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Jason Hinterweger
Jason Hinterweger

Psalm 134, Greek Orthodox Byzantine Chant



The Songs of Ascent are also known as the gradual psalms in the West given the Latin translation of the title (canticum graduum). They became a standard part of the medieval prymers based on earlier early medieval monastic practice. Ardo's life of Benedict of Aniane tells how he had his monks chant the 15 gradual psalms before Matins, five for the living faithful, five for the faithful departed, five for the recently departed.There was also a Marian connection here because in the apocryphal materials on Mary's early life she sang these psalms when she was dedicated to the Temple. So--in the West, these got tied into two of their favorite themes: Mary and the dead.




Psalm 134, Greek Orthodox Byzantine Chant



Many early hermits observed the practice of reciting the entire Psalter daily, coenobitic communities would chant the entire Psalter through in a week, so these psalms would be said on a regular basis, during the course of the Canonical hours.


The ethnonym “Bulgarian” (boulgarikon)appears in the late Byzantine musical manuscripts (with lateByzantine notation) as early as in the first half of the 14thcentury.12 It permanently accompanied two Greekmelodies (in the 4th authentic and the 6thplagal mode) of the polyeleos repertory to psalm 135, neumated inthe new type of chant books (whose compilation is ascribed toJohn Koukouzeles)13 – the so called Akolouthiai– Order of Services: orthros, vespers, lithurgy. The newchant books witness a process of enlargement and enrichment ofthe church chant characteristic of the late Byzantine time, orthe time, when the so called “mixed” Jerusalem Typikonwas established.14 The appearance of the ethnonym isrelated to the one of the main forms of enrichment of the songrepertory in the late Byzantine time, the so called “multiplesinging” or the inclusion into the repertory of more thanone melodic version of a liturgical song text, where differentauthors’ and local attributions were used, as for exampleagioreitikon (in Month Athos), agiosophiticon (of the GreatChurch of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople) or thessalonikaion (inThessalonike ), etc.


To these two melodies related to theethnonym “Bulgarian” (boulgarikon) we have to add thefamous polyeleos melody called “e boulgara” (“theBulgarian woman”); this melody belongs to a song cycle ofpsalm 134, in the 1st authentic mode. The result ofcomparative studies showed that a unique melodic episode was usedin the repertory of psalm 134 (modulating in the second authenticmode), which supposedly represents an interpolation of aBulgarian epic melodic motive.


The comparative analysis of the threemelodies showed relations with the strophic type of psalmody.Discovering them in cycles of the region of Thessalonike led tothe hypothesis that the melodies were connected to an earlierAthonite chant tradition.15


There was one more lucky coincidence: inthe Great Skit Heirmologia of “Bolgarskij napel” thesame stichera texts were written down in notes (with the Kievanstaff notation). The existence of records of two parallel in textchants of two different notations – of the late Byzantinenotation and in “transcription” into a Kievan staffnotation provided an excellent opportunity for a comparativestudy. This research revealed a degree of melodic similarityproving the Balkan origin of the “Bulgarian” GratSkit melodies, melodies belonging to the repertory ofBolgarskij napel. The stylistic characterisation of the melodiesin the two sources has also become possible: these arecompositions of psalmodic type, strophically composed andfollowing a common melodic model, typified melodic formula-cuts (popevki)of a common repertory. The possibilities for studying the BalkanSlavinic chanting provided by the Anthology of Zhegligovo arecomplementary to the bilingual Greek-Slavonic sources of themusical manuscripts’ family well-known to the Byzantology,which has its origin in the Putna monastery of Moldovaestablished one century later, in the 16th century30. but the written practice could not be preserved in the Slavonicchanting in the Balkans, it remained in the oral tradition untilthe second half of the 18th century.


It is known that the “classical”Byzantine Sticherarion as a collection of stichera belongs to the7th (the second half) – 10th century.This was the time, when two kinds of hymnody were practised,the idiomela (samoglasni), where the singers warmed up forchanting by means of a melody especially adapted to the concretetext, which could not be applied to another text, and theprosomia (podobni), where the chant did not have a melody ofits own being composed on a metric syllabic model and on themelody of the chosen idiomelon31. Each well-knownidiomelon could have become automelon (samopodoben), i.e. toserve as a model for new hymns. The problem of the correlationbetween the two forms of the hymnody is very complicated, so thatI cannot explain it here. I would like only to refer to a recentscientific result achieved by the Russian Byzantiologist IrinaShkolnik32, who identifies a third kind of hymnody.For this early kind of chanting she offers the term “echossinging” (“na glas”) (the term is preserved in thesong terminology of the Russian staroobrjadno (old believers’tradition) after the schisma in the Russian church in the late 17thcentury). According to Irina Shkolnik this is a practice, whichis neither prosomoia, nor idiomela. This is a chanting, by whichevery text could be sung to one and the same simple melody of themode according to certain rules. This exclusively oral kind ofchanting was close to the psalmody. It was based on one simplemelodic model, which can be reduced to one or several musicallines. It has a small quantity of musical formulas and impliesthe manner of its connection. The model allowed the introductionof some melodic changes, elements of the musical developmentindividualised to a certain degree in relation to the text,moments of melodic culmination, the use of modally differentmelodic formula (most often an exchange of formulas between therespective authentic and plagal modes). The musical composing ofthe echos melodies has not been an individual task: the singerhad to adapt only the formula of the melodic model to the textaccents and the text parts (semi-verses, whole and long verses),but in this way the hymnody had to a certain degree an adequatemusical realisation (regarding the structure and the meaning ofthe text). Tracing back the development of the two main kinds ofhymnody I. Shkolnik suggests that this old echos chanting has notbeen dominating until the mid-7th century, when theidiomela singing started reaching its highs in the works of thefamous hymn writers of the St. Saba Monastery, Andrey of Crete,John Damaskenos, Kozma of Mayuma. The echos chant disappears orgoes over to a marginal position at the time of the developmentof the Idiomela chanting connected with the increase of theauthors’ individual elements in the church poetry. Thisimportant turning point in the Byzantine poetry contributes tothe development of the modes and the melos, and in the end-7thcentury the oktoechos reach their classic shape.


After investigating the above outlinedcontext it turned out that the Slavonic stichera prosomoia of theAnthology of Zhegligovo fully correspond to the characteristicsof the early “echos” chanting. These are psalmodicmelodies, strophic in composition (built on a constant repetitionof one melodic model, where the intonation follows the usual twolevels, those of the main and the secondary supporting tone, withintermediate and final cadences). At the same time, the composingof those melodic models on the basis of the common repertory ofmelodic formula-cuts (determined in the manuscript of Zhegligovoby means of melodic-segmenting dots) gives place toindividualising the melodies to a certain extend according to theaccentuation, the syllabic composition and the meaning of thetexts. In other words, because of these characteristics we canassume that the Slavic chanting represented in the Anthology ofZhegligovo and bearing similarities to the melodies of “Bolgarskijnapel” is of the early chanting “echos” type34(I will refer to the famous Russian mediavist Ivan Voznesenskijpointing out exactly this specificity of the “Bolgarskijrospev” melodies in his book of 1905).


In conclusion of the above we can set upthe hypothesis that upon converting to Christianity in the 9thcentury the echos singing has been established in our country,specifically combining norms of the Idiomela and the Prosomoiasinging; exactly the capabilities of this singing close to thepsalmody of the strophic type on the basis of few melodic modelsand melodic formula (and the rules for their combination) havemanaged orally to reproduce the Slavic chant poetry in the courseof centuries.


The Psalms have always been an important part of Roman Catholic liturgy. The Liturgy of the Hours is centered on chanting or recitation of the Psalms, using fixed melodic formulas known as psalm tones. Early Catholics employed the Psalms widely in their individual prayers also.


English Protestants sang from the S&H throughout the 17th century, and it became one of the principal liturgical resources of the Church of England, along with the Book of Common Prayer, Miles Coverdale's prose Psalter, the Books of Homilies, and the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion (1571). The S&H remained in use until Tate & Brady's "New Version" Psalter was produced. Metrical psalmody died out in England in the 19th century, perhaps due to the influence of the Oxford Movement, which brought back chanted psalmody. Today metrical psalmody is associated with Scotland, but at one time both of these ancient kingdoms sang the Psalms in metre.


This chanted version of Psalm 91 is interesting for two reasons. First, although it is sung in Latin, it uses the Hebrew numbering of the psalm. In both the Septuagint and the Vulgate it is numbered Psalm 90. Second, the style of chant is much more similar to Greek Orthodox than to the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church familiar to us today. A certain Dom Johannes Benedict OSB writes here: 041b061a72


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