The Neume Notation Project
Members of the Byzantine royal family. The Influences of Byzantium and Syria
upon Western Medieval Chant

CONTENTS:
§ Byzantium: From its beginnings to its end
§ Influence of Byzantium on Western Chant
§ Byzantine Neume Notation
§ Syrian Chant
§ The Modes


 



§ Byzantium: From its beginnings to its end
initial T.he city of Byzantium was established as a trading port by Greeks in 667 b.c.  1 It was subsumed politically by Rome in a.d. 196 but its population and culture remained predominantly Greek. In a.d. 330, the Roman Emperor Constantine ['The Great'] moved the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome 850 miles (or, 1370 km) to the east to the city of Byzantium. Its location is strategically crucial as a bottleneck both on the Europe-to-Middle East land route, and on navigation between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. (Russia's southern, warm-water port of Odessa is on the Black Sea; also, the Dnieper River—the waterway north to the city of Kiev and nearly to Moscow—empties into the Black Sea.) The principal trade route between China and Europe also went through Constantinople. Constantine changed the city's name from 'Byzantium' to 'Constantinople' in honor of himself.
Location of Constantinople, and sea route.
Figure 1.a,b. The map at left shows the strategic location of Constantinople as the 'bridge' between Europe (to the north and west) and the Middle East (to the south and east). By a fateful decision the capital of the Roman Empire was moved from Rome to Constantinople in the 4th century. [At right] Constantinople is a crucial 'choke point' on the only navigable route between the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea. Compare to the map in Figure 5.
Maps by Louis W. G. Barton.

Satellite view of the Bosphorus Strait, and Constantinople at its mouth. View southeast across the Bosphorus Strait from the site of Constantinople. The Hagia Sophia is in the foreground (minarets added).
Figure 2.a,b. [Left] This satellite image shows the Bosphorus Strait, at the mouth of which is the site of Constantinople. [Right] The view from Constantinople to the southeast across the Bosphorus Strait. [Foreground] The greatest church in Constantinople was the Hagia Sophia [Greek: 'Holy Wisdom'], completed by the Emperor Justinian in a.d. 538, located in the eastern district of the city. The minarets (or, looking like rocket ships on their launch pads) are Moslem additions after 1453. A bit of the Roman high wall is visible [left of the church], with houses built up-against its inner side.
Images: [Left] NASA, Visible Earth. [Right] Unattributed on the Web.
The Evolution of Christianity: From a Persecuted Community, to the Religion Enforced by the State

Christians were severely persecuted in the Roman Empire during the first centuries following Jesus' death. (Jesus was executed for being potentially subversive to the state's authority, and to satisfy some Jewish leaders who felt Jesus had upset their structured idea of religion.) In the city of Rome especially, Christians were killed in unusual ways for public entertainment at the Colosseum. An exemplary story is that of St Cecilia (the daughter of a Roman noble family, who was instructed in the Gospels by the bishop of Rome). She consacrated her life to God of the Gospels and she refused to burn incense to Caesar, or to proclaim that Caesar was a god, as required by the state religion. For this crime against the state, she was executed in ca 180. (Cecilia's interest for this study is because she is the patron saint of musi­cians.) According to reliable scientific testimony of the time, her body was still intact—uncorrupted by disease or parasites, and not desiccated—when her tomb was reopened almost a thousand years after her death. 2

Stone statue of Saint Cecilia on her tomb.
Figure 3. Stone statue of Saint Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr of the Christian faith, on her tomb. The statue depicts Cecilia in the same posture as she is lying in her tomb, and exactly as she lay at the hour of her death. She is barefoot, her neck has been cut, and she extends three fingers of her right hand (to denote the Trinity) and one finger of the left hand (to denote the unity of one God). Her tomb was hewn from rock and sealed with molten silver.
Image: Unattributed; enhanced by Louis W. G. Barton.
Under the reign of Constantine, Christianity was tolerated for the first time in the Roman Empire. Then in a.d. 380, the Emperor Theodosius [I] declared Christianity to be the official state religion of the Roman Empire. (For further information on this, see also, my page on 'Orthodox Chant'.) In a bizarre reversal of legal status, he decreed that the old religion of the Roman Caesars was illegal for anyone to practice in the Roman Empire. 3
Byzantine gold soldius, Constantinople ca A.D. 692-695, obverse.Byzantine gold soldius, Constantinople ca A.D. 692-695, reverse.
Figure 4. Gold solidus coin of Emperor Justinian II; minted at Constantinople, ca a.d. 692-695. This coin is evidence of Christianity as the official, state religion of the Byzantine Empire. The obverse [left] depicts Jesus holding the Bible and raising two fingers of his right hand in blessing. The inscription [left] includes 'IHS Cristos' ('IHS' is a Latinization of the first three letters of the name 'Jesus' in Greek). The reverse [right] depicts the Emperor with a Christian cross on his crown and holding a cross in his right hand. Harlan J. Berk (an authority on ancient coins) says this was the "first portrait of Christ on a coin."
Images: Courtesy of Harlan J. Berk, Ltd.
Division of the Roman Empire; and Division of Christianity

Upon Theodosius' death in 395, the Roman Empire was divided between his sons. The capital of the Western Roman Empire would return to the city of Rome; the Eastern Roman Empire (commonly called 'Byzantium') would retain the Imperial capital at Constantinople.

 
Extent of the Byzantine Empire, ca A.D. 500.
Figure 5. Approximate boundaries of the northern extent of the Byzantine Empire (shaded in pink) in the 5th century c.e. The boundaries of the Empire would fluctuate significantly in subsequent centuries under various dynastic families. Most of this (pink-shaded) area had fallen under Turkish Muslim control before a.d. 1453.
Map by Louis W. G. Barton.
Less than a hundred years after Theodosius, civil order and government administration in the Western Empire collapsed following the invasion of the city of Rome by barbarian tribes in a.d. 476. Western Europe declined into several centuries of disorder marked by deteriorating culture, lack of education, widespread fear, uncertainty, and deprivation—normally called 'the Dark Ages'. Looting, arson, indiscriminant killing, and rape by Norse raiders was frequent. Literacy was preserved only in remote monasteries.

During this period, however, the Eastern Empire flourished economically, politically, and culturally. Constantinople was Christianity's pre-eminent center of learning. Great libraries of manuscripts were assembled there, including classical writings of ancient Greece and manuscripts of the early Christian Church. This rivalled in size and importance the Great Library at Alexandria (Egypt), where an enormous collection of scrolls containing ancient texts had been assembled. (The Great Library at Alexandria was burned twice, and an unknown number of ancient texts were lost forever.)

The Byzantine Emperor Justinian [I, 'The Great'; reigned a.d. 527-565] recaptured the city of Rome, but it never regained the political power it held in prior centuries. Nonetheless, Catholics believed Rome was the 'see' of St Peter, and therefore the bishop of Rome was pre-eminent (or 'Pope') among all Christian patriarchs, Western and Eastern. The Frankish King Charlemagne [reigned a.d. 768-814; crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 800] increased the religious importance of the city of Rome by promoting the Papacy as the true source of authentic Christianity. Patriarchs and theologians of the eastern churches, however, denied such Papal primacy.

The Eastern Orthodox Churches definitively separated from the Catholic Church when in 1054 Pope Leo IX issued a bull condemning the patriarch of Constantinople. But, division had been festering for centuries, inflamed in the minds of common people by inflamatory rhetoric of priests, monks, and theologians on both sides. The content of the theological or doctrinal disputes, however, can seem rather petty by comparison to the severe dangers that would soon face Christian civilization.

Around 1347 the Great Plague (or, Black Death) arrived in Europe. Within a few years it killed a large percentage of the population, perhaps one in every three persons. Among the countries worst affected was Italy, where one half of the population died from the Plague. England was far worse off: an estimated 90% of its population died from the Plague. 4

The Fall of Constantinople

Asia Minor (or, 'Anatolia') was the breadbasket of the Byzantine Empire. Political stability made extensive irrigation possible, and Anatolia had one of the densest populations in the medieval world. This provided soldiers for the Imperial army. Huge loss of population from the Plague, and invasion of Anatolia by Turkish tribes from Central Asia (specifically Turkestan), caused Byzantium to lose control of this buffer territory. The population of Constantinople, itself, was also decimated during that time: in the 12th century Constantinople had a population of about one million; by the 15th century Constantinople had less than 100,000 inhabitants. 5 By then, the city was completely surrounded by territories held by Turkish Moslems.

West wall of Constantinople.
Figure 6. West wall of the city of Constantinople, today.
Image: Unattributed on the Web.
In May 1453, a section of the outer (low) wall protecting the west side of Constantinople was breached following two months of continuous, heavy cannon fire by Moslem Turks. The Turks used a newly-invented, 26-foot long (8-metre) siege cannon using technology imported from Europe. When the outer wall was breached, somehow two gates of the inner (high) wall were left open, and Moslems poured into the city.

In that last day, Catholic and Orthodox priests celebrated Mass together at the principal church, the Hagia Sophia. Only in the last day were people willing to forgive doctrinal disputes that separated Eastern and Western Christianity, but it was too late. As Moslems swarmed through the city, a vast quantity of ancient manuscripts were burned for being 'infidel' works and affronts to the Qur'an (or, Koran). 6 Of the city's many churches few of them were not burned down. The great church of Hagia Sophia was spared by the Moslem leader due to its great beauty, and it remains today (albeit converted into a mosque).

The Walls of Constantinople.
Figure 7. Part of the wall of Constantinople. The outer wall [at left] stands about 25 feet high. The inner wall stands about 40 feet high, with towers at regular intervals and standing 60 feet high (20 metres). Much of the original wall still stands today.
Image: Unattributed on the Web.

Christians in Constantinople knew of Bible prophesies that foretell the coming of the Anti-Christ 7 and of the Great Tribulation for the followers of Christ. But, many of them believed also in an ancient prophesy about Constantinople: that the legions of the Anti-Christ would "penetrate through the city right into the holy building [of the Hagia Sophia], there the Angel of the Lord would appear and drive them back with his bright sword to perdition." 8 Indeed, contemporaneous accounts tell of many heroes in Constantinople who fought like avenging angels and performed selfless acts of compassion. Not the least of the heroes was the Emperor himself, Constantine XI, who acted bravely and selflessly until the end. Christian sailors from Venice, Genoa, and Crete fought with remarkable skill, both at sea and ashore: they out-maneuvered the Moslems even as they were outnumbered by ten-to-one. 9

In the end, no Angel of the Lord appeared. Christians, men, women, and children alike, were slaughtered without mercy; their blood was said to have run in rivers through the streets of the city. Many women and girls were bound and taken to do service in harems. Thousands of Christians were taken away into slavery, to spend the rest of their lives in hard labor and cruelty. Young boys were taken to be re-educated in mosque schools, later to serve for life in the Turkish army. (Especially attractive boys, however, were sent to harems.) Just a few communities in the city were spared and allowed to keep their lives and their property because they surrendered to Islam before the wall was breached.

From this event one thing, at least, could be known with certainty: with the advent of cannon warfare, masonry walls could no longer provide the protection and security they always had done up until then.

Within a few years after the fall of Constantinople, all that had been the Byzantine Empire was under Turkish control. Only with World War I did parts of it (such as Greece) regain their sovereignty. The city today is still under Turkish control, and it is called by a Turkish name, 'Istanbul'.

 



§ Influence of Byzantium on Western Chant

initial P.ride in the autonomy of the Western Church may have contributed to acceptance of the notion that Western music descended directly from ancient Greek music (viz., classical Greece), via Rome. It is more likely the case, in my opinion, that Eastern Christian influence, specifically Byzantine, played a major part in the formation of Western liturgy, piety, and music. The Western system of church modes, for example, may have derived from an older modal system in the East (an argument advanced by Jacques Chailley), or at least, it was a synthesis of Byzantine and the ancient Greek modal systems. Melodies from the East, perhaps originally from Syria, found their way into the corpus of Gregorian chant in the West. Specifically, the Kyrie, the Sanctus, and possibly the Gloria were direct imports to the Western liturgy from the East; to this day the Kyrie is usually sung in Greek at Catholic Mass.

The Frankish court under Charlemagne [reigned 768-814] had active contact with the Imperial court at Constantinople, including intermar­riage, diplomatic envoys, the gift of an organ to Charlemagne, and even a visit to Constantinople by Charlemagne himself. As the earliest-known Western neumed documents are Frankish and most likely date from Charlemagne's era, and considering the great efforts of Charlemagne to increase literacy and regularize the liturgy, it seems quite possible that Charlemagne's cultural initiatives played a key role in the development of Western neume notation. The cultural exchange between an East still pre-eminent as the cultural center of Christianity, and a West only beginning to emerge from the Dark Ages, strongly suggests that Western notation was (at a minimum) influenced by Eastern practice.

Undoubtedly the earliest Christian church was not Greek, but Hebrew (likely Aramaic-speaking). The first nation to convert to Christianity was Armenia (in southwestern Anatolia), where Armenian was the dominant language and culture. Arguably, however, many early Christian churches beyond Jerusalem were Greek-speaking. After Emperor Constantine-I moved the center of political power from Rome to Constantinople, and after legalization of Christianity (which made Christianity the State religion and enforced the 'conversion' of people to Christianity, but also dictated Church doctrine), Byzantine Greek influence became dominant in the Christian Church. According to historical liturgists, it was during this time that the Western Catholic liturgy developed. The Greek musical idiom became institutionalized throughout Eastern Christendom due to the social and political power of Byzantium. For a time, Popes were even selected by Byzantine civil appointment. This state of affairs remained in effect until Justinian-I recaptured Rome and (more importantly) until Pepin and Charlemagne strengthened the Roman Papacy and codified the Roman liturgy. One can expect a strong Byzantine Greek influence on Western chant, although it may be difficult to trace due to the paucity of contemporaneous documentation about this, and due to changes in Greek Orthodox music following the fall of Constantinople and its domination by Moslems. Digital transcription of early Eastern and Western chant manu­scripts to a unified data representation (allowing systematic, comparative analysis of melodies and melodic patterns across liturgical repertories) may help scholars to clarify the extent of Greek influence on Latin chant.

Many of the above remarks are confirmed by the following passages from Richard Hoppin.

Actually, the earliest manuscripts with musical notation are from the ninth and tenth centuries, and none comes from Rome or even Italy. All of them originated in the North.
The most striking departures from traditional Gregorian Chant melodies occur in a series of manuscripts originating in Rome between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries. Considerable controversy has raged over the significance of these manuscripts, but it is now generally agreed that they represent a much older Roman tradition [viz., older melodies, not older notation]. Their contents correspond to the oldest liturgical sources and lack the feasts added after the eighth century. It is logical to assume, therefore, that their music approximated the chant in Rome as it was before being transplanted to the Carolingian empire. These manuscripts have received neither the liturgical nor musical study they deserve. Preliminary investigations of the music, however, confirm the supposition that it is an archaic form of the chant as we know it today. … One of the interesting aspects of the Old-Roman Chant is that a number of its Alleluias have verses in Greek. This suggests another influence at work in forming the musical repertory of the Church during its first thousand years. The transition from Greek to Latin as the liturgical language of the West was by no means instantaneous or complete. At first, some parts of the service were preformed in both languages, and even today the readings of a solemn papal Mass are done in Greek and Latin. Moreover, later additions to the liturgy came from the East, either with or without translation to Latin. Examples are the Kyrie eleison (Lord, have mercy) in Greek, introduced at an early period, and the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God), introduced in the seventh century with the text translated into Latin. Numerous chants were created after Greek models, and some were even sung in Greek or in both Greek and Latin.
Greek—or, more properly, Byzantine—influence was inevitable, given the power and importance of the Byzantine emperors after the collapse of the Western Roman empire. That influence was exerted primarily through the constant flow of Eastern clerics to positions of importance in the West and even to the papacy itself. … Notker Balbulus tells us in his Gesta Caroli Magni [Deeds of Charlemagne, or Deeds of Charles the Great] that Charlemagne heard Eastern singers (presumably sent by Byzantine Empress Irene in 802) perform a set of antiphons for Epiphany. Pleased by these chants, Charlemagne ordered them translated into Latin and adapted to the original melody. The truth of Notker's story has recently been verified through the discovery of the Greek originals. 10 [The Gesta Caroli Magni was not written comtemporaneously with Charlemagne. Falsification of some events related in it casts doubt on the general reliability of this book as a history.]

There has to-date been relatively little overlap of Western and Eastern chant scholarship. Perhaps this situation is reinforced by a language barrier, since most scholars of Western chant seem not to have facility in Greek (or other languages of the Orthodox Church), and facility with Latin seems not to be common among Eastern chant scholars. (In earlier eras, a 'well-educated' person was expected to be able to read in both Latin and Greek: both languages were taught to young people in prepar­atory school, and reading of classical Latin and Greek literature was required in college. Unfortunately, this criterion for sound education seems to have elapsed.) Perhaps of more significance, the specialization by liturgists in just the Latin or the Orthodox "Discipline" is consistent with the historical schism between Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Whatever the underlying causes may be, scholarly study of medieval neume notations has proceeded mostly along separate vectors of Western and Eastern scholarship.




§ Byzantine Neume Notation

initial T.he origins of Western neume notation are uncertain. Some scholars believe it derived from Latin accent marks for text. Another school holds that it evolved from Hebrew cantillation marks on sacred texts (which served as reminders for correct intonation of the texts). Yet another theory is that Western notation was invented ex nihilo in the West during the Carolingian period. The most reasonable theory, in my opinion, is that a system of script neumes already existed in the East, which was adapted to the requirements of the Latin language by the Carolingians in their efforts to catalog and systematize Western chant. 11

Wellesz identifies two distinct systems of musical notation in the East. The first was devised for regulating the cantillation of the readings from the Prophets, the Epistles, and the Gospels. The second was to fix the method of chanting certain parts of the ordinary of the Mass, particularly the Kanons, the Stichera, Kontakia, and other poetical texts. 12 He says that notation of the Psalms, Alleluias, and Doxologies does not appear in manuscripts in the East until the 13th century. Grout says that typical Byzantine hymns evolved from short responses, or troparia, between the verses of Psalms, "being furnished with music on the basis of melodies or melody-types perhaps taken over from Syria." 13 Grout divides Byzantine hymns into kontakia and later kanones; the latter probably adapted the melodies of the earlier form. They differ from the metric hymns of the Western Church for their elaborate structure. The kanon consisted of eight divisions, or odes, each having several strophes. Each ode had its own melody. "Each ode corresponded to a specific Biblical canticle .... The canticles of the Byzantine Church, with one exception, still remain today in the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church. The most important of these for the history of music is the Canticle of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Magnificat." 14

The system of notation for the first type of cantillation was the 'ecphonetic signs'; the system for the second type was the 'musical signs proper', or neumes. Both systems are believed to have derived from ancient Greek prosodic signs, which were used to mark texts for proper declamation. Old Greek writing ran together without spaces between words, and so it was difficult to render a fluid recital without the help of these prosodic marks. Invention of the prosodic signs (Greek: prosodic signs) is usually attributed to the grammarian Aristophanes of Byzantium (ca 180 b.c.). From his examination of manuscripts, Wellesz concludes that ecphonetic signs were introduced in the 4th century c.e., but by the 15th century their meaning and proper interpretation had been forgotten. 15 The ecphonetic symbols would fall under Treitler's classification as 'iconic symbols', 16 that is, symbols that represent the shape of a melody, its inflection, and contour without reference to actual pitch or durations of notes.

Wellesz provides the following table of ecphonetic signs for Byzantine manuscripts.


Ekphonetic signs.
Figure 8. Table of ecphonetic signs.
Image: Reproduced from Wellesz, A History of Byzantine Music and Hymnography, p. 252. Wellesz cites as the source a small table on a leaf of Codex Leimon (Lesbos) 38, fol. 318.

Each sign had a specific meaning for the cantillation of text. The Oxeia, for instance, indicated that the voice should "rise and remain on a higher pitch until the end of the phrase," 17 while the Syrmatike indicated an undulating action of the voice. The compound signs appear either in pairs to enclose a segment of text, or in multiples with some special meaning.

The second major system for Byzantine musical notation was neumes. Eastern neumes would fall under Treitler's classification as 'symbolic characters'. Each character is a literal (not pictorial) representation of a note or group of notes, in an analogous way to letters of the alphabet standing for sounds of speech. There is nothing inherent in the shape of the letter 'A' that would lead one to think that it stands for the sound 'ah', and so 'A' is symbolic, not iconic.

An example of a notated Greek text is shown below.

Ekphonetic notation.
Figure 9. Greek Gospel notated with chant signs.
Image: Reproduced from Wellesz, op. cit., p. 256.

Wellesz gives credit to Jean-Baptiste Thibaut as being the first scholar to make a systematic investigation of Byzantine musical notation and to propose that Western neumes originated in the notational culture of Constantinople. 18 Thibaut identifies three periods of Byzantine neumatic notation, as follows:

  1. the early period, when the signs have no distinct intervallic value;
  2. the middle period, when intervals between notes are clearly indicated; and
  3. the late period in which subsidiary symbols are added in red ink to the normal musical notation, which is in black ink.

Ascertaining the dates of Byzantine manuscripts can be quite problem­atical. By contrast, Western manuscripts can be dated (albeit with limited dependability) by the type of script the scribe used. Minuscule script, for instance, was developed by the Carolingians, and manuscripts employing it cannot date from before that period and are unlikely to date later. Gutenberg's printing machine largely ended the copying of books by hand in the West. In the Orthodox world, however, the copying of manuscripts continued almost till modern times. (Mechanical printing of 'New Method' notation of Byzantine music was first used about 1820. Even today in some monasteries, prayers are transcribed by hand and kondakars are compiled.) In Byzantine manuscripts copyists frequently employed a self-consciously archaic script (that dated from the 5th and 6th centuries) for its great beauty: the so-called 'Old Parchment Uncial' script.

The lectionaries were the most precious books, particularly the Evangeliaria [which contained the Gospels], with their richly jewelled covers, and therefore had to be written calligraphically with an archaizing tendency. A script composed of capital letters was more legible in the darkness of the church before dawn or after dusk than the complex forms of minuscule script which developed later. These two causes contributed to make the scribes intensely conservative. 19

The shape of ecphonetic signs remained essentially unchanged for almost five centuries. 20 Telltale signs help sometimes in dating and determining provenance. Wellesz mentions a manuscript from around the year 1000: although most of it is written in Old Parchment Uncial, in places where the scribe started to run out of room on the page he resorted to the more compact 'Liturgical Uncial' that was common in his day. The presence of Liturgical Uncial in a document implies that the manuscript was not written before the 9th century. Other telltale signs help scholars, such as the method of construction and binding of books. Wellesz mentions manuscripts in minuscule script, whose covers consist of two thin wooden plates, glued together, and covered in red leather. Because of the small grooves on the cross-sides and the protruding front-sides of the covers, Wellesz says these manuscripts must have come from Constantinople; only in that area did craftsmen make book bindings of that kind. Ink color can be another telltale indicator. Wellesz mentions a manuscript with the letters of the text written in dark brown ink and ecphonetic signs written in light brown ink, which leads him to believe that the text and music symbols were written by two different scribes at different times. (It is known, however, that in the West typically one scribe copied the text, following which an expert in chant notation wrote the neumes. A more scientific investigation into ink types may be warranted.)

system of musical notation existed in Constantinople well before the Carolingian era in the West and during which time Byzantium was the cultural and religious center of Christendom. It is reasonable to assume that the development of musical notation in the West was influenced by notation practices in Byzantium. This conjecture might be strengthened circumstantially by the idea that the system of ecclesiastical modes was adapted from the Byzantine modes. Clearly, some chants in the Gregorian repertoire have common melodic ancestry with Byzantine chant.




§ Syrian Chant

initial I. believe a strong case might eventually be made for substantial Syrian influence upon early Church music. This idea is based on cultural proximity, the great antiquity of Christianity in Syria, and apparent similarities between modern Syrian melismatic contours of those of Gregorian chant. The influence of Syrian music upon Byzantium, and indirectly on the West, can seem probable, but it is only speculative at this time. No early form of Syrian chant notation is known, which makes such speculation almost impossible to validate.

Gregorian chant melodies were in some cases composed during the Middle Ages; the great bulk of chants, however, were likely inherited from the early church. Many of these may, in turn, have derived from Hebrew Temple chants or from melismatic songs of Syria. Unfortunately, no record survives that would give us positive identification. (If such records once existed, they may have been burned in the sack of Constantinople.) Due to the collapse of the Western empire after a.d. 410, culture was preserved only in Byzantium and the East for a considerable length of time. As discussed above, it is possible that chant repertoires from the Byzantine Church were imported to the West. Such a line of transmission would give credence to the idea that the peculiar nature of Gregorian chant derives indirectly from Syria.

Syrian ecclesiastical chant may have been more rhythmical than Gregorian Chant as it is interpreted today (which is based on a reconstructive interpretation by of the monks of Solesmes).

Syria, being one of the first countries to adopt Christianity, has a long and interesting history of church music. Christian poetry reached an early peak in the hymns, still in use today, of St. Ephrem (d. 373) which represent the beginning of Christian hymn writing and which were imitated by St. Hilarius, bishop of Poitiers (d. 366), and by St. Ambrose, bishop of Milan (d. 397). Ambrose also imported from Syria the practice of antiphonal singing.

Since no early MSS of Syrian chant (if it was ever written down) have been preserved, the present practice of Syrian chant is the only material available for investigation .... It is a good deal more rhythmic and syllabic–thus, in a way, less "Oriental"–than Gregorian chant. To what degree the Syrian chant of today is representative of the early chant is a matter of conjecture and dispute. 21

Alternative renditions of Western chant are given by Dominique Vellard (available on CD 22), which strike me as making better sense aurally and which are more compatible with the rhythmic nature of contemporary Syrian melismas.




§ The Modes

initial S.ome scholars (notably Jacques Chailley) argue that the ecclesiastical modes for classifying the music of the Western Church evolved directly from the modal system of the Byzantine Church. The Western ecclesiastical modes, in any case, are a classification system that is distinct from the ancient Greek modes of octave species, as presented in the Greek musical treatises. Late in the Middle Ages, Church melodies were written to conform to theoretical notions about the ecclesiastical modes, but I believe the modal system was initially used descriptively to impose order upon a disorganized corpus of melodies.

Because [the Carolingians] felt a need for some system of organizing all the melodies and rules of singing, and because of their interest in going back to the authorities of antiquity, they developed the system of the church modes, and together with the church modes they developed the system of eight psalm tones, with its implications for the recitation of the Office.

... the Roman version of Gregorian chant originally did not involve the system of the eight church modes, and ... the system of church modes was adopted only late and gradually into the Roman version from its Frankish counterpart. ... [T]he system of the church modes was developed in the Frankish Empire, and we do not have any evidence of use in Rome before the thirteenth century. 23

By the late Middle Ages, the intellectual ethic of deferring to authority and precedent extended its source materials to the classical Greek authors. Though debate persisted concerning the appropriateness of Greek precedent regarding Christian liturgy, Greek writings were held in increasing esteem as the medieval intellect moved toward the Renaissance. At first it was mainly the elegant style of classical Latin that was admired, but eventually content, too, was taken to be paradigmatic. The ancient Greek modes and Western ecclesiastical modes at first shared only the word 'mode' (an oft-used concept in medieval thinking); as the content of ancient Greek documents became more widely available, confusion was inevitable in trying to reconcile the Church modes with the poorly-understood Greek system (a system that remains poorly understood to this day).



Footnotes
  [1] There are various stories about the word-origin of the name 'Byzantium'. Certainly the word ending ('ium') shows this is a Latin word, or the Latinization of a word from another language. The most credible account says the word is from the name Βυζατας (or, Byzas of Megara), who was the leader of the Greek traders that founded the city.
[2] Cf., the sympathetic account related by Prosper Guéranger (OSB) in, Life of Saint Cecilia. virgin and martyr, (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1960), [New York: P.J. Kenedy & Sons, 1900], [Philadelphia: P. Cunningham, 1866], [Paris: Histoire de Ste Cecile, 1849; 2nd ed., 1852].

A story similar to that of St Cecilia is the life of St Tatiana. She too was a virgin, from a noble family of Rome, and a convert to Christianity. She was appointed as a deaconess of the Roman Church. Civil authorities ordered Tatiana to sacrifice to the sun god Apollo, but Tatiana refused. For this she was sentenced to death around the year 225. She was tortured, her eyes were put out, and she was fed to a lion in a public spectacle. When the lion would not attack her, she was beaten further and her head was cut off. Tatiana is considered the patron saint of students.

[3] The Imperial edict of 27 February 380 established Christianity (as enunciated by the Nicene Creed) as the only true, enlightened religion to be allowed within the borders of the Roman Empire. The text reads in part, "It is our desire that all the various nations which are subject to our Clemency and Moderation, should continue to profess that religion which was delivered to the Romans by the divine Apostle Peter, as it has been preserved by faithful tradition .... We authorize the followers of this law to assume the title of Catholic Christians; but as for the others, ... [t]hey will suffer in the first place the chastisement of the divine condemnation and in the second the punishment of our authority which in accordance with the will of Heaven we shall decide to inflict" (translated by Henry Bettenson, Documents of the Christian Church, 2nd ed., [Oxford, UK: Oxford University, 1967], p. 22). (The original Latin text reads, in excerpt: "Cunctos populos, quos clementiae nostrae regit temperamentum, in tali volumus religione versari, quam divinum Petrum apostolum tradidisse Romanis religio usque ad nunc ab ipso insinuata declarat .... Hanc legem sequentes Christianorum Catholicorum nomen iubemus amplecti, reliquos vero ... divina primum vindicta, post etiam motus nostri, quem ex coelesti arbitrio sumpserimus, ultione plectendos.")
[4] Modern study of primary source documents seems to show that the Plague originated in China several years earlier and spread westward. Cf., J . F. C.. Hecker, "The Black Death," B. G. Babington (trans.); online at, World History Center, http://history-world.org/black_death.htm. Hecker estimates 13 million people died of the Plague in China.

In addition to the obvious stress that Plague mortality put on the economies of many countries (in particular, stress on the agrarian feudal system of the Middle Ages), Hecker remarks that "The mental shock sustained by all nations during the prevalence of the black plague is without parallel and beyond description."

Some information on this webpage about the Plague is drawn from Frederick F. Cartwright, Disease and History, (New York: Dorset, 1972).

[5] Steven Runciman, The Fall of Constantinople 1453, (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University, 1965), p. 9. Runciman writes an excellent account of this event, and circumstances leading up to it, based on his study of contemporaneous primary-source documents in Greek, Slavonic, Latin, and Turkish, plus secondary sources and modern scholarship. [James Cochran Stevenson Runciman (born 1903; died 2000), University of Cambridge-educated historian; famous for his mastery of ancient and Middle Eastern languages; had deep knowledge of Byzantium; travelled extensively.]
[6] "There were still great libraries in the city, some secular and many more attached to monasteries. Most of the books were burnt ..." (Runciman, op. cit., p. 148; he lists his primary sources for this in an endnote). According to other accounts, bonfires of 'infidel books' burned for weeks in various districts of the city, and the smoke could be seen from miles away. The 'books', of course, would have included manuscript codices and individual manuscripts, most of which probably were paper and a lesser number were parchment (viz., sheepskin). Codex bindings would have been made of leather or wood, from which (Runciman says) the Moslems first removed any jewels or other valuable decorations. Undoubtedly, many irreplaceable documents of the Christian church were burned, and probably Roman administrative documents and other items of historical interest. Considering the circumstantial evidence, it seems likely that some writings of classical Greek authors that today are considered as 'lost works' were also burned at Constantinople.
[7] Cf. for instance, 1 John 2:18, "Children, these are the last days; you were told that an Antichrist must come, and now several antichrists have already appeared; we know from this that these are the last days" (The Jerusalem Bible, Alexander Jones, ed., [Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966]).
[8] Runciman, op. cit., p. 134.
[9] The accounts given here of the siege and sack of Constantinople and their aftermath are drawn from Runciman, op. cit., Cpts V-XI.
[10] Richard H. Hoppin, Medieval Music, (New York: W. W. Norton, 1978), pp. 48-49.
[11] Eric Werner in particular advocates this position. See, Eric Werner, The Sacred Bridge, (New York, 1959), Cpts 3, 4. He traces the evolution of ecphonesis from Hebrew, to Byzantine, and ultimately to Western music. Hucke is critical of Werner's scholarship; see Hucke, "New View of Gregorian Chant," fn. 23, infra.
[12] Egon Wellesz, A History of Byzantine Music and Hymnography, (Oxford: Clarendon Press; Oxford University, 1949), p. 246.
[13] Donald Jay Grout, A History of Western Music, (New York: W. W. Norton, 1980), p. 14.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Wellesz, op. cit., p. 247. 'Ecphonetic' is from the Greek ekphonein, meaning to cry out or pronounce. Interestingly, Wellesz finds a close parallel between the system of ecphonetic signs and the system of Syriac accents.
[16] See, Leo Treitler, "The Early History of Music Writing in the West," (Journal of the American Musicological Society, vol. 35, no. 2), pp. 239-41 ff. In technical terms (following the theory of semiotics by the logician Charles Sanders Peirce), with iconic representation there is isomorphism between the sign and the referent.
[17] Wellesz, op. cit., p. 252.
[18] Ibid., p. 261. Here he is refering to J.-B. Thibaut, Monuments de la notation ekphonétique et hagiopolite de l'église grecque (1913). Wellesz cites as the most comprehensive study H. Riemann's Die byzantinische Notenschrift (Leipzig, 1909). Regarding the origins of Western neumation, Treitler cites J.-B. Thibaut, Monuments de la notation ekphonétique et neumatique de l'église latine (1912).
[19] Ibid., p. 247.
[20] Ibid.
[21] Harvard Dictionary of Music, Don Michael Randel, ed., (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 1986), s.v. "Syrian Chant."
[22] Dominique Vellard (Ensemble Gilles Binchois), Canto Gregoriano; Gregorian Chant, (Cantus, CD nr C 9617; 2003). An interesting comparision is the Byzantine chant sung in so-called 'oriental' style of the Church of Lebanon (which is one of the oldest Christian Churches, not far from Jerusalem) by Sœur Marie Keyouz, S.B.C. (Order of the Sisters of Basil), "Chant Byzantin: Passion et Resurrection," (harmonia mundi, CD# 901315), 1989.
[23] Helmut Hucke, "New View of Gregorian Chant," (Journal of the American Musicological Society, vol. XXXIII, no. 3, Fall 1980), p. 465 and 442-43. Treitler concurs, "the melodic families of the repertory had formed before the eight-mode system was imposed over them" (Leo Treitler, "Homer and Gregory: The Transmission of Epic Poetry and Plainchant," [The Musical Quarterly, vol. LX, no. 3, July 1974], p. 347).
Credits
  Masthead image: Lincoln College (The University of Oxford), Ms. Gr. 35, f. 6r; Constantinople, late 13th century. From the Typikon, Rule for the Convent of Our Lady of Good Hope (or, the 'Lincoln Typikon'). Reproduced from Wellesz, A History of Byzantine Music and Hymnography, frontispiece. The image depicts the Great Stratopedarches John Comnenus Doukas Synadenos (or, Ducas Syndenus) and his wife, Theodora (or, Theodoule), who were members of the Byzantine royal family.



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This revision: 3 February 2012.
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