Byzantine Chant

Byzantine Chant
   Chant of the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Uniate Church of the Byzantine Rite, and other ecclesial descendants of the eastern Roman empire. An estimated 15,000 manuscripts of the chant survive, although only about 10 percent are written in a musical notation that is decipherable. The earliest such books date from the 10th century. The notation indicates the direction and sizes of intervals, not absolute pitches in pitch space, as well as rhythmic, dynamic, and articulation nuances of great subtlety. The most commonly used liturgical chants are written in comparatively late sources since their vital oral tradition required no record.
   Psalm chanting has much in common with Gregorian chant, with intonations, reciting tones, and cadences organized according to the eight modes (oktoēchos), although cadences are always four-note patterns regardless of textural accent, which some believe to be closer to the Jewish practice. The "divine songs" of prokeimenon and Alleluia sung at the divine liturgy (mass) are florid for solo performance, like their Gregorian counterparts.
   Byzantine chant distinguishes itself from Western chants in the vast number of hymns permitted in both the divine liturgy and the divine office. Published sources alone account for 60,000; many more lie in manuscripts, the earliest of which is the Propologion from before the 10th century. The principal hymn forms are kontakion, kanon, and sticheron. Collections are called heirmologion. A highly embellished and florid chanting style, the kalophonic, arises in the 12th century, and in the 13th its sources are numerous, especially for ordinary chants. Hymn books of the 13th century became specialized; Psaltikon contained elaborate melodies for soloists while Asmatikon contained simpler ones for chorus. The earliest evidence for the characteristic ison or sung drone that accompanies Byzantine chant in many Orthodox churches dates from perhaps 1400.

Historical dictionary of sacred music. . 2006.

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