Prologue by Gregorios Stathis

Concerning Adaptation

Concerning Notation

Byzantine vs. Western Notation

About the Translation

The History of Byzantine Chant

Writing Byzantine Music

Epilogue by
  Photios Kontoglou

Guidelines for Greek Pronunciation

The Intervals of the Soft Chromatic Modal Genre

The Intonations of the Eight Modes



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Recordings on CD

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Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom
St. Basil's Divine Liturgy
Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts
St. James' Liturgy
Menaion (Feast Days)
Triodion and Pentecostarion


one of the aforementioned quantitative, qualitative, and spiritual differences can be fully appreciated simply by reading a description of them; it is necessary to hear a proper execution of Byzantine chant in the context of a worship service in order to appreciate its ethos and to understand how it differs from Western secular music. Furthermore, any attempt to perform Byzantine chant solely from music written in Western staff notation will inevitably be inadequate, [42] since the latter is determinative while Byzantine notation is descriptive. [43] Nevertheless, such an attempt is necessitated by current trends in Orthodox churches of the West, the majority of which do not use the traditional Byzantine chant developed by the saints. On the contrary, they prefer music written in Western notation that is either completely heterodox in origin, or if it is of Orthodox origin, it has been seriously altered by secular or heterodox influences (such as harmonization, polyphony, the accompaniment of an organ, [44] etc.). As a consequence of this departure from tradition, Dr. Conomos writes:

"[Church music must regain its holiness.] Today this means freeing Church music from the heavy burden of centuries of decadence and secularism. Holiness means otherness, sacredness, apartnessnot the common or the ordinary but the unique, the particular, the uncontaminated. [45] The real concern of those responsible for musical performance in the Orthodox Church today should be to draw upon the richness of the Church's centuries-old, accumulated practices and traditions in order to discover the cardinal contribution that [Byzantine] music has made to its liturgical life." [46]

Similarly, in 1882 the great composer Tchaikovsky wrote, "The rebirth of our church singing lies in the characteristic spirit of its ancient melodies with their stately, simple, sober beauty." [47] Likewise, Alexander Kastal'sky, who was a disciple of Tchaikovsky and another distinguished composer of polyphonic music, became disenchanted with modern compositions in his later years and said in 1913:

"If we fall into the present-day tendency to create music that is too complex, for the sake of sound effects that are fashionable, then it will lead only to the fact that church music will become the same as secular musiconly with sacred text. Our indigenous church melodies when set chorally lose all their individuality: how distinctive they are when sung in unison by the Old Believers, [48] and how insipid they are in the conventional four-part arrangements of our classic composers, on which we have prided ourselves for nearly a hundred years; it is touching, but spurious. The future of our creative work for the church should be to get away from continual four-part writing. I should like to have a music that could be heard nowhere except in a church, and which would be as distinct from secular music as church vestments are from the dress of the laity." [49]

The ideal way for Orthodox parishes to return to traditional roots would be for their choristers to learn and use Byzantine notation and thus reap the many benefits of knowing this notation. [50] But since Byzantine chant is a sacred art that usually requires an experienced teacher and years of training to learn thoroughly, few people in the West are able to do so. Our solution, therefore, is to bring Byzantine music to them in a form more easily accessiblein a notation they can read. [51] It is to this end that this book has been written.

The troparia in this book have been selected from masterpieces of Byzantine composition written down by the greatest chanters of the preceding three centuries. Even though they have been taken from books [52] written in recent times, the actual melodies are for the most part several centuries older. These melodies are those most commonly used today on the Holy Mountain, which for over a millennium has been a bastion of traditional Orthodoxy. Likewise, the style of embellishment is that which is used by contemporary monks of the Holy Mountain.

It is our humble prayer that this book and the accompanying recordings will help all who wish to embrace the divine music of the Orthodox Church in its traditional form as preserved on the Holy Mountain, to the glory of God.

[42] As Tillyard observed, "to appreciate and enjoy a Byzantine hymn, it must not merely be played over on the piano, but thoroughly mastered and sung with the words and with due regard to rhythm and expression." (Tillyard, H.J.W., Handbook of the Middle Byzantine Musical Notation, p. 13.) back to reference

[43] As Professor Demetrios Giannelos explains: "A descriptive notation, such as that of Byzantine music, describes the essentials of the piece, leaving to oral tradition the task of completing with precision whatever is not described. On the contrary, a determinative form of writing, such as Western notation with staves, determines with great precision the manner of execution, to the point that the interpretation of the person executing it is delineated by factors that depend directly on the definitive indications of the music symbols. These indications can be so absolutely restricting that they preclude all room for interpretation." (Θεωρία καὶ Πράξη τῆς Ψαλτικῆς Τέχνης, Πρακτικ Α᾽ Πανελληνίου Συνεδρίου Ψαλτικῆς Τέχνης, Ἵδρυμα Βυζαντινς Μουσικολογίας, Ἀθήνα, 2001, σελ. 173.) Moreover, a piece written in descriptive notation has the flexibility to be chanted simply by a beginning chanter and elaborately by an experienced chanter. Incidentally, this corresponds to the parables of Christ, which contain simple messages for the simple, but also deeper meanings for those who have "ears to hear."
Nevertheless, this super-prescriptive aspect of staff notation is not an inherent but an assumed attribute. As Dr. Lingas explicates: "[A] Byzantine melody written in Western score, in contrast to a transmission in Byzantine neumes of any period, is assumed to be a relatively complete representation of its realisation in sound. Yet such assumptions are a relatively recent development, for staff notation, like its Byzantine counterpart, has only gradually progressed toward greater precision." (Lingas, Alexander, "Performance Practice and the Politics of Transcribing Byzantine Chant," Acta Musicae Byzantinae, Vol. VI, p. 56. Available online at: http://www.csbi.ro/gb/revista.html) back to reference

[44] Despite the popular notion that the organ is an "ecclesiastical instrument" and despite the erroneous statements propagated by the Greek Orthodox Hymnal of George Anastassiou regarding its supposed liturgical use by the Byzantines, the fact remains that the organ was a secular instrument for one thousand years before it was introduced in the Western church in the ninth century, while in the Eastern Orthodox Church it was never used until only very recently and only in some places, contrary to traditional practice. (Vid. Παπαδόπουλος, Γεώργιος, Ἱστορικὴ Ἐπισκόπησις τῆς Βυζαντινῆς Ἐκκλησιαστικῆς Μουσικῆς, Ἀθῆναι, 1904, σελ. 72-74.) back to reference

[45] Excerpt from a lecture published on Monachos.net, February 2003. back to reference

[46] Conomos, Dimitri E., Byzantine Hymnography and Byzantine Chant, Hellenic College Press, Brookline, Mass., 1984, p. 29. back to reference

[47] П. Чайковский, Предисловие П.И. Чайковского к первому изданию "Всенощного Бдения" опубликовано в Чайковский: Полное собрание сочинений под редакцией Л. Корабельниковой и М. Рахмановой, (Москва: 1990), с. 273. back to reference

[48] The "Old Believers" are a conservative faction that in the mid-seventeenth century refused to accept the liturgical reforms of Patriarch Nikon and the introduction of polyphonic, Western-style choral singing into Orthodox worship. (cf. Gardner, Johann von, Russian Church Singing, Vol. 2, p. 280.) back to reference

[49] English translation taken from S.W. Pring: Kastal'sky, A. "My Musical Career and my Thoughts on Church Music," The Musical Quarterly, XI, no. 2 (1925), p. 245 and http://liturgica.com.   back to reference

[50] For a detailed exposition of the advantages of Byzantine notation, please read our "Byzantine vs. Western Notation" webpage. back to reference

[51] In the early twentieth century, Tillyard transcribed many ancient Byzantine hymns into Western notation and reached the following conclusions: "[A]n attempt to harmonise Byzantine hymns or to adapt them to a conventional European pattern for congregational use seems to us a mistake. Our plea is that Greek [i.e., Byzantine] music should be sung in the Greek wayunaccompanied, save by the drone, and in free rhythm. For such performance no knowledge of the Byzantine notation would be needed. An accurate transcription, either in Gregorian four-line staff, or in our ordinary clefs, would answer perfectly, so long as the singer had a general notion of the mediŠval style of chant. Seeing the glorious re-awakening of Gregorian music in our own time, we may not unreasonably hope that its Eastern counterpart will also regain a worthy position." (Tillyard, H.J.W., Byzantine Music and Hymnography, Faith Press, London, 1923, p. 70.) back to reference

[52] The complete list of books used for this publication may be found in the Sources page. back to reference