" Oral interpretation of the written interpretation "

by Lykourgos Angelopoulos


The Importance of Simon Karas’ Research and Teaching Regarding the Taxonomy and Transcription of the Effect of the Signs of Cheironomy

“Oral Interpretation of the Written Interpretation”

Communiqué to the Delphi Musicological Conference, 4-7 September 1986.

Lykourgos Angelopoulos

About the author: Lykourgos Angelopoulos is presently the Director and main instructor at the School of Byzantine Chant of the Conservatory of Athens, Greece and well-known Archon Protopsaltes of the Most-holy Archdiocese of Constantinople, as well as Protopsaltes of the Church of Hagia Eirene Aiolou in Athens. As director of the Hellenic Byzantine Choir he is known internationally for his countless professional-class recordings and performances of Byzantine chant.


In this issue of Psaltiki’s Online Journal we host this most interesting Communiqué to the Delphi Musicological Conference in 1986 (published Athens: Hellenic Byzantine Choir, 1988). The presentation discusses aspects of the interpretation of the effect of the signs of quality in the New Method of Byzantine chant notation and is enriched by musical and audio examples. Psaltiki is grateful to Mr. Angelopoulos for his permission to translated in English for the first time and make available this most interesting offering.

Keywords: Simon Karas, Byzantine chant, interpretation, notation, exegesis, transcription, education, oral tradition, written tradition, oral transmission, written transmission

Preforatory Remarks

The teacher of our National Music, Simon Karas, is essentially the first to have examined and fully studied in a systematic fashion the topic of the effect (energeia) of the musical signs, dedicating to it an entire chapter of his two-volume Theoretikon tes hellinikes mousikes, published in 1982.

The presentation in that volume of the conclusions of his many years of research into both the oral and written traditions has served as the catalyst for a parallel examination of these two traditions. I must note furthermore, that the resulting confirmation of his presentation and conclusions is indeed exciting.

A small part of this research is represented by the following paper, presented at the Delphi Musicological Conference in 1986.

Evidence of research coming out of the oral tradition is not only provided with notation, but is also included in the recording accompanying the paper in the present publication.

This paper represents a preliminary investigation and attempt to contribute to a better understanding of the importance of the chapter “On Musical Expression” in S. Karas’s Theoretikon for the teaching and interpretation of Greek Music.

This publication is also a humble reciprocation for all that this wise teacher of our national musical heritage gave to the author, and indeed to so many of his students over the span of entire decades.

It is hoped that with God’s help this work serves as the beginning of a wider, more complete and detailed examination of the topic.

Sincere thanks are due to Mr. Iannis Papachronis for the preparation of this publication, to Rev. Fr. Amphilochios Pikias for the French translation, to Mr. Michales Stroumbakis for the copying of Examples 2-6 and 8-11, and to Mr. Ioannes Chares, who helped correct the proofs.

Athens: 4 July 1994 L. A. A.

The chapter “Musical Expression” in Simon Karas’ two-volumeTheoretikou tes Methodou tes Hellenikes Mousikes—which I believe is the most important theoretical publication of our century, because it is the first to approach in a complete manner Hellenic music as a system—serves as the inspiration for today’s paper.

This chapter is not only original, but nearly unique in the bibliography of the entire genre of printed theory books [1] due to its completeness and clarity, its exactness and its detailed transcription, which reveal to us in a systematic fashion the link between the written and oral traditions. For I do not think that anyone loses sight of the fact that the oral tradition is a prerequisite for the correct reading of the notation. This is why Chrysanthos mentions in his Theoretikon that “for the beginner to be able to chant this scale correctly, it must be taught by a Greek musician. ” [2]

This chapter, then, analyzes the signs of cheironomy, whether they be “with voice” (ison micron, oxeia, petaste), or with augmentation of time (tzakisma), or without voice or augmentation (psephiston, bareia, piesma, homalon, antikenoma, heteron, tromikon and strepton). As we can see, there are included here both signs retained by the New Method, and those that express the unbroken oral tradition, like the mikron ison, oxeia, piesma, tromikon and strepton.

In this manner, then, Simon Karas proposes the reintroduction of these last signs into contemporary notation. We should mention here that at least the students of the Society for the Dissemination of National Music and my companions in the Hellenic Byzantine Choir read musical scores using these signs.

The problem regarding the effect [energeia] of the signs of the Chrysanthine notation begins immediately with the establishment of the New Method invented by the Three Teachers, Chrysanthine, Gregorios and Chourmouzios.

With the abilition of these signs of the old notation, which are expressed analytically in the New Method, the existing musical system was simplified. It was better organized, rather than recreated. In my opinion, it was for this reason that it was received in a relatively short time, precisely, that is, because the notation was not fundamentally changed. The links between notation and tradition were not completely severed—as was the case with some other systems appearing shortly before and after it, such as those of Paliermos and Lesbios. It was, rather, a natural development, we might say, of the system that already existed.

This link of the notational writing—as is also the case with the link of the writing of language, and let us not forget the origin of the musical signs—is fundamental. For this reason, change in the notation that is unchecked is decisive for either the continued existence or disappearance of the music or language under examination.

The first testimony to the continuation of the use of the oxeia after the reformation of the notation is found in one phrase of Thamyris, a student of the Three Teachers, who was sent to Paris to oversee the engraving of typographical musical glyphs and to print the first books of Byzantine Chant. It is found in the Prologue of the Doxastarion of Petros Lambadarios that was published in 1821 at the Pigius Press in Paris.

“Teachers, I am not ignorant, ” writes Thamyris, “that the oligon with the kentema or kentemata and psephiston should have the shape of the oxeia; time, however, did not allow me to deal with details of little importance. ”

I will note two points:

  1. Why did the Teachers in Constantinople want (Thamyris knows this well) the oligon to have the shape of the oxeia in the above–mentioned case, but I believe also in all the other combinations not mentioned here (oxeia before the ison, or ison on the oxeia with the psephiston, etc)?
  2. Thamyris regards it less useful to engrave the oxeia and to use it because he is in a hurry to print the books. We know[3] that the music characters were engraved within five months while in Dakia, Bucharest, Romania; Petros Ephesios—according to Thamyris himself—took three years to engrave his glyph characters.

I think that no other reason can be a more serious justification for the retention of the oxeia in the signs of the New Method than the following: the effect of the oxeia was practiced in the oral tradition (and it is preserved, fortunately, even today by the traditional chanters); it is different than the effect of the oligon and it was only natural that the Teachers would want the written equivalent of the effect. The old theoretical works were not gone and forgotten, nor Kyrillos Marmarinos (first half of the 18th c.), while Apostolos Konstas, who was thoroughly contemporary, refers to the effect of the oxeia on the other signs. [4]

Someone, however, will ask: why then did they not use the oxeia in the list of signs for the New Method?

The answer that will be given (which holds also for all signs that the oral tradition preserves regardless of their abolition) must take into account the special circumstances that are at work in any type of reform. Certain changes will be judged helpful only in hindsight. The Three Teachers tried to simplify the musical notation using the smallest number of signs possible, in order to expedite the learning process of Byzantine Chant for the young.

The oral tradition that interprets the written is still strong and dynamic at that time and the transmission of the power of the signs from teacher to student was clear and complete. They cannot see how 100 years later Byzantine Chant would be taught in the Hellenic Nation with piano and how the oral tradition of the written notation would be weakened and almost demolished by the European style of music education in the various conservatories.

With the transcription of the oxeia the exegetes sometimes used the analytical notation of the oligon with kentemata and the gorgon, whiles numerous other times left simply the oxeia, knowing full well that the chanters for whom they were writing knew the theseis that interpret the effect of the oxeia by heart, as is still the case today with chanters who know the tradition and whom we well hear in the audio examples.

Example 1 imageThis effect of the oxeia is interpreted in its own paragraph by S. Karas in hisTheoretikon, and this is why he supports its reintroduction. In fact, it does exist in the first printed books of Byzantine music from Bucharest in 1820, theAnastasimatarion andDoxastarion of Petros Lambadarios that were printed under the supervision of another important student of the Three Teachers, Petros Ephesios (Example 1).

Thamyris himself confessed that the typographic characters of their publications attempted to mimic the manuscript music scores.

This accomplishment by Petros Ephesios—who did not overlook the effect of the oxeia—becomes even more important today and proved very valuable for the demonstrating the oxeia existence, in the written tradition as well as the oral.

Let us now come to the exegetical work of Gregorios and Chourmouzios. From the extant autograph manuscripts in the library of the Metochion of the Holy Sepulcher (Metochion tou Panagiou Taphou) we can observe that each one seperately transcribed, in a huge number of bulky manuscripts, nearly the entire repertoire then in use—as was al that no longer in use—in the Church.

Example 2 imageThe great value of these two separate bodies of transcription, which have yet to be studied in depth, is that the two interpretations give us the same texts written in different ways, even though in practice, in their execution, they render the same sound (Example 2, consisting of 4 images—002a-002d).

Example 3 imageAnother case is that in which we find two transcriptions with minor differences, something that I believe is due to either a broader or more detailed interpretation of the musical line, especially in the melismatic melodies. This must have a relation to the teaching or memorization of the specific phrase (we do not considering here the situation where the old manuscripts from which the transcriptions were made have differences) (Example 3).

Example 4 imageFurthermore, the same exegete transcribing into the New Method can—in certain circumstances—often use a different combination of signs to express a specific formula in the old notation. Research must be done into whether this has any relationship with the initial note of the musical phrase and the mode in which the phrase appears in the melos (Example 4).

We note that in the above examples the manner of transcription is identical with that of the oral tradition and that it has the same freedom and dynamics with regards to musical expression. In other words, with the transcription in Example 4 we have the old formula transcribed each time with a different combination of signs (as with Nos. 1 or 2 and 6 or 7), but with the same sound expressed. In the same way, kentemata with oligon, antikenoma with haple, which is always followed by a descending sign (apostrophos with a gorgon), is performed with an ascent of a third (two voices). This performance is written down by contemporary chanters who to excess record analytically the effect of the signs in their writing.[5]

Example 5 imageBeyond the fact that I consider this analytical transcription dangerous, because of how it changes and destroys the notation and neutralizes or (at least) weakens the effect of the signs with the result that anyone becoming accustomed only to this interpretation is incapable of reading the same text in the notation that contains the power of the signs, nevertheless, this provides us with an unbroken continuity of this effect of the signs via the oral tradition (Example 5).

That said, if the very analytical notation of contemporary chanters makes us hesistant, we can find even more characteristic examples for all the signs of cheironomy throughout the printed chant books that have been published since 1820.

An opposing opinion—singular, as far as I know—regarding the effect of the signs is held by Konstantinos Psachos, [6] founder and at that time still professor of the School of Byzantine Chant of the Conservatory of Athens.

Example 6 imageAmong other opinions, in part justifiable, he writes the following: “But how is it possible to accept that only those chanting today in the Patriarchal Church, that only they should teach the music so that the so-called hyphos can be preserved; especially when we suddenly hear them teaching the parallage of the first mode Kyrie ekekraxa as follows” (Example 6).

I believe an hypothesis regarding how this strange paragraph written by Psachos resulted. Is it possible that Psachos had been influenced so much by the teaching of European music in the Conservatory of Athens that he thought of the parallage of the Byzantine Melos as a kind of solfège? This is surely strange because Psachos would have heard all the patriarchal chanters up to 1904 [7] by the time he came to Greece, maybe even Georgios Raidestenos II. [8] Georgios Binakes, [9] who was Raidestenos’ student, taught music on the island of Chios. Binakes’ pupil was an important contemporary chanter, Leonides Sphekas (born in Karyes, Chios on September 18, 1921). In the next example we will hear Leonides Sphekas, the most faithful student and preserver of Binakes’ teaching, from the parallage for the kekragarion of mode I (Example 7).

Let us now hear some examples from one of Psachos’ own faithful and conscientious pupils, the ever-memorable Theodoros Chatzetheodoros (born in Phokaia, Asia Minor, 1893; died in Athens, 7 October 1985), professor of Byzantine Music and Protopsaltes of the Metochion of the Holy Sepulcher in Athens from 1914-1985. How is it possible that Psachos’ own student would execute these things in the way Psachos criticized? (Example 8.)

Example 9 imageBut even in the mele that Psachos composed we note the practice of the exegetes Gregorios and Chourmouzios: in the same melos, the same musical phrase is notated with a different order or combination of signs, which in turn preserve the same melodic sound (Example 9).

The question is then presented as to how Psachos accepts the analytical notation of the same melodic line but does not accept the oral tradition that expresses it? Could it be due to an ignorance of the relationship of the transcriptions from the old notation and the oral tradition? This is something that would be possible for chanters of limited theoretical training, but this is incomprehensible, however, for a theoretician of the stature of K. A. Psachos.

I will now present an example of the interpretation of a sign of cheironomy from the Three Teachers as it comes down to us via the Archdeacon Anthimos, [10] who taught Byzantine Music in Mesolongi and left behind a tradition that still thrives today.

It is the parakletike above the thesis of the strepton, [11] which is interpreted as an ascent of three voices (the interval of a fourth).

The chanter we will here in this example is Sozon Meliones, once Mayor of Messolongi, who learned music from a pupil of Anthimos Anastasios Chateriades, and who chanted throughout his childhood years—as he himself related to me—with the pupils of Anthimos, Kleomenes, Athenes, N. Kladephteras and D. Mosketos (the recording took place in December of 1982 in Mesolongi).

We will notice the analysis of the phrase pros heauton, which can be discerned immediately before the word thaumasia (Example 10).

Example 11 imageOf the various studies I would like to note that which is found in the third part of Bas. Paparounes’ Theia Leitourgia,published in Athens, 1939, and which deals extensively with the notational orthography, that is, with “the proper composition and expression of the musical signs. ” Paparounes has studied Chrysanthos and Apostolos Konstas and presents a number of comparative examples from the printed scores while analytically interpreting the signs as they present themselves in the various lines (Example 11a).

In the example above the analysis with the effect of the psephiston occurs with an ascent of two voices. Let us hear at least two more examples of the two-voice ascent in the analysis of the effect of the petaste with the klasma (Example 11b).

From all commented upon above, I should say here that most chanters interpret the effect of the signs without strictly applying certain canons. Surely, they mainly interpret in the manner they were taught, but at other times vocal ability plays a role, as does the musical line itself. This is worthy of investigation not only for certain signs, but for all of them in order to attain a broad and well-documented picture of the oral interpretation.

In the clip that we heard (Example 11b) we have two different interpretations of the petaste with the klasma. The same can be discerned in the next sample, which we will hear from Athanasios Panagiotides (born in Constantinople in 1910; died in Thessalonike, January 1, 1989). The recording is from theoktoechos (eight-mode) Theotoke Parthene by Bereketes—the verse, “the fruit of they womb” (Example 11c).

Among the various studies I should mention also the paper by Giannes Zannos at this year’s Abbaye de Royaumont in France and his presentation of recordings from Constantinople, where one clearly recognizes the interpretation of the signs. [12]

Recently, I was greatly pleased to hear how Demetrios Giannelos has already prepared his doctoral dissertation regarding related topics that I have already mentioned. [13]

One characteristic point in the research, which was conducted via various comparisons between printed scores and recordings, is that the differences which divine modern Greek theoricians—differences regarding the interpretation of the signs of expression—are not as great as some might assume by reading their theory books.

Let us consider two or three more final examples. First is a segment of the verse eulogemene sy en gynaixi, again from theTheotoke Parthene by Petros Bereketes. It is chanted by Athanasios Panagiotides (Example 12).

Here is an example of the homalon at a cadence in mode II chanted by the Archon Protopsaltes of the Great Church, Thrasyboulos Stanitsas (born in Constantinople 1910; died in Athens in 1987) (Example 13).

Here is an out-take from the polyeleos by Petros Lambadarios,Douloi kyrion (mode I plagal), in which the effect of more than one sign can be discerned. Fr. Dionysios Phirphires chants (born in Megale Panagia, Chalkidike 1912; died in Karyes, Mount Athos 1990) (Example 14).

The topic of the effect of the signs of cheironomy is too great to be thoroughly examined, even in summary form within the limitations of a short communiqué.

It is, however, fundamental, I believe, not only for the musical research involved with the notation of the Three Teachers or the older notations, but even for contemporary music performance.

The fact that Simon Karas pioneeringly systematized the exegesis of the vocal effect of the signs of cheironomy in his chapter on “Musical Expression” from the Theoretikon is of great importance.

First, as a contribution to musicological research he opens roads with the proofs of his conclusions, point by point, from the written and oral tradition.

Next, he provides invaluable knowledge for the same living tradition and musical performance.

And, finally, he contributes to improved teaching of the Music, to its conscientious preservation, and to the dissemination of its unique characteristics.

Table of Examples

  • Example 1: The use of the oxeia in the Anastasimatarionof Petros Lambadarios, Bucharest 1820.
  • Example 2: The comparison of the transcriptions (exegeses) of Gregorios and Chourmouzios of the first Heothinon, from the Doxastarion of Iakovos Protopsaltes.
  • Example 3: The comparison of the exegeses of Gregorios and Chourmouzios.
  • Example 4: The comparisons of exegeses of the new notation from manuscripts of the older notation, from the polyeleos Douloi kyrion by Petros Bereketes.
  • Example 5: The comparison of the same musical phrase, with different signs, however, notated from the printed scores.
  • Example 6: Example from the article by K. A. Psachos in the newspaper Phorminx, nos. 19-20, 1908.
  • Example 7: The interpretation of the effect of the signs in the kekragarion of mode I by Leonides Sphekas from a personal recording. The musical score is from theAnastasimatarion, Ed. 3, 1839.
  • Example 8: The interpretation of the effect of the signs by Theodoros Chatzetheodoros, from a personal recording.
  • Example 9: An example of the same musical phrase, written, however, with difference signs by K. A. Psachos.
  • Example 10: An example of the interpretation of the effect of the parakletike by Sozon Meliones.
  • Example 11: An example of the interpretation of the petaste with the klasma.
  • Example 11a: B. Paparounes chants.
  • Example 11b: Father of the cell of the Thomades, Mount Athos.
  • Example 11c: Panagiotides chants.
  • Example 12: The interpretation of the effect of the signs by Athanasios Panagiotides. The recording is taken from his own cassettes, No. 4, published by Melodia, Thessalonike.
  • Example 13: The interpretation of the effect of the homalon by Thrasyboulos Stanitsas, Protopsaltes of the Great Church of Christ; the track is taken from the album accompanying Man. Chatzegiakoumes’ book, Cheirographa Ekklesiastikes Mousikes, 1453-1820, published by the National Bank of Greece, 1980.
  • Example 14: An example of the interpretation of the effect of the signs by the Hagiorite protopsaltes of the Church of the Protaton in Karyes, Mount Athos, Fr. Dionysios Phirphires. The track is taken from cassette No. 3, published by the Hellenic Byzantine Choir, ΕΛΒΥΧ 13.


  1. Cf. also Simon Karas, He byzantine mousike palaiographike ereuna en Helladi, Athenai 1976; Bas. K. Paparounes, He Theia Leitourgia, Athenai 1939; Abraam Euthymiades, Mathemata Byzantines Ekklesiastikes mousikes, 2nd ed., Thessalonike 1972; P. K Keltzanides, Proussaeos, Methodike didaskalia theoretike te kai praktike… En Konstantinoupolei 1881. ^
  2. Chrysanthou, Archiepiskopou Dyrrachiou, Theoretikon Mega tes Mousikes, en Tergetste 1832, p. 9. ^
  3. Cf. the prologue in the book: Doxastika tou eniautou… melisthenta para Petroy Lampadariou…, first tome, Paris, from the Pignius Press, 1821. Cf. also Georgiou G. Lada,Ta prota typomena biblia byzantines mousikes, Koultoura, Athena 1978, p. 28. ^
  4. Cf. Gabriel Hieromonachos in the series from the Monumenta Musicae Byzantinae (Corpus Scriptorum de re Musica) edited by Christina Hannick and Gerda Wolfram, Vienna 1985, p. 48, line 104. Also see MS Koutloumousi 461 and National Library of Greece 968, as well as Simon Karas, Methodos Hellenikes Mousikes—Theoretikon,Athenai 1982, tome 1, pp. 183ff. ^
  5. Bas. Paparounes, who published a volume in Athens, 1939, entitled He Theia Leitourgia, writes at the end of his extremely interesting Introduction: “Note. Everything mentioned in the present study regarding the nature and effect of the tropic hypostases and the like are given to the light of publication not for the final purpose that the sacred chanters abuse the analytical lines, but in order to counter the opposite purpose, namely, to refute the abuse by others by developing the most excellent analytical lines.” ^
  6. Phormigx, period II – year Gamma (epsilon), no. 19-20, Athenai, 15 Jan. 1908, “Peri hyphos,” on page 3. ^
  7. K. Psachos was probably born in 1866 (cf. also K. A. Psachos, He Parasemantike tes Byzantines Mousikes,published by Dionysos, Athenai 1978, p. 18). Alternately, K. Panas holds that he was born in 1869. Cf. K. Panas, He theia kai hiera Leitourgia, Athenai 1984, p. 18, n. 1. ^
  8. Georgios Raidestenos II (1833-1889), Protopsaltes of the Great Church (1871-1876); cf. Georgios Papadopoulos,Historike Episkopesis tes Byzantines Ekklesiastikes Mousikes, en Athenais 1904. ^
  9. Georgios Binakes (1865-1939), music teacher and Protopsaltes from 1920 of the Metropolitan Church of Chios. Cd. Also Pan. S. Antoneles, He byzantine ekklesiastike mousike, Athenai 1956. ^
  10. For information on this Anthimos see K. I. Panas, Triodion,Athenai 1981, the Anti-prologue, p. 3-8. ^
  11. See Simon Karas, Methodos Hellenikes Mousikes—Theoretikon, Athenai 1982, tom. 1, p. 218. ^
  12. Giannes Zannos presented his doctoral dissertation in 1994 under the title, Ichos und Makam: Vergleichende Untersuchungen zum Tonsystem der griechisch-orthodoxen Kirchenmusik und der türkischen Kunstmusik. Bonn: Orpheus Verlag, 1994. This dissertation contains noteworthy transcriptions of recordings from Constantinople of importance for the study of musical expression. ^
  13. D. Giannelos’ doctoral dissertation was presented the following year (1987) at the Universitè Paris X Nanterre: Dimitrios Giannelos, Musique Byzantine: Tradition orale et tradition écrite (XVIIIe-XXe siècles), Thesis de Doctorat,Universitè Paris X, 1987. ^