A History of Byzantine Music and Hymnography

By Egon Wellesz | Go to book overview
Save to active project


FROM the study of the formulae we also come to understand the technique of Byzantine hymn-writers in adapting the melodies to the words of the hymns. As in Gregorian chant, a large number of texts are set to a single melody, and great skill was required to achieve a perfect union between the music and the words. A new stanza had to consist not only of the same number of syllables as the model stanza, but it also had to have the stress accent in the same places, in order to make the highest points of the melodic curves coincide with the stresses of the verses.

If a line of the new stanza had one or two more unaccented syllables before the accented one than the model stanza had had, some notes without dynamic significance were inserted, either on the same pitch as the note to which they were added or leading up to it by steps.

It must, however, be pointed out that we do not regard every syllable as accented which bears an accent in writing, but only those syllables which carry the stress in the metrical structure. In Byzantine poetry the article, for example, in all genders and cases is treated as unaccented, and the same rule applies to a number of monosyllabic words, as καί, γάρ, μή, πω + ̑ς, ὤν, and others.

The simplest way of setting a line to music is the recitation of a number of unaccented syllables on a repeated note, the tenor, followed by a cadence which starts on the note of recitation. This melodic type occurs frequently as an opening phrase in the first mode.

In the following table fourteen opening lines of hymns are collected, all of which are sung to the same melodic phrase. In two of the hymns, nos. 4 and 6, the melody starts on the first note of the cadence, in all the others one or three or five Isons on a precede the Ison with Oxeia, the first accented note of the cadence. In ten out of fourteen examples the musical accent coincides with the metrical accent. This accent, however, is weak. The strong accent of the line is set on the two combined notes, g-a, of the cadence, which coincides in thirteen out of fourteen cases with the metrical accent. The exception occurs in the fourteenth example on the word Ἀββακούμ, which derives from the Hebrew.


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
A History of Byzantine Music and Hymnography


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 474

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?