Byzantine Neumes: A New Introduction to the Middle Byzantine Musical Notation

Article excerpt

BYZANTIUM Byzantine Neumes: A New Introduction to the Middle Byzantine Musical Notation. By Christian Troelsgård. (Monumenta Musicae Byzantinae, Subsidia vol. 9.) Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 2011. [142 p. ISBN 9788763531580. $86.] Music examples, tables, illustrations, appendix of manuscript facsimiles, bibliography, indices, reference card.

Motivated by the Solesmes reconstructions of Gregorian chant in the late nineteenth century, the Monumenta Musicae Byzantinae (MMB) was inspired to achieve a similar goal. Several of the original members of the MMB realized that there were problems in the original transcription methods of H. J. W. Tillyard, Carsten Høeg, and Egon Wellesz; later these same problems were mentioned by Oliver Strunk. Some of the more volatile complaints, however, were coming from Greek scholars such as Grigorios Stathis, who had come to work with Jørgen Raasted and ultimately convinced him that there were serious problems with the transcriptions of medieval Byzantine music into Western staffnotation. More precisely, in 1985 Raasted informed this reviewer during a conference in Vienna that he was working on a solution for this project. The following year he wrote an article on this topic offering his ideas on how the transcription process could be revised (Jørgen Raasted, "Thoughts on a Revision for the Transcrip - tion Rules of the Monumenta Musicae Byzantinae," Cahiers de l'Institut du Moyenâge grec et latin 54 [1986]: 13-38). Un - fortunately, Raasted was not able to complete his dream, but he leftsketches for his student and successor, Christian Troels - gård, to bring this work to fruition. Consequently, Troelsgård's aim in this volume is to bring up to date Tillyard's Handbook of the Middle Byzantine Musical Notation (Copenhagen: Levin & Munks - gaard, 1935), and, although Troelsgård does not state this explictly, perhaps to bring forth again the MMB Transcripta series, which had been halted since 1958 because of the growing concern of issues surrounding transcriptions into Western staffnotation.

Troelsgård covers a wide array of information, beginning with a brief introduction on the history of Middle Byzantine or "round" notation. This is followed by discussions on the relationships between words and music; chant transmission before neumes; various types of Byzantine musical notations; problems of sizes of intervals and tunings; signs and interpretations of Middle Byzantine notation including rhythm, modes, melody, intervals, and the Hypostaseis or Cheiromomia signs; musical genres; transcriptions of music examples; and twenty-two facsimiles of manuscripts from different locales and periods of notation. Unlike his predecessors, Troelsgård does not provide the text in the original Koine Greek but instead transliterates it into English. He provides an interesting and acceptable transliteration for consonants, diphthongs, and vowel sounds with accents and some underlining to distinguish the omega from the omicron. His pronunciation system obviously makes it easier for a vocalist to chant this music, especially one not familiar with Greek. How - ever, in no way does it guarantee correct pronunciation. The inclusion of the original Greek text with its rough and smooth breath marks and its three different accents of acute, grave, and circumflex could still have served as a visual guide to the non- Greek reader for a more accurate rendering of the pronunciation.

A valuable tool in the book is the laminated four-page Quick Reference Card, which can be used as a guide without referring to the book. Included are the signs and starting pitches for the modal signatures, rules for the combination of signs, a combination table, interval signs, rhythmical signs (with the exception of the apoderma which has been interpreted as a fermata but has now been included under the Hypostaseis), and group and phrasing signs. In this last category Troelsgård has included only eleven signs of the more than fifty possible different signs including composites. …