, spread in Ancient Greece and Byzantium. The setting of these poems and the art of ornamentation is an admirable testimony to the new musical style that emerged in the 14th century.

Another fundamental aspect of the contribution of this great master is specially the technique of writing. Kukuzelis introduced new signs in musical notation. He developed what have been called "great hypostases", α Μεγάλαι Ὑποστάσεις, that is to say, somewhat particular signs that concern expression, rhythm, articulation and phrasing. More complete, more precise, this new notation system would gradually serve as a reference and replace all forms of previous writing. This is the first system to be used in all the Byzantine musical codex in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, especially those of Rumanians or those which were written in two languages, Greek and Old-Slavonic (Slavonian) in Northern Europe.

This post-Byzantine period will be extended to the 19th century, with extraordinary composers such as Balasios the priest and Nomophylax (Conservative of Laws) of the Great Church of Christ, Μπαλάσιος ἱερέως κα Νομοφύλακος τῆς Χ.Χ.Ε, for example.

Balasios the Priest is a great composer whose acme is between 1670 and 1700. This great figure of the post-Byzantine music originated from Peloponnese, was born in Constantinople in the second decade of the seventeenth century. He accomplished his musical training under the direction of Theophile Koridalleus, Θεόφιλος Κορυδαλλεύς (1574-1646). Its activity has spread throughout the territory of the Great Church of Christ, that is to say the Ecumenical Patriarchate, of which he is known as a high dignitary bearing very important charges.

The musical work of Balasios has a considerable extent: composition, exegesis of the old repertoire in an analytic writing, and transcription of popular songs. This exegesis of Balasios brings significant elements of utmost importance for the musical interpretation of ancient manuscripts and will contribute decisively to the evolution of semiography, which will lead to the establishment of the New Method of the Three Masters in the beginning of the nineteenth century.


Petros the Peloponnesian or Petros Lampadarios of the Great Church of Christ, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Petros the Peloponnesian or Petros Lampadarios (1730-1778), was one of the main representatives of the post-Byzantine tradition and the Lampadarios, Λαμπαδάριος (the leader of the second (left) choir of singers) of the Great Church of Christ, Μεγάλη τοῦ Χριστοῦ Ἐκκλησία, (Ecumenical Patriarchate, Οἰκουμενικὸν Πατριαρχεῖον) in the eighteenth century. He is the dominant figure in the music world of the Ottoman Empire in the eighteenth century, which according to a priest called ChrysanthosPetros almost succeeded in transforming the musical signs of symbols into letters and is perhaps the only one of all our musicians having reached the peak of the experience of practical music”.

The musical work of Petros Lampadarios is divided into two major thematic sections. Sacred and profane music. In the first, his work of musical exegesis is unique in that it simplified the notation system of Ioannis Kukuzelis, Ἰωάννης Κουκουζέλης and of Ioannis Trapezountios, Ἰωάννης Τραπεζούντιος, while he performed the interpretation οf old compositions, thus becoming the transition period of the old ecclesiastical musical system before the new method of the Three Masters. The conception of this analytical notation is of major importance for its contribution to the development of ecclesiastical music, since today it forms the trunk of ecclesiastical musical tradition. Thus the tradition will pass into the books which from the nineteenth century begin to appear. The value of the work of Petros the Peloponnesian, the Lampadarios is inestimable, since this difficult and meritorious task constitutes, as in his time, the precious means of a scientific work at the same time as artistic.

His work is also astonishing in terms of volume and quality and consists mainly of original compositions in the style of traditional Byzantine music and arrangements of musical pieces of former masters of Psaltic Art. Today, a very small part of his compositions has been published, as they are still in the form of manuscripts. His best known work is the Hirmologion, τὸ Εἱρμολόγιον. He was also a great composer of popular music whose songs are rare examples of old popular folk music that were very famous in his time and were sung in Constantinople and other urban centers in the East until the early nineteenth century.

The reform of the Three Masters ... the 19th century.

The Archimandrite Chrysanthos, Χρύσανθος τοῦ ἐκ Μαδύτων, later Metropolitan of Dyrrachium, Δυρραχίου then of Broussa, Προύσσης, of Asia Minor, who lived between 1770 and 1843, is one of the most important personalities in the musical world of this period. Disciple of Petros Byzantios, Πέτρος Bυζάντιος, it became a reference for all musicians and chanters of Byzantine music. His education both occidental and oriental has made him a cultivated, learned man, and for music a great theorist and educator. The Great Theory of Chrysanthos, Θεωρητικὸν Μέγα τῆς Μουσικῆς, is a reference work, a true classic whose reading and knowledge have quickly become unavoidable.

The book is written around 1811-1814 and its first edition in 1832. There is also a second manual of Chrysanthos music theory, without the historical parts, with the title "Introduction to theory and practice of ecclesiastical music, Εἰσαγωγὴ εἰς τὸ θεωρητικὸν καὶ πρακτικὸν τῆς Ἐκκλησιαστικῆς Μουσικῆς ". This book made it possible to make known and to spread quickly this new system.

At the same time, the fourth Patriarchal School of Music was founded in 1815, in which the New Method, Νέα Μέθοδος, was taught by Chrysanthos himself, assisted by Grigorios and Chourmouzios in the field of practice and Psaltic Art.

Grigorios Protopsaltis (First cantor of the Great Church of Christ, that is to say the Ecumenical Patriarchate (1777-1821) excelled in Psaltic Art, in the art of interpretation and possessed all the qualities in art music composition. He was first a Lampadarios, Λαμπαδάριος, then acceded to the Protopsalteia, Πρωτοψαλτεία, precentorship of the Great Church. He was himself a disciple of Petros Byzantios, Πέτρος Βυζάντιος and Georgios the Cretan, Γεώργιος ὁ Κρής (+1814? 1816?). Grigorios is part of the great tradition of the greatest interpreters of Byzantine music. His contribution to the work of Chrysanthos was the transcription of a very large number of traditional repertoire hymns in the new musical writing. But his contribution did not stop at the writing of musical transcriptions, he was also an excellent composer.

The third of the great reformers of the musical system is Chourmouzios Georgiou (1770-1840) of the island of Chalcis, in the Bosphorus. It is known more widely under the name of Chourmouzios Chartophylax. He was a major actor in the New Method. He was a chanter in various churches in Constantinople and taught with Grigorios Protopsaltis the practical part of Byzantine music at the third Patriarchal School of Music. His work was gigantic. He transcribes almost all of the old and new repertoire. The fruitfulness of the Three Masters will be productive and later their pupils will leave Constantinople and make known the New Method in the new Hellenic state.

One of the most famous music schools will be the one founded by Archdeacon Anthimos, Ἄνθιμος ρχιδιακόνου, who settled in Missolonghi, Μεσολόγγι in the 1830s and who will sing at the cathedral and teach until his death in 1879, leaving behind him a colossal work and many pupils who will continue the teaching and the Psaltic Art.


The pioneers of Byzantine musicology...

The honor of the first studies on Byzantine music belongs to the Germans. As early as the 17th century, Athanasius Kircher, German Jesuit scholar, in his Musurgia Universalis, and Gerbert, German theologian, historian and writer on music, in his beautiful work De cantu et musica sacra, seek to penetrate the secrets of the sacred music of the Orientals. At the beginning of this century a talented musician, Guillaume André Villoteau, a French musicologist, member of the scientific mission accomplished under the auspices of Bonaparte during the Egyptian expedition, gave us interesting studies on Byzantine music; unhappily, there was no one after him to augment the treasury of the documents already collected and perfect the work begun.

Among the studies on Byzantine music, we must mention in the first rank:

Frenchmen: M. Bourgaud-Ducoudray, M. Lévêque,

Englishmen: S. G. Hatlerly, M. W. Christ,

Germans: Dr W. Christ. Boeckh, le Dr Kiesewetter, H. Reiman,

Greeks : M. Paranikas, le Dr Tzetzès, M. G. Papadopoulos.


Finally, thanks to the documented works of Pitra, Stewenson, Christ, Krumbacher, Bouvy, etc., on Greek hymnography, future Byzantine musicologists will not have to linger in the examination and the work of Correction of the liturgical texts, which is a huge advantage.

J. PITRA. Hymnographie de l'Eglise grecque. Rome, 1867.

W. CHRIST. Contributions l'étude de la littérature ecclésiastique des Grecs. Munich, 1870.

W. CHRIST. Sur l’Harmonique de Manuel Bryenne. Munich, 1870.

M. C. PARANIKAS. Contributions l'étude de la littérature byzantine. Munich, 1870.

W. CHRIST ET PARANIKAS. Anthologie des chants grecs chrétiens. Munich, 1871.

J. TZETZES. La musique antique dans l’Eglise grecque. Munich, 1874.

BOURGAULT-DUCOUDRAY. Etudes sur la musique ecclésiastique grecque Mission musicale en Grèce et en Orient (janvier-mai 1877). Hachette, 1877.

H. RIEMANN. Les martyries de la notation liturgique byzantine. Munich, 1882.

EINR. RIEMANN. Pour l'histoire et la théorie de la musique byzantine. Munich, 1880.

Le R. P. J. THIBAUT. Assimilation des échoi byzantins avec les anciens tropes grecs Notations byzantines. Mémoires du Congrès international de 1900, p. 79 sqq.

DOM H. GAÏSSER. Le Système musical de l'Eglise grecque d'après la tradition. Rome, Collège grec, 1900.

DOM J. PARISOT. Rapport sur une [seconde] mission scientifique [sur les chants] en Turquie et en Syrie. 1902.

R. P. JOANNES THIBAUT, Origine byzantine de la notation neumatique de l'Église latine. (Bibliothèque musicologique III). Paris, Picard, 1907. VIII-107

R. P. JOANNES THIBAUT, Panégyrique de l'Immaculée Conception dans les chants hymnographiques de la liturgie grecque. Paris, Picard, 1909. 52 pages.

R. P. JOANNES THIBAUT, La Notation musicale, son origine, son évolution. Conférence au Conservatoire impérial de Saint-Pétersbourg les 11/24 février 1912. 15 pages 17 planches.

E. ADAÏEWSKY. Les Chants de l'Eglise grecque orientale. Tirage part de la Rivista musicale italiana Turin, Bocca, 1901.

P. DECHEVRENS S.J. Rhythmic Proportions in Early Medieval Ecclesiastical Chant. 1896.

PIERRE AUBRY. Le Rythme Tonique dans La Poésie Liturgique et dans le Chant des Eglises Chrétiennes au Moyen-Âge (1903).

AMEDEE GASTOUE. Introduction à la Paléographie musicale byzantine ; Catalogue des manuscrits de musique byzantine de la Bibliothèque nationale de Paris et des Bibliothèques publiques de France, Société internationale de musique et Geuthner, Paris 1907.

R. P.A. COUTURIER, des Pères Blancs : Méthode de Psaltique ou principes de musique ecclésiastique grecque (en arabe), Jérusalem, 1906.


The 20th century ... Monumenta Musicae Byzantinae!!!

Throughout the 20th century to the present day, research in Byzantine musicology has been honored by scholars such as René Aigrain, Dom Lorenzo Tardo, HJW Tillyard, Egon Wellesz, Oliver Strunk, Kenneth Levy, Milos Velimirovic, Olivier Strunk, Jorgen Raasted, Carsten Hoeg, Gerda Wolfram, Lidia Perria, Bjarne Schartau, Christian Hannick, Dimitri Conomos, Sysse Engberg, Christian Troelsgaard, Nana Schiodt, Petros Weincke, Nina Konstantinova Uff-Moller, Findeyzen, Vladimir Morosan, Z. Guseinova T. Vladyshevskaya and N. Gerasimova-Persidskaya, G. Myers, O. Dolskaya-Ackerly, N. Schidlovsky, Irina and Marina Shkolnik, Eugene Gertzman, Zivar Guseinova, Dmitrii Shabalin, Nikolai Parfentyev, Keldysch Irina, Konotop Irina Lozovaya, Irina Lozovaya, Tatiana Vladyshevskaia, Galina Alekseyeva, Andrija Jakovljevic, Djordje Trifunovic, Dimitrije Stefanovic, Titus Moisescu, Ozana Irina Alexandrescu, Adriana Sirli, Margaret Patrikeos Cominos, Dimitris Giannelos, Bojidar Karastoyanov, Kenneth Levy, Thomas Mathiesen, Nicolas Schidlovsky, Joan Roccasalvo, Alex Lingas, Petros Jeffery, Diane Touliatos, Constantin, Elena Toncheva, Svetlana Kouyoumdjieva, Asen Atanassoff, Stefan Harkov, Georgi Gerov and Albena Naidenova Floros, Giovanni Marzi, Enrica Follieri, Antonio Carile and Fernanda de Maffei ...

The editorial program of Monumenta Musicae Byzantinae or MMB began in 1935 under the direction of Carsten Høeg. Since then, the University of Copenhagen has been engaged in continuous research activities in the field of Byzantine singing. MMB is published under the auspices of the International Academic Union supported by the Carlsberg Foundation.


And among the Greeks???

It was at the very beginning of the 20th century that the teaching of Byzantine music entered music conservatories. The Ecumenical Patriarchate will send Konstantinos Psachos, Κωνσταντίνος Ψάχος, (1866 – 1949) who was a Greek scholar, educator, musician, composer, cantor and musicologist, in 1904, to create the Byzantine School of Music of the State Conservatory of the City of Athens, Σχολὴ Βυζαντινῆς Μουσικῆς τοῦ κρατικοῦ Ωιδείου Ἀθηνῶν, 1904.

Konstantinos Psachos (1866-1949) was born in Constantinople, where he completed his musical studies at the Grand Central Seminary of Constantinople, Κεντρικὴ Ἱερατικὴ Σχολὴ τῆς Κωνσταντινουπόλεως. In 1898 he was the founder of the Ecclesiastical Music Association of Constantinople (Ἐκκλησιαστικός Μουσικὸς Σύλλογος Κωνσταντινουπόλεως). From 1904 to 1919 he was Director of the Byzantine School of Music at the Conservatory of Athens. He published numerous studies on ecclesiastical music and demotic singing. He invented and designed an instrument, the Panharmonium, Παναρμόνιον, a sort of organ with possibilities of modifying intervals beyond the temperate system; this instrument was commissioned in Germany, but it was never manufactured.

Melpo Logothetis-Merlier (1890-1979) studied piano in Dresden and Vienna. From 1913 to 1919 she taught piano and music history at the conservatories of Athens and Piraeus. In 1919 she went to Paris to study musicology near M. Emmanuel and A. Pirro. Her husband Octave Merlier was appointed director of the French Institute of Athens and settled there from 1925 to concentrate on ethnomusicological works. In 1930 she founded the Musical and Folk Archives, which were subsequently annexed to the Center of Asia Minor Studies, which was founded in 1949. Among her studies in musicology, one can distinguish, in particular, "The first mode and its plagal" (in French) in Paris, 1935.

Simon Karas was a musicologist and researcher of the tradition of Greek music and its heritage. Many people think, and rightly so, that thanks to his efforts of long and meticulous researches, an important part of the traditional and religious music has been preserved, by its numerous recordings throughout the Greek territory.

Born in 1903 in the village Lepreo (formerly Strovitsi) of the region of Pyrgos Ilia in the Peloponnese. At a young age, he learned traditional music from his father, a drummer and ecclesiastical music with the village priest, Father Eustathe Lambrinopoulos, who taught him the first letters and encouraged him to pursue his musical studies. Simon Karas settled in Athens in 1921, and studied law at the University of Athens. He pursued his musical studies as an autodidact, and he started the in-depth study of works of theories of ancient, Byzantine and post-Byzantine Greek musicians, searching, deciphering and interpreting old musical manuscripts in the libraries of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, the Holy Mountain (Mount Athos), the National Library of Greece, etc. Thus, little by little, of self-taught he will impose himself as a professor of music unique of its kind.

From 1931 to 1934, Simon Karas was chanter of the church of the Prophet Elijah in Monastiraki in Athens. In 1929, he founded the Association for the Dissemination of National Music, which he directed until the end of his life, dividing himself between the art of religious chanting and demotic singing, creating a free school, with an ecclesiastical music choir, a mixed demotic chants choir and later a group of folk dances.

The Association's choirs made several appearances on the Greek echoes, animated by Simon Karas himself, on traditional Greek music since the founding of the EIR (National Broadcasting Office) in 1937 to 1972. From 1972, he began to publish numerous books and records of ecclesiastical music and folk songs.

Simon Karas, nicknamed the Master of Hellenic Music, was in fact the first Greek musicologist to study in a global and systematic way the question of "energy", the action of the musical characters or signs of Byzantine music and devoted it a whole chapter in his "Method of Hellenic Music - Theory", a reference and indispensable book for researchers, published in two volumes in 1982, 150 years after Chrysanthos first Theory of Greek ecclesiastical music. He died in 1999 at the age of 96 leaving behind a legacy imposing on his successors.

Other Greek scientists and musicologists from the late 20th century: Angelos Voudouris, Giorgos Amargianakis, Grigorios Stathis, Lykourgos Angelopoulos, Michalis Adamis, Antonios Aligizakis, Euthimios Litsas, Markos Dragoumis, Markos Vasileiou, Achillea Chaldaiakis, Marios Mavroeidis, Giannis Arvanitis, Georgios Konstantinou ...

Lykourgos Angelopoulos, born on September 21, 1941 in Pyrgos of Ilia, Peloponnese and died on May 18, 2014 in Athens, was a musicologist and chanter of Greek ecclesiastical music. He studied Byzantine music at the National School of Music under the direction of musicologist Simon Karas and the law at Athens University. He was Protopsaltis (first cantor) of the church of St. Irene in Athens. He was also a professor of Byzantine teaching at the Conservatory of Athens, at the Nikos Skalkotas Conservatory and at the Philippos Nakas Conservatory. Founder and director of the Greek Byzantine Choir, he was honored by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and elevated as Archon (official) Protopsaltis of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Simon Karas and his pupils, including Lykourgos Angelopoulos, invested themselves in an immense work of musicology in order to reconstruct the theoretical foundations of Byzantine music before the reform of the Three Great Masters. And to restore its dynamics to the Byzantine melodic line, they have successfully reintroduced many signs of ancient notation.


The Psaltic ... The Byzantine Music System

The notation of Byzantine music, the Psaltic, stems from the system of Greek accentuation (oxeia ὀξεία, apostrophos, ἀπόστροφος ...) which evolved over the centuries into neumes (νεῦμα, descriptive signs). Located above the musical text, they accentuate the syllables musically, that is, they give them the intonation and the expression that suits them. The neumes, unlike the western notes fixed on a litter, indicate simple variations of height. The "Byzantine notes" therefore have a relative value, they have meaning only with respect to each other. They combine in melodic movements which vary according to the modes, ἦχοι, four authentes (κύριοι) and four plagals (πλάγιοι) and the genres of music, γένη.

This musical system comprises three genres as we have said above: the diatonic genre, τὸ διατονικὸν γένος, the chromatic genre, τ χρωματικὸν γένος and the enharmonic genre, τ ἐναρμόνιον γένος, (there is no distinction between major and minor in Byzantine music).

It is the diatonic genre which is the main genre (also called soft diatonic, μαλακὸν διατονικόν). The other musical genres are constructed from him by mitigation of the intervals. Now, in the natural diatonic genre, the scale, κλίμαξ, is built only from tones, τόνοι, (and not from semitones): the full tone, μείζων τόνος, the middle tone, ἐλάσσων τόνος, and the minimal tone, ἐλάχιστος τόνος: natural diatonic tetrachord, φυσικὸν διατονικὸν τετράχορδον: 10/12/8 (commas, τμήματα). For a Western ear, the temperament of the natural diatonic scale already gives an impression of "quarters of tone" since the division of the intervals is not similar to that of the Western scale.

In the enharmonic genre (also called hard diatonic, σκληρὸν διατονικόν) will appear the semitone, μίτονος. Thus, instead of a natural diatonic tetrachord: 10/12/8 (commas), we obtain: enharmonic tetracord, ἐναρμόνιον τετράχορδον: 12/12/6 (commas).

In the chromatic genre, τ χρωματικὸν γένος, the soft chromatic mode, μαλακὸν χρωματικόν, is constructed by increasing the full tone a little, decreasing the middle tone (which takes the value that the minimal tone had previously) and the minimal tone will be diminished to the value of the semitone, which gives: 8/16/6. In the hard chromatic, σκληρὸν χρωματικόν, the middle tone and the minimal tone are both reduced to semitone and the full tone is strongly increased, which gives: 6/18/6.

On the other hand, for those who are still wondering about the use of the quarter tone, it must be remembered that in Byzantine music there are not less than four sharps and four different flats. Each alteration corresponds to two commas in the Byzantine scale (seventy-two commas for an octave). A triple sharp represents an alteration of the note of an additional half tone (six commas) a quadruple sharp represents an alteration of a minimal tone (eight commas) etc.

In the game of attractions, λξεις, the same note will fluctuate more or less according to the force that exerts on the note that precedes it or that follows the fundamental or a dominant in the musical. While natural, the law of attraction must be performed with precision, with reference to the melodic scheme. It should not be believed that natural here means random. Unfortunately many chanters no longer perform the attractions in this way because of the influence of the Western system. In this case, the character of Byzantine music is distorted and impoverished.


The ison or the isokratima or basso continuo...

The ison, τ ἴσον or isokratima, τ ἰσοκράτημα is the only accompaniment of Byzantine music. Its placement depends of the theory of the mode, since the ison reveals and underlines the basis of the mode in which the melody unfolds. In doing so, it gives the latter a precise modal color. Ison or isokratima therefore has an irreplaceable role. Other monophonic musical traditions also use it (ex. Celtic music).

Byzantine music was and remains, until today, a purely vocal and monodic music. This holding of a note, ison or isokratima, on the fundamental note of the mode or sometimes on the first note of a superior tetrachord brings to this music an impression of harmony. It is a harmony in the oldest sense, as we speak of harmonic chant. The aim of the ison is to emphasize the harmonics of monodic singing. But it must be stressed that the frequent change of the ison and its multiplication in certain executions proposed today is a very recent invention practiced by certain chanters to produce a Western harmony which seriously distorts the ethos of the Byzantine chant.


Which interpretation?

A Byzantine score must always be interpreted beyond the strict notation: this one, in accordance with the Eastern tradition, is a simple framework intended to be dressed in multiple vibrations and energies only taught from master to pupil. Indeed, by a defect in oral transmission, the chanters had gradually suppressed the interpretation of neumes: the characteristics of Byzantine music were eroded and were replaced by harmonizations, variations in intensity, emotional expressions, etc.

In conclusion, let us meditate on the words of two great western musicologists of the last century, on the music of the world and ancient civilization:

“Let us remember that music was honored by the ancients quite differently than it is by the moderns. With us, music has no other aim than music itself, that is to say, the pleasure it procures. Among the ancients, who believed in its moral influence, it concurred, as a powerful auxiliary in education, in the direction of the passions and the development of characters. It is understandable that, with benevolent and noble aims, art was maintained at home in the heights and not be lowered to those flatteries where it is seen to condescend too often in our days.” (Louis-Albert Bourgault-Ducoudray)

"Tradition is inevitably the basis on which innovations can develop, and change, if it leads to the loss of tradition, is more often a loss than a profit." (Alain Daniélou).

Rev. Archimandrite Amphilochios PIKIAS of Marseilles.


Reverend Archimandrite Amphilochios Pikias is born in Marseilles, France in the year 1960. He studied in the Roman-Catholic Dominican Lyceum «Lacordaire» of his birthplace, music and Opera at the National Conservatory of Marseilles. He was consacred Lector by the late Metropolitan of France Meletios in 1976 at the Dormition Greek orthodox church of Marseilles and Chanter in 1980 at St. Stephen’s Greek orthodox cathedral in Paris, in order to serve Greek orthodox parishes of South of France around Marseilles.

He entered the University in 1979 at Aix-en-Provence, specialized in Ancient Greek, Latin, French and English Literature.

In 1980, he registered at Hellenic College/Holy Cross School of Theology in Boston Mass., in obtaining a scholarship from the Greek Archdiocese of America, serving as a chanter and a choirmaster in several Greek American parishes. He fulfilled his military duties as a reservist officer of the French Navy. For a short time, he stayed in Mount Athos, in the Skete of Saint Anne, learning orthodox asceticism and monastic chant.

In 1984, he entered the School of Theology of Athens University, where he received a degree in Theology while he registered at the Conservatory “Nikos Skalkottas" in Athens, following the master class of Lykourgos Angelopoulos, Professor of Byzantine music, Protopsaltis and Director of the Greek Byzantine Choir, from where he graduated with honors in 1990. As an active member of the Greek Byzantine Choir, he took part in many concerts and many symposia of byzantine musicology in Greece and over the world, translating scientific musicological works on byzantine and post-byzantine great composers.

During his university studies, he was enrolled in the National Lyric Opera of Greece and as a soloist he gave numerous concerts of Classical Music in Athens (Herodus Atticus, Megaron Music Hall, Pallas Theater, ERT), in Thessaloniki (University Hall Center), in France (festivals of Aix-en-Provence, of Saint-Victor Marseilles, of Saint-Denis Paris), with works of great foreign composers of classical and contempory music, interpreting works of Greek musicians of the 20th century: Skalkotas, Kalomiris, Theodorakis, Hatzidakis, Adamis... He served as a chanter in several churches of the archdioceses of Piraeus, Attic and Saint Panteleimon cathedral in Athens. At the same time he taught French and the English language in private schools.

He traveled to Constantinople where he was ordained monk and deacon of the Patriarchal suite on 23rd April 1994 by last Metropolitan of Kolonia, Gabriel, in the Saint George patriarchal church and was renamed Amphilochios. He served in the Patriarchal Court, in the offices of the Holy Synod, as a chanter of Saint Andrew Patriarchal Chapel, till October 1994 when he left with the blessings of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew for Athens for further studies in theology and ecclesiastical chant.

In Athens, he was appointed deacon by Archbishop Seraphim of Athens at Saint Eleutherios church on Archarnon Street and Saint Lukas on Patission Street until 1999.

With the blessings of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, he acceded to the priesthood and was ordained on the 29th of February 1999, Sunday of Orthodoxy, by Metropolitan of Rhodes Apostolos. He received the title of Archimandrite and was sent in the islands of Nisyros and Symi where he worked with zeal developing a rich pastoral and spiritual mission among the islanders, especially the youth.

In November 2001, with the blessings of Metropolitan of Rhodes Apostolos, he was invited to come back to Rhodes and take charge of Saint Paraskevi new parish in Ialysos, to look after the rehabilitation of the chapel, continuing in parallel a rich pastoral and spiritual activity among the laity. Meanwhile, he taught as a professor of Byzantine Music at the School of Music in Rhodes in the school year 2003-2004.

In November 2005, he was appointed by the new Metropolitan of Rhodes Cyril, rector of the Holy Apostles church of Rhodes, and the same time at the Chaplaincy hospital service for pastoral care of the new General Hospital of Rhodes.

In November 2006, he was appointed by Metropolitan of Rhodes Cyril, rector of Saint Nectarios chapel of the Old Orphanage of Rhodes, to look after the rehabilitation of the building, continuing in parallel a rich pastoral and spiritual activity among the laity.

In 2007, he was appointed headmaster of the newly-founded Institute of Ecclesiastical Hymnody of the Metropolis of Rhodes to meet the needs of singers on lecterns parishes and monasteries of the local Church of Rhodes and the Greek Diaspora and allophones parishes.

From 2013, he is a Professor of Byzantine music at the CORELLI conservatory, teaching the Art of Psaltic. In 2015, he established in Berlin, Germany and Marseilles, France annexes of the Institute. In 2017, he created departments in Paris at the Russian seminary, in Grenoble and in Budapest, Hungary. For years he struggled for the rights of the ecclesiastical and traditional music in the Greek Church, in Greece and abroad in the Diaspora. He gives lectures, conferences, concerts; he writes, translates, composes church music and except of Greek language, he speaks fluently French, English and Italian.