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Posts Tagged 'simon karas'

“My teacher can beat up your teacher” throughout the ages

Hello from… well, not Dumbarton Oaks, not quite. I’m in Washington, DC, at the George Washington University Mount Vernon campus, where our housing is. Friday night I went to bed at 12:30am so I could wake up at 2:30am so I could leave for the airport at 3:45am to get on a 6am flight so I could get to DC by 10:30am… except that we couldn’t check in here until 3pm.  Well, my longtime e-acquaintance Ivan Plis took pity on me and hung out with me for lunch, taking me to Nando’s Peri-Peri just off of DuPont Circle, which is easily the flame-grilled Portuguese chicken I have ever had. Yes, it’s also the only flame-grilled Portuguese chicken I’ve ever had, but it was still delicious. After lunch, Ivan walked me around the area a bit, or at least as much as was possible with two suitcases, and then we parted ways. Getting the rest of the way here was a bit of an adventure; my iPhone 3GS just will not hold a charge anymore, and it died just as a bus was coming that may or may not have been the bus I wanted to get on. I got on, only to realize about fifteen minutes later that it was the wrong one. I got off to wait at the stop across the street for the bus going in the opposite direction, which theoretically should have been about a half hour away… except that it was an hour away. It finally appeared, and I was able to get off at the right stop, only to still have a half mile left to walk, with most of it uphill. I guess I got my exercise today. This morning I attended Matins and Liturgy at St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral, which is about a mile away as the crow flies (but of course it’s not that simple; it’s about 2 miles by cab) and has a new protopsaltis in residence; I spent the afternoon walking around the area, attending Choral Evensong at the National Cathedral (right next door to St. Sophia, as it happens), and had a lovely day all around until I tried to go home and took a shortcut through a park’s forest trails. Zigged when I should have zagged, I had three bags of groceries, and wound up getting stuck with an uphill route I was trying to avoid. All in all, it took me about an hour and a half to get home when it should have taken about twenty minutes. Oh well. Orientation at Dumbarton Oaks is 9am Monday; we’ll see what happens.

By the way, there is going to be a group blog for Andrew Gould‘s expanded New World Byzantine concept, sort of an Orthodox version of the New Liturgical Movement. It looks like there are some definite parallels between what the Saint John of Damascus Society has in mind and what Andrew is trying to get going for liturgical crafts across the board. Should be fascinating to see where it goes. (And incidentally, there are already some big things in the works for SJDS, things that have already started to come together much more quickly than we thought might happen. Announcements to come soon.)

A few months ago I got invited to review a book titled The Past is Always Present: The Revival of the Byzantine Musical Tradition at Mount Athos by Danish ethnomusicologist Tore Tvarnø Lind. My review will be appearing in a future issue of Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies, but since I was limited to around 2,000 words (yes, I said “limited”), there was a lot that I wanted to say that I didn’t have space for (all good stuff — the book is great). I was going to have a blog post specifically about the book, but then I had to get my paper in order for the North American Patristics Society conference, do what I could to help get the house ready for impending baby, and then pack for D.C., so that didn’t quite happen.

But then, Friday, there was an unexpected post someplace I don’t check all that often.

So, I’ve noted before, perhaps somewhat infamously, that there are ways in which the internet is a problematic venue. Every imaginable cause in the world probably has a website out there run by a person for whom the sun probably only rises and sets because that issue has his voice advocating for it properly; heck, I’m sure probably somebody thinks that about my little corner of the net. Anyway, I’m somewhat reluctant to participate in many online forums, or even to monitor them too often; I’m not sure, to name but one example, that Byzantine chant needs its own version of Facebook. But, you know, it kinda has its own version of Facebook anyway, and it has its utility as a resource. Still, there are a lot of disputes that get hashed over there that I don’t care to get involved with, and the one time that I got noticed enough to be mentioned in that forum it was bad news (although my friend Taso Nassis is somebody I would not have met without that incident, so all’s well that ends well, I suppose).

On Friday, a notice was posted by one of the more argumentative individuals on that forum about a statement released by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The Greek is here; this is my (somewhat hurried) translation:

Bulletin from the Holy and Sacred Synod on the subject of ecclesiastical music.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate, from the decision of the Holy and Sacred Synod of 29 March 2012, upon relevant public notice of the Patriachal and Synodal commission concerning divine worship, from 23 March 2012 concerning the subject of our ecclesiastical music, because of the fault of some cantors in applying a theoretical work, at first on the one hand imperceptibly, with time on the other hand more systematic, [a work] published in 1982 under the title “Method of Greek Music: A Theoretical Treatise” [by Simon Karas] and [which] created an uneasy situation, declared that:

1. It dismisses and condemns the “Theoretical Treatise”‘s self-willed, irresponsible, showy retractions to the liability and authority of the decisions of the Mother Church, as even an attempt to disseminate something – as characterized above – outdated and abnormal to the prevailing canonical order of the theory and practice of our ecclesiastical music.

2. It denounces every work of difference, adulteration, and forgery in appearance of old musical works of composers formally recognized by the Mother Church that is unlawful and strange to the prevailing works, and

3. As a musical system it recognizes, applies, and teaches according to the theory, practice, and tradition, [the system which] was established in the years 1812-14 by the Three Teachers, Chrysanthos Metropolitan of Prousa, Gregory the Protopsaltis, and Chourmouzios the Archivist, as “The New Method of Analytic Notation of Musical Melodies,” and approved by the Mother Church.

In the Patriarchate, 28 May 2012

From the Chief Secretary of the Holy and Sacred Synod

Okay. Back up a couple centuries.

As Lind’s book lays out quite well (and he’s not Orthodox, so he doesn’t himself have any particular dog in the fight), in the early part of the nineteenth century there was a reform of the notational system we usually call “Byzantine notation” or “psaltic notation”. This reform reduced the number of signs used, and also introduced a way of being able to more accurately notate rhythm, tempo, and accidentals. Well, the problem is obvious: when you change how something is written down, you effectively fork the tradition, and that’s what happened. Cantors who were trained before the reform continued either singing from old notation or singing the new notation as though it were the old notation, thus passing on the pre-reform tradition. Cantors who were trained from books compiled after the reform without any level of pre-reform tradition learned something different. Subtly different, perhaps, but different, and this appears to have become known as “patriarchal style”, as in the style practiced at and endorsed by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The Three Teachers didn’t really give an account of their system of reform, so were they intending to preserve what came before, only simplifying how it was represented on the page, or were they intending to turn it into something else? This is the crux of the problem, it seems. (Oh, and if I’m over-simplifying or getting things wrong, please jump in. I’m trying to give a reasonably economical account here of what I think I know, but I don’t want to misrepresent anything.)

To give but one example of the practical difference that I have seen: there is a sign in Byzantine notation called a klasma. It’s a little half oval that can appear either above or below a sign depending on the sign.

Now, the way I was taught to realize a klasma by (now-Dr.) Ioannis Arvanitis is that adds a beat to the sign, but that it also has the function of adding an ornament — a little break in the voice. This ornament is suggested by the name klasma, and according to Arvanitis, it’s a holdover from the old notation, with the ornament being what distinguishes it from simply adding a dot (which also extends the sign by one beat). A somewhat clumsy way of realizing this in staff notation might be this:

When I visited Holy Cross Seminary, I got to sit in on Byzantine chant classes with Dr. Grammenos Karanos, who I’m told is an exemplar of patriarchal style. He told his students that the klasma has the principal function of adding a beat, and only in the context of a relatively small number of specific phrases does one add the ornament. Otherwise, it’s the same the thing as an aplē (adding a dot) and is maintained separately from the aplē for orthographic purposes. That would mean the above phrase would look like this in staff notation:

There’s no shortage of other examples.

Anyway, Simon Karas was an ethnomusicologist who was interested in these differences maintained through oral tradition, as well as the relationship to Greek vernacular music, and he tried to systematize what he observed in the 1982 book referenced in the Patriarchate’s bulletin. (I translated an article about him by Lycourgos Angelopoulos last year that goes into some of this.)

One can perhaps see the divide between those who sang as though the new notation were the old notation and those following the new notation more strictly in the Patriarchate’s choice of the word “outdated” (παρωχημένος) in point one. The irony that I see is that both approaches are conservative; one is performatively conservative, the other is notationally conservative. There is almost a sola Scriptura issue here (but even patriarchal style is informed by oral tradition, so not quite).

Among other things, Lind’s book talks about how Karas’ work influences the monastery of Vatopedi on Mount Athos; students of Angelopoulos (“grandstudents” of Karas, then) work with them on manuscripts, vocal style, and so on. The monks want to preserve an authentic tradition going back before the reform, and there is concern that something is lost in how the reform has been realized. One of the things I find interesting is that the tensions surrounding these preservation efforts seem to follow the old theoretical poles of cathedral (or city) and monastery, with an additional pole of the university. Vatopedi is trying to assert a certain authority and pre-eminence regarding psaltic tradition, Constantinople is trying to do the same thing (as represented by “patriarchal style”), and Karas and his legacy represent a line of academic inquiry that influence how both sides act and react. Who “owns” the tradition? Who speaks for it? Certainly there are issues surrounding how Byzantine chant is understood as something authentically “Greek”, with Constantinople looming large for obvious historical reasons, but with Karas perhaps trying to contextualize Constantinople in a larger “Greek” picture. Constantinopolitan cantors (and those faithful to them), Athenian academics, and Athonite monks — I’m not sure I can think of any particular equivalent issue in this country that’s working itself out in precisely the same way.

The thing of it is, speaking from my previous life as an opera singer, none of this is anything new. “My teacher can beat up your teacher” is part of any musician’s game from the first day they step into the studio. I remember the first time I ever took a lesson with my first voice teacher in college, and he asked me to tell him how I was thinking of certain things. I explained it the way Dennis Kruse taught me, and I can still picture the patronizing smile on this guy’s face when he said, “Oh, that’s all wrong. We’ll fix that.” I can also still remember the way Dennis shook his head when I explained to him what the new guy was telling me, saying, “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Get out of his studio as soon as you can.”

Heck, just speaking in terms of the Greco-Roman world, none of this is exactly news. If you were a student of rhetoric in what we might broadly call “the ancient world”, you could count on getting hazed by students of other teachers, you could count on getting beaten up by students of other teachers, and there was even a possibility you could get kidnapped upon arrival in the city by students of other teachers and forced to study with somebody other than your intended teacher. Studying something so marinated in tradition that requires a close relationship with a teacher makes this kind of thing simply inevitable.

Still, nobody here has been declared either a heretic or anathema, there’s nothing here that says “Whatever you do, don’t sing a klasma with the ornament lest your soul be in danger”, and on the whole I can’t really imagine how anything in this notice is going to have any practical force whatsoever without something that looks a lot like an Inquisition or HUAC. “Are you now, or have you ever been, influenced by the 1982 Method of Greek Music by Simon Karas?” Nope, I just don’t see that happening. This strikes me as a sop to somebody at most, but I really don’t know enough about the inner workings of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to know to whom or by whom or why. With all due respect to the Patriarchate, this comes across as over-the-top and heavy-handed, to say the least.

In any event, Ioannis Arvanitis, however poor of a student I may have been, was my teacher (and I hope someday he will be again), he’s one of the great cantors and composers of our day, he’s one of the greatest men I’ve ever had the privilege to know or learn from, and he was a Simon Karas student. Given all of this, I’m left scratching my head at what seems to be the disconnect from reality.

Anyway, I may have more to say about Lind’s book later — perhaps when the review is published I’ll put together a “director’s cut” of it. In the meantime, consider it recommended; it’s a very readable work and should be of great interest to people interested in monasticism, Byzantine music, Greece and modernity, and so on.

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Giorgos Kyriakakis: 30 Years Since the Founding of the Greek Byzantine Choir

My recent translation of Lycourgos Angelopoulos’ talk on Simon Karas got the attention of one Mr. Tom Nassis of Chicago, who asked if I wouldn’t mind translating a 2007 article by Giorgos Kyriakais on the 30 year anniversary of Angelopoulos’ Greek Byzantine Choir. I was happy to do so; Tom provided a few suggestions, and then ran it by Mr. Kyriakakis himself, who gave it his own stamp of approval. So, here it is. As always, I’m more than open to questions and comments.

Update, 27 July 2011: By request, the text with which I was provided may be found here.

One of the longest-lived, and in all likelihood the most internationally recognized, Greek musical ensembles, which Lycourgos Angelopoulos established and directs up to today, completed three decades of activity. The history of the choir in reality coincides with that of its founder, who has devoted himself to applying his world-renowned authentic talent and immense artistic experience to the promotion and achievement of the goals of the choir. The present writer was honored to study with him, so for this, please forgive any sentimentalities detected in the text which follows.

The Greek Byzantine Choir (EL.BY.X. [Ελληνική Βυζαντινή Χορωδία]) was founded with its objective being the study and performance of Byzantine music as it reached our time by means of written and oral tradition. The choir made its first official appearance on 12 December 1977 at Beethovenhalle in Bonn, having been invited by the West German Republic, at a concert with a mixed program. In the first part of the concert, the EL.BY.X. chanted a selection of hymns for the Nativity of Christ, while in the second part featured the world premiere of the work of Dimitri Terzaki, “Leitourgeia Profana” with Lycourgos Angelopoulos as the soloist. But the relationship of the choir and its director with contemporary (and beyond) music will be mentioned in the next article. The debuting choir, then, met with an immediate and enthusiastic reception from a difficult audience. Enthusiams which up to today it causes everywhere where it gives concerts or participates in liturgical events, in Greece and abroad. There are not a few time when it was necessary either to repeat one of its concerts, to go on in a bigger venue than originally planned to enable all of the interested audience to attend, which had surpassed in size the expectations of each of the organizers. The next great international appearance of the EL.BY.X.is scheduled in New York next January, where for a second time it will give a concert at the city’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The EL.BY.X., in the 30 years of its activity, has put on more than 1,500 concerts, liturgical and other events in Greece, it has done so in more than 30 countries throughout the world. Among them are the historical several hours-long vigils at the Holy Monastery of St. Catherine in Sinai (1983), in Cologne (1985), at the Holy Monastery of the Great Cave (1987), at the Holy Monastery of Vatopedi, at the Church of St. Demetrios in Thessaloniki (1993), at the Holy Monastery of Arkadi (2000) and at Krakow (2000), which, in spite of their length, were broadcast on the radio. The chief highlight was the participation in 2000 at the Pan-Orthodox Divine Liturgy of the Nativity of Christ in Bethlehem, while also especially historical and meaningful was the choir’s participation in June 2002 in the Divine Liturgy which the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew celebrated for the first time after many centuries in the ancient basilica of St. Apollinarius in Classe (6th century) in Ravenna.

The choir has recorded at Europe’s greatest radio and television stations, it has presented selections of ancient Greek music and Old Roman melodies, while it presented for the first time in modern years the ancient service of the “Three Children in the Fiery Furnace”, from the few preserved examples of Orthodox liturgical drama (c. 15th century), in a transcription and reconstruction of the composer and researcher Michael Adami. From 1990 it began the recording of all of the works of the most important Greek medieval composer John Koukouzelis the Master (perhaps 13th century). The choir has participated in the festivals of Athens and Epidauros in 1987, while from 1989 to 1991 it gave an annual concert at the ancient theatre of Epidauros. The choir appeared at the Megaro Mousiki Concert Hall in Athens for the first time in 1991 and several times from 1995 up to today. In March of 1997 it gave three concerts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in the context of the exhibit “The Glory of Byzantium” and, in January of 1998, it participated in the events “Greece of Britain” with a concert at Queen Elisabeth Hall of London. In May of 2001 it sang at the initiative of Professor Alexander Lingas, also for the first time in recent years, the service of Asmatic (Sung) Vespers, at Oxford, from a transcription and reconstruction of Alexander Lingas’ and Ioannis Arvanitis’, while in August of the same year it gave for the fifth consecutive year the official concert of the International Conference of Studies in Paris together with Ensemble Organum. The above appearances constitute only a small sample of the exhaustive activity which characterizes the EL.BY.X. from its establishment up to today.

Since 1993 they have released in France and in Greece approximately 10 CDs as well as more than 30 cassettes under the name of the choir, eliciting ever-flattering reviews from the international music press. In many cases, notable music magazines have awarded their greatest distinction to the choir (e. g. fff, the magazine Diapason).

The specific and main reason, largely, that the EL.BY.X succeeded at being established internationally to a degree that should constitute worldwide an ensemble of note in the fields of religious, ancient, and Eastern music, is the fact that the choir “restores” Byzantine music, namely the medieval and more recent “art” music of the former Eastern Roman Empire, as a craft. It can be considered as self-evident that a musical ensemble serves music as a craft or an art, but for those who have inside knowledge of the world of Byzantine chant, it is an open, unacknowledged secret that this almost never occurs. The most customary response, which constitutes even substantial contempt of it from the same institutions, is that Byzantine music is a simple accompaniment, up to the point of a necessary evil, of the activity of Orthodox liturgical practice. The cantors (with or without preparation) are sometimes rendered as simple conduits of an action that often is manipulated and ultimately undermined even by the clergy when he, the priest, behaves as though he is a boss and the “psaltai” as functionaries of the church. Not to open up the Pandora’s Box where most of the “scientists” of “our national-religious-and-such music” live…

The EL.BY.X., under the adept direction of Lycourgos Angelopoulos, places this music on the pedestal that it deserves. Along with the choir’s regular, devotional or festive, but always majestic liturgical activities, its extra-ecclesiastical activity has helped greatly to clarify that Byzantine music exists as an independent musical significance, that constantly provokes the interest of an ever-wider public, but also of musicians and composers, as well as even actual scholarly researchers, in religious music and beyond. The EL.BΥ.X. does not seek to innovate. It remains faithful to the tradition, while also never resorting to complacent, loud-voiced trills that do injustice to the music for the benefit of the personal visibility of its performers, a natural consequence of the fact that it did not treat the high art which it offers to its audience in an opportunistic manner, and it continues to not do so, whether the audience is ecclesiastical or not. A simple hearing of small samples of the choir’s work not only demonstrates the things discussed so far but also guides with certainty even to the conclusions that follow; because the present article does not claim to constitute a musicological study, those conclusions ultimately will be given succinctly: the choir showcases and maintains the form of the compositions that it performs. It is the large world of music lovers that used to believe that Byzantine music is nothing other than a convoluted, boring improvisation overlaid onto orientalizing musical formulas, and it is the same large world of music lovers that changed its mind about the music itself when they heard it performed correctly. In the field of expression, the EL.BY.X. is a genuine heir apparent and practitioner of the pedagogy of the great Simon Karas. It provides a clear image of the totality and the melismas of the compositions without confusing one with the other. In general a virtually erroneous view concerning “heterophony” prevails, which wants all the members of a choir to sing on the same melodic skeleton, with individual variations in the ornamentation of melodies, with the result that a static sound, something “approximate”, reaches ears of the listener. The EL.BY.X. shows in a practical manner that the complete synchronization and coordination of all of the members of the choir is feasible, provided, of course, that proper training and preparation has preceded it… An absolutely unique characteristic of this specific choir, in our opinion, is that it chants stylistically. The choir approaches the texts differently, which results from the research and other recent developments. Nowhere in the world, excepting our small para-ecclesiastical way of doing things, is it understood that one applies the same approach of interpreting a composition of the 14th century with a composition from the 18th century, for example. The EL.BY.X. puts things in their proper place, and does not treat its repertoire as an indiscriminate hodgepodge of materials old and new, traditional and custom, trashy and expensive. Pages upon pages could be written about the importance of the work of the EL.BY.X. and its director regarding period treatment, quality and accuracy of intervals, dynamics, the rotations through both choral and solo phases, stage presence, and many other things which due to space considerations are not mentioned here, the things which all the same succeeded in convincing even an entirely “lay” audience that the EL.BY.X. practices something “religious” on the one hand, but which is still “art” above all on the other hand.

But alongside with the choir’s purely artistic activity, it also constitutes a great school. The present writer acknowledges that before he came into contact with the choir, being learned in secretive and pompous practices, used to believe that the world of Byzantine music is a closed club to which access for the one not initiated is rather impossible. The reality which he experienced contradicted him. I will not dwell on that; I will say only that for the duration of my trials with the EL.BY.X., I understood what Byzantine music actually is and how instructive it is merely to watch the choir’s members, well-trained to say the least, conversing on the matter at hand: the music. This was also the only time when I heard the “teacher” urge his “students”: Study! If somebody asks you tomorrow, “Why do you say this?”, how will you answer this person? “Because my teacher says so”? And if he should tell you, “It could be, but your teacher speaks wrongly,” then what? Study, so that you learn why you’re saying what you’re saying, and not because I myself have told you so!

And he always referred and guided us to the sources, many times even with he himself assuming the cost of any copies we needed. Finally.

Certainly, the thirty years of the choir did not pass rosily and into unalloyed glories without needing “to open the nose.” Only fruitless trees are not stoned. Our exegetical view, we believe, does not require that we live in the country where, together with chiefly historical matters, plausibility holds the title of metropolitan intolerance. And as regards the area of art… from ancient times (and this one). The Greek Byzantine Choir could not in a third of a century inconvenience the spider-filled psaltic establishment doing a decent job of the obvious thing without receiving its share of intolerance, sometimes collectively, and quite often in the form of personal attacks against its founder. Beginning already from its inception, St. Irene Church on Aiolos Street was the first testing ground. And when the EL.BY.X. was daring to not follow the stupid and distorted line, except for politically correct seasonal things, of the ridiculous three-part “harmonization” of Sakellarides style, it found the church locked at the time of the scheduled rehearsal — something which proved often to be a benefit for passersby, who had the opportunity to watch live the rehearsal that they inevitably held… on the steps of the church. But the worst came when the choir began to have prestige and to develop an international career. Then all the “trustees of tradition and style”, asleep since birth, and the only thing that bothered them was that they selling, boutique-style, their services to national-religious opportunistic merchants, and they identified the “enemy” whose existence gave them the opportunity to “intervene” critically, an opportunity which their ability to intervene musically did not particularly facilitate. Even up to the time during which these lines are written, all of these “border guards” and “zealots”, as they are fond of calling themselves, instead of seeking to be educated at least a little bit, they simply attack… Karagiozis’ Wedding… Personally, I have one question to offer: but is it well that you do not listen?

In the holy war against Angelopoulos and “Little Angelopoulites”, many funny episodes have transpired, episodes which rarely deviate from the music. There, even, many things are not able to be told. A great number of libels have been published from time to time, enough to make any embittered person laugh. Accusations of spying (what happens and what the choir does in Israel and every such thing, so that the Patriarch asking the choir to chant at the Holy Sepulchre is not enough), of heretical views (so many travels and consorting with the heterodox, the “unbaptized”, as they cannot do) and other things which, if they were all written down, anybody would believe that evil, provocative devils encourage them. Suitable for the snuff-box, but less by far for the music. Something is mumbled about contempt towards “the Patriarchal style” the identity of which, as an aside, is being researched, something about an alteration of Athonite style… ridiculous? In the ’70s, the accusation was that “they are going to bring the monastic ways to Athens,” while in the ’90s and beyond it was, “This group attacked, and then the systematic siege certainly being sustained, they laid waste to Vatopedi and having this as a base they plot against the remaining monasteries as it succeeds in imposing its style upon them.” Sometimes even some unsubstantiated speculations are heard concerning the systems of attraction and of intervals, but these hold little sway, obviously because the arguments do not persuade, and neither do those who make those arguments. Thus, henceforth the EL.BY.X. “with the assistance of the mass media, have also imposed such things, systematically altering the content of our national music,” and other humorous stories… The aforementioned matters concerning form, rhythmic training, study and correct result, research into the sources and so on, remain the fine print for a large proportion of the field, and they do not fall loudly on the table. And the sympathetic chief clergy do not make a noise but they are aware of such things. To repeat what I said earlier, a metropolis of intolerance. This time even with a Metropolitan. But all these things aside, the EL.BY.X. continues to produce work, and it does not rest on the international recognition which it already enjoys, and we pray that it continues much longer. As for the “Spartans guarding Thermopylae”, armed with the broomstick of excommunication, even they are members of the ecosystem. It is well that there are those, just as the one “having ears to hear”, able to hear these things on the one hand and able to judge on the other hand able to judge the musical interpretations and scholarly evidence.

Who is so naive as to argue that the subject of research, interpretation, and presentation of any musical movement, are the result of only a few individuals? The only certainty is that history is not rolling back; the Greek Byzantine Choir and Lycourgous Angelopoulos, here and for many years, are writing their own chapter.

– George Kyriakakis, http://www.kyriakakis.de/

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.

Byzantine Chant, Authenticity, and Identity: Musicological Historiography Through the Eyes of Folklore

Wanting to keep the blog alive but not yet having time to devote to catching people up on what’s happening, I wanted to share this essay — it was written for my Modern Greek class last spring, and was heavily informed by an ethnomusicology seminar I was auditing on music and sacred experience. I thought about perhaps trying to publish it, and both my Greek instructor as well as the professor teaching the ethno seminar responded positively to it, but neither thought it was sufficiently in their field for it to be publishable in their circles. So, here it is for now. Some of these issues have been discussed here as well.

6 February 2012 — Removed for reasons I’m very happy about. I’ll say more later.

16 May 2012 — You can now find this essay in Greek Orthodox Theological Review, Vol. 55.1-4, pp. 181-98. Please contact me at rrbarret AT indiana DOT edu if you do not have access to a library system that has this available.


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