A History of Byzantine Music and Hymnography

By Egon Wellesz | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION
A SURVEY OF STUDIES IN BYZANTINE MUSIC
AND HYMNOGRAPHY

I. BYZANTINE MUSIC
THE term 'Byzantine music' has been applied by modern scholars to Eastern ecclesiastical chant, sung in Greek, and to the melodies of a certain group of ceremonial poems in honour of the Emperor, the Imperial family, and high dignitaries of the Orthodox Church. The restriction of the term to these two groups of chants is not quite accurate, for it excludes secular music, to which Christian authors and Byzantine historiographers frequently refer. No trace, however, of this secular music has come down to us, and the only knowledge we have of it is derived from the Fathers of the Church and the Byzantine chroniclers who contrast the evil influence of theatrical music with the purifying spirit of sacred music. Remnants of Byzantine popular songs may still live in Greek popular music of the present day, but no attempt has yet been made to analyse the melodic structure of these songs and to separate the different layers by stylistic analysis, a procedure which would enable us to compare the corpus of secular melodies with ecclesiastical, and to determine whether any relationship can be observed between them. We must, therefore, use the term 'Byzantine music' here in the same restricted sense as our predecessors; but we shall try to add some information from literary sources so as to give a more complete account of the position which both ecclesiastical and secular music occupied in the Eastern Empire.There are three groups of sources on which our knowledge of the subject is based:
1. Manuscripts, containing (a) collections of ecclesiastical hymns, chants from the Ordinary of the Liturgy, and other liturgical melodies; (b) acclamations and Polychronia, sung by alternating choirs in honour of the Emperor, the Empress, and high dignitaries of the State and of the Church.
2. Treatises on musical theory and notation.
3. Descriptions of secular and ecclesiastical ceremonies and feasts accompanied by hymns, chants, and instrumental music.

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