A History of Byzantine Music and Hymnography

By Egon Wellesz | Go to book overview
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FROM this exposition of the system of musical notation and theory the reader may have concluded that the transcription of the music into our modern staff notation is a complicated task. For the first generation of scholars the difficulties were indeed insuperable, as has been pointed out in the introductory chapter of this book; but now that the problem of the Signatures and of the rhythmical signs has been solved, the transcription of Byzantine melodies, written in Middle and Late Byzantine notation, is no more difficult than the transcription of Western Medieval music. Moreover, for the bulk of the melodies from the Hirmologion and the Sticherarion only a limited number of the signs discussed in the preceding chapter were needed. In practice, therefore, the transcription of a simple melody is, palaeographically, an easy task, provided that the neumatic version of the melody in the manuscripts is free from errors. If, however, there are mistakes, other manuscripts of the same period must be consulted, and in most cases the result of the comparison gives a satisfactory solution.

The following examples will show the method of transcription, first for a hymn from the Hirmologion and then for one from the Sticherarion. In order to give all the information which is necessary for the transcriber, we shall have to repeat a certain amount which has already been given in the preceding chapter, and, in order to make the explanation quite complete, the same amount of detail will be given for both examples.


The Χαι + ̑ρε, ἁγία Θεοτοκε, 'Hail, holy Mother of God', is the Hirmus of the ninth Ode of the Resurrection Kanon ’′Ασωμεν τῳ + ̑ Κυρίῳ, ascribed to Kosmas 'the monk', which is sung at Christmas. The neumatic version is taken from Codex Iviron, fol. 10r.. The codex is written in the 'mixed minuscule script'. The notation represents the earliest phase of Middle Byzantine notation. In shape the neumes are closely related to those of Early Byzantine notation: it seems, in fact, that the last stage of Early Byzantine


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