Lycourgos Angelopoulos: Simon Karas and Byzantine music in Greece during the 20th century

Simon Karas

I found this on the Analogion website, and it seemed worth translating. Corrections, comments, and feedback welcome, particularly where some technical terms are concerned. This makes mention of a number of what I assume to be the terms of art of Greek music theory, and I wasn’t always sure I was right. Words where I wasn’t certain there even was an English equivalent are left in Greek and in italics. To the extent that anybody’s concerned about such things, we can call this a draft until all such feedback is in.

Simon Karas and Byzantine music in Greece during the 20th century

Lycourgos Angelopoulos, Archon Protopsaltis of the Most-Holy Archdiocese of Constantinople, Professor of Byzantine Music at Philippos Nakas Conservatory

Opening remarks at the Symposium for Byzantine Music, Romania, December 2002

The subject of my introduction touches upon, in essence, the problem today of the pedagogical method of Byzantine music — theory and practice — a problem which surely concerns all of us, I think.

It is the chief problem which we face so much in research, as much as even in teaching, because the oral tradition which necessarily interprets the written tradition, in some places has almost vanished (where the political situation over the decades contributed to it), in other places been weakened or altered (where it was influenced by the teaching of a European pedagogy — that is to say a foreign system — and the use of a mixed means).

Lycourgos Angelopoulos

Simon Karas studied and confronted this problem, together with many other things noted. The great length of days of life which the Lord granted him (he was born in 1903 in Strovitsi of Olympia and he fell asleep in January of 1999 in Athens) helped him so that a project, an inquiry — but also a practice of life — might be published in large part in the last twenty years his life and might constitute the work of infrastructure for a systematic pedagogy which respects the written tradition and interprets it with the oral tradition. The respect for the written tradition and the the interpretation of the written tradition by the oral tradition is the basic prerequisite of service and offering for everybody who serves the current method of our ecclesiastical music.

As of this year it has been twenty years since the publication of Simon Karas’ two-volume Theoretical Treatise of Greek Music. Before we analyze the importance of its publication, which is accompanied by a practical pedagogical method of many volumes, let us give, very briefly, the situation of Byzantine music in Greece in the twentieth century.

Σince the nineteenth century the new method of the system has spread and been taught, the so-called method of the Three Teachers, which was supported by the publication of the great Theoretical Treatise of Chrysanthos (Trieste, 1832) and some subsequent theoretical publications of other authors who are emultating it.

In parallel, from 1820 and beyond, subsequent publications of music books are produced, the peak being the circulation from the Patriarchate in the middle of the nineteenth century of the four-volume publication “Pandekti,” which until today constitutes a basic pedagogical text, together with the Anastasimatarion, the Irmologion, and Mousiki Kypseli (Sticherarion).

In the modern Greek state, they are teaching students of the Three Teachers such as the Protopsaltis of Athens, Zafeirios Zafeiropoulos, or the archdeacon Anthimos the Efesiomagnis (from Asia Minor) the who founded the School in Messolonghi, with many students and successors of his work.

The support from the state but then even from the Church (between the third and fifth decades of the century) produces the poor parenthesis of the system of Giorgios Lesvos, the system which finally was rejected by the Holy Great Church of Christ in the time of Ecumenical Patriarch Anthimos VI. Most correctly, too, because the dominance of another system would have eliminated automatically the notation and would cut off every connection with the older methods of the Byzantine system and the tradition.

In the 19th century however it has her roots and another cause which troubled our ecclesiastical music: the introduction of polyphony in the central churches of Athens, initially according to the model of the Greek community of Vienna (Chaviara-Nikolaidi harmonizations) and, later, of Russian polyphonic music.

This imposition of polyphony created reactions among the people who followed the tradition. Polyphony in the Church was certainly conforming to the age with the secular music that had been introduced also from Europe (an age in which opera, operetta, and European music in general flourished, the condition in which the idea was cultivated that those genres are superior in comparison to monophonic Byzantine music). As the restoration of Byzaintine music (having been purified, supposedly cleansed from Turkish elements) presents at the end of the 19th century the musically naive system of Ioannis Sakellarides, which produced great confusion among even still-traditional cantors. Chiefly because he used traditional notation lines in many cases and some uses of signs — subordinating the whole to a rhythmic scheme of four-beat feet, impairing the modal character and adjusting their essence to the European system.

Opposite to this situation which is spreading from the capital, Athens, influencing even the other urban centers by word and the educational activity of Sakellarides (pedagogy in ecclesiastical and even secular schools), there are the traditional cantors who are trying to keep the monophonic ecclesiastical music with the teaching but also even with practice (services, vigils, etc.).

Already the Ecumenical Patriarch has convened a musical committee in 1881-3 for the completion and correction of the Great Theoretical Treatise of Chrysanthos.

The committee redefines intervals, describes the characteristic elements of the modes and chiefly defines precisely the intervalic subdivisions of flats and sharps, in other words of the function of attractions according to mode, which even then had not been determined with exactness.

In the practical field — in the printed books which individual cantors are printing at the 19th century, already a process of most analytical notation of oral tradition has begun, a process which eventually arrives at excess with the improper use of certain signs of subdivision of the beat and the use of qualitative signs without calculation of their value.

This trend, which would continue  during the entire 20th century, would find the its chief spokesman in the face and work of the Archon Protopsaltis of the Most-Holy Archdiocese of Constantinople, Athanasius Karamani, who documents — as he himself calls it — the “living tradition”. For all practical purposes, these documents are meaningful witnesses for research and for the relationship with the value of the signs.

But let us come back to the beginnings of the 20th century. An important station is the decision of the Musical and Dramatic Assocation, that by 1871 has established the Conservatory of Athens, to advance even to the establishment of the School of Byzantine Music in 1903. The Director of the Conservatory, G. Naxos, goes to Constantinople and submits a request to Ecumenical Patriarch Joachim III for the sending of an appropriate teacher for the service of the School. Finally, Constantinos Psachos is sent and the service of the School begins in September of 1904. Constantinos Psachos will teach some fifteen years at the Conservatory of Athens, and after he will leave and will continue the teaching at other school. At the same time, in the years which follow, Byzantine music schools are established in the conservatories and in this way the teaching of Byzantine music spreads to schools which primarily teach European music.

This cohabitation [with Western music] is further one of the core reasons that the teaching of Byzantine music in the conservatories loses its particular character with regard to musical expression (the values of the signs) and microtones. The final sign of decline is the teaching with piano. Only a part of the repertoire is taught and dry singing prevails. This manner is characterized as “conservatory style”. The years which the Asia Minor Catastrophe (1922) will bring enough cantors from Asia Minor and Constantinople, just as even in the years of the decade of the 1960s, with the collective expulsion of those of Greek heritage from Constantinople, culminating in that [expulsion] of the Archon Protopsaltis of the Holy and Great Church of Christ, Thrasyboulos Stanitsas (1964).

Polyphony, confusion of Byzantine music with European music, along with Sakellarides, dry singing in the conservatories on the one hand, traditional cantors on the other hand, which, nevertheless, increasingly rely on one leg of the tradition — the oral tradition in other words — here is a picture in broad strokes of the situation which prevails when Simon Karas begins his activity with the establishment of the Association for the Dissemination of National Music (1929). The school of the Association has already been created and its creation has already engaged in study and research, work which will hold up for more than seventy years. From the beginning the subject of agreement of agreement of the theoretical and practical parts employs him. HE studies and he solves the problems thus in depth so that the theoretical pedagogy and the practical implementation, which he proposes for the formulation of his pedagogy, should be in agreement.

His pedagogy considers all of the old theoretical texts in conjunction with the oral tradition which he heard during the extent of his long life, and chiefly in the first decades of the 20th century.

The two-volume “Theoretical Treatise of Greek Music” which is published in 1982 is densely written on the hand with respect to his writing, exhaustive on the other hand with respect to the organization of its chapters.

The systematic ordering of the modes and of the classes of modes happens with deep knowledge of the practice. In the same way, the theoretical formulation is not stale, but always results from the practical implementation which he researches and justifies.

For example, I will relate the vivid documentation of the classes of the authentic modes (mesoi, paramesoi, plagioi, paraplagioi) and the plagal modes (difonoi, trifonoi, tetrafonoi, pentafonoi, eptafonoi) just as they result from the musical texts in use.

In this way the relationship between the modes is methodically presented, but primarily the means of generating the octave is emphasized. One consequence of this logic is the treatment of the series of pitches as a whole musical phrase of a certain mode and not separately (not as each separate pitch, in other words), this latter approach being the one which unfortunately  prevailed in conservatory-style pedagogy and not only there. The treatment of the series of pitches as a musical phrase facilitates even the determination of the ison which, just as all of us recognize, is not always noted in the text. The mingling, nevertheless, with the polyphony that I talked about earlier, in the combination with the conservatory-style pedagogy produced a freakishly irregular ison based on vertical harmonic consonance, outside the logic of the system of modes, which wants for the ison the tonic of the tetrachord or the pentachord in which the musical phrase belongs.

In the chapter on the modes, the symbol of Simon Karas is important as for the intervals. With the cooperation of Constantinpolitan mathematician and physicist Stavros Vrachamis — authorized in writing by the Ecumenical Patriarch to research the subject of musical intervals according to genre and timbre (as Karas himself mentions) — the intervalic study of the modes even completes or corrects, always justifiably, the earlier opinions on the intervals. As a representative example I will mention that which highlights for the enharmonic genre, in the Great Theoretical Treatise of Chrysanthos, who, while he clearly defines which ones are the intervals of the enharmonic genre, nevertheless in another paragraph he classifies the Third and the Grave mode in the enharmonic genre with intervals of the hard diatonic (whole steps and half-steps). The contradiction is obvious. Another example is the reconstruction of the intervals which the Patriarchal Commission of 1881-3 gives as for the chromatic modes, so that the large and small chromatic thirds of the soft and hard chromatic coincide.

Nevertheless the example of Simon Karas is decisive in the chapter “Musical Expression”, which in detail negotiates the matters of actions and of voices but also of the hand-signs used in directing (“texts only through hand-signs”): the action of these signs, although it is there in the vocal tradition of traditional cantors, has suffered a blow from the conservatory-style pedagogy (and not only from that), which just as we showed, does not welcome it, resulting in the desiccation of the melodic line and deterioration (if not disappearance) of microtonal intervals.

Already this chapter resulted in the motivation for extensive research. Beyond the announcement of the signing at the conference of Delphi in 1986, two doctoral dissertations, of Professor Demetri Giannelos and of Professor Yiannis Zannos, contribute seriously to the documentation of the subject, while a third, that of Dr. Georgios Konstantinos, gives a full picture of the function of the signs in the written tradition.

The proposal of Simon Karas for the reinstatement of certain hand-signs used in directing which correspond to vocal — that is to say, oral — tradition, I think, contributes decisively to the preservation of Chrysanthine notation and the avoidance of the distortion of its nature, with the predominant analyses already changing the use of the signs and, I fear, leading ultimately to the replacement of the signs with European notation.

From the achievements of the “Theory” of Simon Karas is a complete musical terminology, which responds in theory but also in practice, the consistent documentation of attractions in agreement with the Patriarchal Commission of 1881-3, the citation of examples in every chapter from folk music (hundreds of songs, documentation of the same), the through reference to the use of instruments. The multi-volume method for practical training accompanies and fulfills the “Theory” of Simon Karas, and completes the pedagogical framework.

In the years which the work of Simon Karas begins to be published, the final 20 years in other words of the twentieth century, also begins the service of the music departments of universities in Athena, in Thessaloniki, in Corfu. The work of these music departments towards Byzantine music is chiefly theoretical, of musicological, historical, literary, or theological interest. Of a more practical direction is the department of Musical Knowledge and Art of Macedonia University in Thessaloniki. In parallel, the Institute of Byzantine Musicology of the Church of Greece is active with publishing, the creation of a choir and a discography of Byzantine and post-Byzantine musical compositions.

The University Byzantine Chorus of Thessaloniki, which was established in 1972 by Professor Antonios Alygizakis, also has a similar discography.

(Today, I will add also the postgraduate department of the Conservatory of Athens under the supervision of Doctor Georgios Konstantinos, where specialized researchers give to conservatory graduates comprehensive and knowledgeable insights for the balanced development of theoretical training and practical research.)

A seminal contribution in the history of ecclesiastical music from the sources according to the period of Turkish rule is the book of Manolis K. Chatzigiakoumis, “Manuscripts of Ecclesiastical Music, 1453-1832”, as well as the recordings of cantors which were made in the last twenty years and began to be released recently under the title “Monuments of Ecclesiastical Music”.

Finally, we mention the establishment of the Greek Byzantine Choir in 1977, which in 25 years of activity has participated in more than 900 events in 30 countries, with a similar discography in Greece and in France.

We return to Simon Karas.

We have before us, then, an important project which actually dominates the musical scene of the 20th century, a project which prepares tomorrow while at the same time it constitutes a solid link between today and yesterday. For this reason exactly it deserves to be studied more broadly, to be translated and to be useful for all researchers who will find a most important aid for study and contrast, and for teachers and performers who will discover a valuable guide for systematic pedagogy and research.

I should say here that I consider it especially a privilege that our common tradition in Byzantine music originates entirely from our common Mother the Church, the Holy and Great Church of Christ, our Ecumenical Patriarchate.

The Great Church maintained over the ages and preserved in her womb our system of music, with the pedagogy of methods over time in the Patriarchal school, and it will continue even in the future to guarantee its unhindered continuation.

This unity across of the years of the system endorses the research and the systematic pedagogy of Simon Karas — pedagogy which supports, substantiates, completes, corrects, and clarifies the later method in use of the Three Teachers.

At base, we consider the existing written tradition which necessarily is completed by the oral tradition. This means preservation of the notation of the elaborations of Gregorios and of Hourmouzios, with the simultaneous accounting of all the information which the elaborations of their students give us (Petros Ephesios, or Matthias Vatopaidinos of Mount Athos, Nikolaos Diocheiaritos, Ioasaph Dionysiatos, et al.)

The comparative study of the elaborations with each other and with the oral tradition confirms scientifically but, I would say, also solemnly, the comprehensive thesis of Simon Karas for reinstatement of certain hand-signs used in directing but also of the oxeia, already in use in the publications of Petros Ephesios.

This method of research and its practical implementation protects, on the one hand, the unity across time and the functionality of the notation and prevents its mutation in the dry notes of the European system (and thus prevents its being rendered unusable), while on the other hand, it gurantees and strengthens the absolutely necessary oral tradition (with the attractions, the microtones, the phrases et al.) without which the interpretation lacks the richness of varieties which are described theoretically as operations of the signs and are performed practically by the traditional cantors.

With these observations, in conclusion, I would pray to be given to all of those who are interested in our ecclesiastical music for current practical and theoretical study, a continuation which will have the character of the standing scientific but also artistic collaboration and exchange in the frameworks of current reality, with reference always and in relation to the older methods, from those which we will be able to derive important details for knowledge and development.


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