A History of Byzantine Music and Hymnography

By Egon Wellesz | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER XIII
THE STRUCTURE OF BYZANTINE MELODIES

I. HIRMI AND STICHERA

BYZANTINE melodies, both Hirmi and Stichera, are built up from a number of melodic formulae which are linked together by short transitional passages. The discovery of this principle of composition in Byzantine music goes back to comparative studies into the form of Eastern ecclesiastical music, which began forty years ago.

Investigating the melodies of the Serbian Oktoëchos I found that they were composed of a number of musical phrases, repeated either exactly or with slight variations. Since the melodies of the Serbian Church derived from the Syrian--introduced into the Balkan countries along the pilgrim-routes which by-passed Constantinople--the occurrence of an identical principle of composition in both Syria and Serbia1 was explained, a principle to which Idelsohn had first drawn attention in his study of the technique of Arabic music2 and which had been confirmed by Dom Jeannin and Dom Puyade in their publications on Syrian music.3

The discovery of this principle of composition is of far greater importance than was at first thought. Further investigations have shown that it was not confined to the melodies of a few areas, but was the ruling principle of composition in Oriental music and, with the expansion of Christian music, spread over the whole Mediterranean basin.4

The transcription of the hymns collected in the Hirmologion and of a large number of those from the Sticherarion enables us to study the structure of Byzantine ecclesiastical music. The analysis of the hymns confirms our view, which has already been expressed in earlier studies on the subject, that here, too, the construction of the melody was based on the combination and

____________________
1
Cf. E. Wellesz, "'Die Struktur des serbischen Oktoēchos'", Z.M.W. ii ( 1919-20), 141-2, and the article on "'Eastern Church Music'" in the Supplementary Volume of Grove's Dictionary of Music ( 1940), pp. 181-2.
2
A. Z. Idelsohn, "'Die Maqamen der arabischen Musik'", S.I.M. xv. 1 sqq.
3
Jeannin et Puyade, 'L'Octoechos syrien', O.C., N.S. iii. 278.
4
I have examined some of these facts in detail in my book Eastern Elements in Western Chant, M.M.B., Amer. Ser. i.

-325-

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