Prologue by Gregorios Stathis

Byzantine vs. Western Notation

Concerning Adaptation

About the   Translation

The History of Byzantine Chant

Writing Byzantine Music

Epilogue by
  Photios Kontoglou

The Intervals of the Soft Chromatic Modal Genre

The Intonations of   the Eight Modes



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ccurate liturgical translations rarely have the same meter as the original text. As a result, either the original melody must change to accommodate the new pattern of accented and unaccented syllables, or the words must be forced into a melody that was designed for a different text. When the original melody is not well known, most people would agree that the original melody should be discarded and a new melody composed. When, however, the original melody is known and loved by many, most people prefer a musical arrangement of the text that resembles the original melody to a certain degree. Opinions vary as to what degree this should be.

To illustrate different degrees of preserving the original melody, we shall compare various arrangements for the initial words of the vesper psalm verse “Lord, I have cried” (Κύριε ἐκέκραξα) in sticheraric first mode. The version of this that is considered by most to be the “original melody” is found on page nine in the Anastasimatarion of Petros the Peloponnesian (d. 1777) as published by Ioannis the Protopsaltis (d. 1866), which begins as follows:


The first adaptation we shall analyze is taken from the Divine Liturgy Hymnal, [1] commonly known in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America as “the green book.”

This example has the advantage of preserving the original melody [2] so well that both the English and the Greek could be used in the same score. It has the disadvantage, though, of unnecessarily repeating the phrase “to You.” Another problem with this setting is that the melody for the first instance of the word “Lord” breaks the formulaic rules of composition for Byzantine music that dictate which melodic lines may be used to match a particular syllabic pattern. The melody for the phrase “me O Lord” is a standard formula in Byzantine music. However, placing the word “O” on the wrong note betrays either an ignorance of or disrespect towards the traditional application of this formula. Breaking the formulaic rules is a problem not only ideologically (in that such compositions cannot be considered a valid continuation of the tradition of Orthodox chant—which, as the musicologist Dimitri Conomos has pointed out, is “the only music in world history that has a continuous 1500-year unbroken melodic tradition”) but also aesthetically, because—to quote Conomos again—“these age-old chants, especially preserved on Mount Athos, bear a relevance and a beauty that is unmatched by other, later productions.” Besides, melodies that break these rules usually sound awkward even to the untrained ear, due to an unbalanced match between words and melody.

The second example is taken from the Anastasimatarion: Resurrectional Hymnal, [3] which contains music composed by Hieromonk Seraphim Dedes.

This second example also has advantages and disadvantages similar to the first example. [4] In particular, the text has been adjusted to fit the melody better (the phrase “hear me” is repeated a total of six times whereas the original version of the hymn uses this phrase only four times). The melody also stretches the formulaic rules of Byzantine music composition: a melodic phrase requiring three syllables was used for the two syllables “Lord I” and “cried un-”. This example differs from the first example in that the melody has been slightly changed to fit the text better. Namely, the one-beat rest following the martyria was used instead of an ison. An advantage of this example is that it is written in a traditional notation of the Orthodox Church. We have enumerated the reasons why Byzantine music notation is superior to Western notation in an essay at:

The next example was written by David Melling of blessed memory, a Byzantine musicologist in England.

This adaptation has preserved the original melody essentially unaltered, as did the previous two examples. But this version differs from them in that it does not repeat words that are not repeated in the original. Since, however, the Greek text has more syllables than the English translation, some words in this version have been extended over a dozen notes. Although such a phenomenon does occur occasionally in the sticheraric genus of hymns, it only happens with particular melodic lines. The melodic lines in this adaptation, however, would always be used with more syllables in regular Byzantine music.

The fourth example is taken from page one of our Vespers book:

This setting has advantages and disadvantages different than the first three examples. Its primary disadvantage is that the original melody has not been preserved. A further disadvantage of this example is that it is in Western notation. [5] Its advantages, though, are that the text has not been tampered with in order to mimic the syllabic pattern of the original hymn in Greek, and the melody has been molded to match the text in perfect compliance with the formulaic rules of Byzantine music.

The following adaptation is by John Michael Boyer, the Protopsaltis of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco, who studied Byzantine chant in Greece under the Archon Protopsaltis Lycourgos Angelopoulos:

This adaptation is nearly identical to the previous example, even though the two were composed independently. The only melodic difference occurs on the first word. This adaptation also complies fully with the formulaic rules of Byzantine music and is flawless in terms of orthography. Another obvious difference between this and the previous version is that the latter is written in Byzantine notation and includes the oxeia that Simon Karas recommended reintroducing and the markings for syneptygmenos rhythm.

The next example is from the Byzantine Music Project by Dr. Basil Kazan of blessed memory:

This adaptation combines the advantages and disadvantages of the previous examples. In some places (in the first measure, for example), the melody has been altered to match the text better, while in other places (e.g., in the third measure), the original melody has been preserved at the expense of breaking the formulaic rules of Byzantine music. For example, the melody for the two-syllable word “unto” is never used for two syllables in sticheraric first mode in Byzantine music in Greek—but always for only one syllable. It should be pointed out, though, that Byzantine music in Arabic very frequently inserts extra syllables into formulae of Greek Byzantine music. Therefore, one could justifiably argue that this standard practice of theirs is not wrong but merely represents a different tradition that is well established. Another drawback of this adaptation is that the words that would be accentuated when reading this text aloud are not emphasized by the melody: in the first independent clause “O Lord, I have cried out unto Thee,” one would normally accentuate the words “Lord,” “cried,” and “Thee.” The melody, however, emphasizes the words “I” and “Thee.”

The next example is an adaptation in English by Nancy Takis of Michigan.

The melody of this adaptation has been altered to match the text, without distorting the text to fit the original melody better. This example conforms well to the formulaic rules of Byzantine music except in two places where the rules have been stretched in order to imitate the original melody better: 1) the melody for the phrase “cried out to thee” in the second staff is a hybrid combination of a heirmologic formula of plagal first mode with a sticheraric formula of first mode, and 2) the melodic phrase for the words “me, O Lord” in the first two measures of the second staff is appropriate for two syllables instead of three. In order to use this melodic phrase (known as the κύλισμα in the old Byzantine notation) for three syllables, the embellishment of the first note is expressly written out either as a petastē with a klásma, or as an ison and kentēmata with a gorgón all above an oligon. The ramifications of this for music in Western notation are that the melody for the first of the three syllables should be written either as four eighth notes (on F, G, F, and E in this instance) or as a dotted eighth note followed by a sixteenth note and two eighth notes (again on F, G, F, and E). A significant advantage of this adaptation in comparison to the previous example by Kazan is that the melody emphasizes the words that one would emphasize when reading the text aloud.[5b]

The following example is an adaptation by Kevin Lawrence of North Carolina.

This adaptation has successfully followed the original melody quite closely. The only difference is that in three places a quarter note has either been inserted or removed so that the melody would match the English text better. In particular, a quarter note has been added in the first two staves for both instances of the word “O,” and in the second measure of the second staff, a dotted half note is used instead of a half note and a quarter note. An inevitable result of preserving the original melody so well in a different language is that the formulaic rules of Byzantine music must be broken, due to the different number of syllables in the translation. This can be observed in the first measure of the second staff where the melody for the word “hear” is associated with only one syllable instead of two. Likewise, the melody for the word “hear” in the middle of the third staff would normally have two syllables, but here it has only one. These imperfections may be considered minor since the melody does not cloud the meaning of the text by emphasizing unaccentuated syllables.

The following polyphonic setting is by Fr. James Meena of blessed memory, who was an archpriest of the Antiochian Archdiocese of America. Although having multiple parts clouds the modality of Byzantine music, we can still critique the arrangement by examining only the soprano’s melody.

This adaptation is similar to the previous example in that the original melody has been preserved quite well. This example differs in that the text has been altered to fit the music better: the phrase “to Thee have I cried” in the first line is changed to “I have cried unto Thee” in the third line. Likewise, the phrase “hear me” in the first and second lines is changed to “O hear me, hear me” in the third line, thus repeating this phrase more times than it is repeated in the original Greek. Another drawback of using the original melody nearly unaltered is that it unavoidably emphasizes unduly the word “I” in the second line. This arrangement also breaks the formulaic rules by associating the two syllables “have I” with two consecutive quarter notes in the first line, since the rules dictate that a single syllable with a half note belongs in this melodic phrase.

The next example is taken from the website of the Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Brookline, Massachusetts. [6]

This is an adaptation of a more contemporary version of this hymn, taken from a book published in 1952 by Constantine Pringos, the Archon Protopsaltis of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. [7]

Comparing the two, we can see that the English adaptation has successfully captured the flavor of the original and several of its melodic phrases. Furthermore, this transcription in Western notation includes many of the implied embellishments of Byzantine chant. It also follows the formulaic rules perfectly, except in the beginning of the second staff where the word “me” is used with a melodic phrase that is supposed to have two syllables instead of only one.

We shall now proceed to examine various adaptions of this hymn in other foreign languages. The following example is taken from an Anastasimatarion in Rumanian: [8]

This example is similar to the fourth and fifth examples in that the original Greek melody has not been preserved, but the text has not been distorted, and the music follows the formulaic rules of Byzantine music. It also follows the orthographical rules faithfully, except in one place: the elaphrón and the kentēmata for the syllable “zi” in the first line should not be placed above an oligon, since they are not followed by a descending character.

The next example is an adaptation in Spanish by Panagiotis Katsoulis from Athens, a son of the great teacher and protopsaltis, Konstantinos Katsoulis (1930-1987):

Again, minor changes have been made to the original melody in order to match the text, and words have not been unnecessarily duplicated. The only problem with this adaptaion is that it contains a few orthographical errors. In particular, the vareia in the first line should be removed, vareias should be added before the two-beat apóstrophoses in the second and third lines, and the synechés elaphrón should be replaced by an yporroē. Nevertheless, this adaptation faithfully follows the formulaic rules of Byzantine music composition.

The following example is an adaptation in Arabic by Mitri el-Murr (1880-1969), the Protopsaltis of the Patriarchate of Antioch, who was the first to write troparia in Arabic in Byzantine notation:

As with the previous example in Rumanian, we see that the original melody has been changed to match the text, while conforming perfectly to the formulaic rules of Byzantine music. Note that only subtle changes in the melody were made so as to retain the “flavor” of the original melody. There are, however, three slight orthographical inaccuracies in this adaptation: the sýndesmos in the first line should be a vareia, the antikénoma with an aplē in the third line should be replaced by a petastē with a klásma, and the sýndesmos in the second line should be removed.

The next example is an adaptation in English based on the Arabic melody by Sub-Deacon Karim El-Far of California:

Comparing this with the Arabic prototype, we see that the melody is identical, except for the notes that have been added to account for the word “O” in both the first and third lines. A drawback of preserving the original melody unchanged is evident in several places where an unaccented word becomes musically accentuated by the melody. In particular, the words “unto” and “Thou” in the first line and the word “have” in the third line are unduly emphasized by the melody. Another drawback of not changing the original melody is that the formulaic rules have been broken in the third line where the word “Lord” is extended over three notes. In terms of orthography, this example has the same orthographical errors as the Arabic prototype. It has an additional orthographical mistake in the first line, where the second note should be an ison preceded by a vareia, rather than an ison above a petastē.

The following example is a Bulgarian adaptation taken from a book published in Church Slavonic in Constantinople in 1859 by Hadji Angel Ioanov Sevlievets:

Here the original melody has been discarded and a new melody has been composed that conforms perfectly to the formulaic and orthographical rules of Byzantine music. Evidently, the prototype for this adaptation was neither the version of this hymn published by Ioannis the Protospaltis (presented in the beginning of this article) nor the original composition by Petros the Peloponnesian, (shown below in the old notation), but most likely was the version published by Petros Ephesios in 1820 (presented below). [9] This can safely be assumed since the first six notes in both versions are identical and since both versions have a medial cadence on Ζω.

The version of this hymn by Petros Ephesios begins as follows: [10]

Notice that in the version in the old notation, the entire melody of the first line is repeated verbatim from the end of the second line until near the end of the third line. Although this version also begins with the same musical phrase as the version by Ephesios, it does not have a medial cadence on its mesos “Ζω” as do Ephesios and Selvievec. Therefore, it is probable that Selvievec based his melody on the version by Ephesios

This melody in Church Slavonic was originally composed by a Bulgarian, but it was also transcribed by Monk Vikentije Vuchkovich of the Serbian Monastery of Hilandar in the late nineteenth century.

Returning to our analysis of adaptations in foreign languages, the next example we shall examine is another version in Church Slavonic. This one is taken from a recent publication [11] in Bulgaria which is a reprint of a book published in 1872 in Constantinople: [12]


The melody in this example differs in only a few places from the melody in the other example in Church Slavonic. In both of them the original melody has been altered in order to match the syllabic pattern of the translation in accordance with the formulaic rules of Byzantine music. Note that this publication continues the ancient manuscript tradition of including a decorative header, inserting an elaborate initial capital letter, and writing Byzantine notation in both red and black (or brown) ink. This example is free of orthographical errors, but a minor typographical defect is that the font used to typeset the music puts the klásma and the gorgón too far above the apóstrophos and the yporroē. [13]

The following example is an adaptation by Andréa Atlanti of France, who studied Byzantine chant in Greece under the Protopsaltis Zacharias Paschalides.

This adaptation is another example wherein the original melody was discarded so that the melody would match the words in perfect conformity to the formulaic rules. This example also has perfect orthography except for one minor detail: the apóstrophos in the second line above the syllable “moi” should have a petastē beneath it.



In summary, the versions of this hymn written in countries where Byzantine chant has existed for centuries (Bulgaria, Greece, Rumania, Serbia, and Syria) have two characteristics in common: the melody has been molded to match the text, and the text has not been tampered with in order to fit a particular melody. On the other hand, most arrangements of this hymn from America—where Byzantine chant has only recently appeared—preserve characteristics of the original melody at the expense of the text. In particular, three compromises have been observed in such adaptations: 1) The text itself has been tampered with in order to mimic the syllabic pattern of the original hymn, 2) unaccented syllables are unduly emphasized by the melody, and/or 3) the formulaic rules of Byzantine music composition have been stretched or disregarded. One can surmise that these compromises are not found in the hymns in countries where Byzantine chant has existed for centuries because composers with a thorough grasp of Byzantine chant abound in such places. In America, however, where Byzantine chant is new and expertise in it is rare, most attempts to arrange hymns have some or all of the aforementioned shortcomings. As regards orthography, we have seen that examples taken from the nineteenth century have few or no errors, whereas examples written in recent times tend to have more orthographical errors, regardless of where they were written.

anian, Arabic, and French contain minor alterations to the original Greek melody but conform to the formulaic rules of Byzantine music. On the other hand the arrangements of this hymn in English (except for ours) preserved the original melody to a greater degree but at the cost of breaking formulaic rules.

The question then arises, which arrangement is best? The answer to this subjective question will depend on what one believes to be the ideal degree of alteration for Byzantine melodies when adapting them to texts in a foreign language, and further, if one believes that the text may be changed to mimic the syllabic pattern of the original melody. Since the melodies in this book belong to the syllabic “sticheraric” and “heirmologic” genres, which are text-based and text-emphatic (as opposed to the melismatic “papadic” genre), we believe that the goal should be to alter or obscure the text as little as possible. Thus, our preference (in this book, at least) [14] has been to follow the example set by the adaptations made in countries with a strong tradition of Byzantine chant. In other words, we have made whatever changes necessary to the original melody to make it match the corresponding text in complete accordance with the orthographical and formulaic rules of Byzantine music composition, without altering the text. This singular achievement in English was made possible only by constantly referring to our compilation of these formulaic rules. We have posted them in a new webpage with the hope that other composers and arrangers of Byzantine music in any language will also benefit as much as we have by using them. Based on these formulae, we have also created an online seminar for composers of Byzantine music in English.




[1] The Divine Liturgy Hymnal, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of N. & S. America, Department of Religious Education, Brookline, Mass., second edition, 1982, p. 119.  back to reference

[2] This arrangement is actually a transcription of the following melody written by John Sakellaridis in his book Ἱερὰ Ὑμνῳδία, which differs only slightly from the original melody by Ioannis the Protopsaltis.  back to reference

[3] Anastasimatarion: Resurrectional Hymnal, Great Vespers of Saturday Evening, Byzantine Music in Greek and English, Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, Brookline, 2004, p. 1.  back to reference

[4] It should be pointed out, though, that this publication does not always preserve the original melodies unchanged. Usually the original melodies have been adjusted to a greater degree in order to match the English text better.  back to reference

[5] We decided to publish the music of this book first in Western notation despite its drawbacks, since the vast majority of chanters today know only Western notation. Our Vespers book is now available also in Byzantine notation.  back to reference

[5b] This example is an early work of Mrs. Takis, who has granted us permission to use it for educational purposes. She has since revised the hymn with a more proper use of formulae. For a copy of the new version, please contact takistan@yahoo.com.   back to reference

[6] See http://www.homb.org/frameset-sitemap.htm    back to reference

[7] Πρίγγου, Κωνσταντίνου, Πατριαρχικὴ Φόρμιγξ - Ἀναστασιματάριον, Ἀθῆναι, 1974, σελ. 15.  back to reference

[8] Anastasimatarul, Sfintei Monastiri Neamţu, Bucureşti, 1943, p. 1.  back to reference

[9] Ἐφέσιος, Πέτρος, Νέον Ἀναστασιματάριον, ἐν Βουκορεστίῳ, 1820, σελ. 1.  back to reference

[10] As an aside regarding orthography, an astute observer will notice that Petros Ephesios (d. 1840) used an oligon for the second to last note in the first line for the syllable “σα,” whereas Ioannis the Protopsaltis (d. 1866) in the first example of this essay used a petastē in the same situation. A little-known rule of orthography dictates that an oligon must be used in this situation. (See Οἰκονόμου Χαραλάμπους, Βυζαντινῆς Μουσικῆς Χορδή, ἐν Ἱερᾷ Μητροπόλει Πάφου-Κύπρου, 1940, σελ. 26, §55γ, or rule #2d in our compilation at:
http://www.stanthonysmonastery.org/music/ByzOrthography.pdf) Further evidence that the oligon is indeed more correct is found by examining manuscripts of the Three Teachers and their immediate disciples. For example, the following facsimilie of a manuscript written in 1839 (MS 23501
Σπουδαστήριον Πρακτιτῆς Θεολογίας, Πανεπιστήμιον Θεσσαλονίκης, φ. 1α.) correctly uses the oligon:             back to reference

[11] Т. Икономов, Обширен Псалтикиен Възкресник, Осмогласник, Утренни Възкресни Стихири. Църковен Клир 2. Преработка, оформление и издател: Браството на Мъжка Общежителна Света Обител "Св. Иоан Рилски", с. Скрино – Руен, редактор: Андрей Касабов. стр. 29.  back to reference

[12] Воскресник или Церковно Восточное Песно-Пение, Содержающе Осмогласника и Оутренните Стихиры. Написан от Т. Икономова. Напечатан же иждевением Андрея Анастасова и С-ие. Цариград. 1872. стр. 17. The melodies in this book are for the most part identical to those found in the first Bulgarian book of Byzantine music printed in 1847 in Bucharest by Nikola Triandafilov.   back to reference

[13] This example was written using the font “ED Psaltica” and it is available online at www.cmkon.org/fonts.htm Because of this and its other imperfections, we created our own “EZ Psaltica” font package, which is available online at:
http://www.stanthonysmonastery.org/music/ByzMusicFonts.html    back to reference

[14] In our Divine Liturgies book, for some hymns we composed new melodies that would match the English text without breaking any formulaic rules, while for other hymns we disregarded the rules in order to preserve the original melody with few or no changes. This was intentional, because many people know the melodies of those hymns, and they would prefer an adaptation that sounds familiar, whereas in this Vespers book, most of the troparia of the octoechos are not well known. Therefore, we preserved only the general melodic movements of each troparion, while adapting the words to their appropriate melodic formulae. Only in the Apolytikia and sometimes in the “Lord I have cried” (which are the only two parts of the service with which many people are very familiar) did we slightly stretch the formulaic rules in order to accommodate more of the original melody.  back to reference