A History of Byzantine Music and Hymnography

By Egon Wellesz | Go to book overview
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THE last period of Byzantine hymnography began towards the end of the seventh century, with the introduction of the Kanon (κανών) into the Orthros, the Morning Office. The Kanon is a complex poetical form, made up of nine Odes (ᾠδαί), each of which originally consisted of from six to nine Troparia. At a later date, owing to the introduction of a number of additional monostrophic stanzas, only three of the Troparia of each Ode were used in the service. Structurally, therefore, the Ode is no different from a short Kontakion; the difference between the two forms lies in their content. The Kontakion is a poetical homily; the nine Odes of every Kanon are modelled on the pattern of the Nine Canticles from the Scriptures and have the character of hymns of praise. Whatever the object of a Kanon may be--the celebration of a feast of Christ or the Theotokos, or the commemoration of a saint or a martyr--the hymn-writer had to allude in each of the nine Odes to its scriptural model.

Originally Kanons were composed only for Lent; at a later date, for the period between Easter and Pentecost.1 The new hymns replaced the singing of the canticles, which from now onwards were only recited and were followed by the singing of the Kanons. At a later date, when Kanons were composed for all the feast days of the ecclesiastical year, the custom of reciting the Canticles before the singing of the Kanons was maintained during Lent and between Easter and Pentecost; on other days the canticles were omitted and replaced by the Kanons.2 The second Ode, modelled on the canticle 'Give ear, O ye heavens' ( Deut. xxxii. 1-43), was, on account of its mournful character, only used in Lent, and in consequence Kanons destined for other parts of the ecclesiastical year were subsequently composed without the second Ode.

Cf. A. Baumstark, "'Psalmenvortrag und Kirchendichtung des Orients'", Gottesminne, vii. 8 ( 1912-13), p. 551.
Cf. A. Baumstark, Liturgie comparée ( 1939), pp. 28-9.


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